Chanel, Coco [Gabrielle Bonheur]
- Lourdes Font
(b Saumur, Aug 19, 1883; d Paris, Jan 10, 1971).
French fashion designer (see fig.). Chanel was one of the most influential fashion designers of the 20th century. Of the modernists who dominated the inter-war period, only Chanel was still active through the 1960s. She began her career as a milliner c. 1909; as a couturière she had two careers, from 1915 to September 1939, when she closed her house at the outbreak of war, and from February 1954 through 1970. Her longevity allowed her to claim or accept responsibility for such milestones as the elimination of the corset and the emergence of the ‘little black dress’, which actually resulted from many factors including the contributions of other designers. Her real achievement was the creation of a personal style that she shared with other women.
Chanel was the daughter of itinerant market peddlers from southern France. Her parents were based in the Loire valley town of Saumur when she was born. When she was 11 years old, her mother died and her father abandoned her and her two sisters at the nearest orphanage. At 18, Chanel became a charity student at a boarding school in the garrison town of Moulins. At 20, she worked ten hours a day as a seamstress at a shop that sold lingerie and linens. Like other Frenchwomen of her age and class, she dreamed of fame and fortune as a music hall star, but when she made her début at the café La Rotonde in Moulins in ...