Coco Chanel

Aimee Scott

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA230

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (1883–1971) was born in Saumur, southern France. She initially started designing hats in Paris in 1908 and subsequently opened her own fashion boutiques in Paris and Deauville in 1914. She then went on to open an haute couture salon in Biarritz in 1916, which was moved to Paris in 1920.

Chanel gained fame for popularizing practical clothes, including trousers for women. Her little black dresses and boxy collarless jackets with brass buttons quickly became her signature look. Initially, fabrics included wool jersey, which was comfortable, but was not considered to be suitable for fashionable garments at the time. Her garments, however, became instantly recognizable, removing the stiffness and corsetry from women’s clothing and incorporating more masculine and practical cuts.

Chanel’s business was stalled by two world wars and her popularity declined during this period. In 1954 she made a big comeback and her designs became hugely popular in the Western world, especially in the United States. After Chanel’s death in 1971, her assistants Gaston Berthelot and Ramon Esparza, and then Yvonne Dudel and Jean Cazaubon, designed the House of Chanel’s couture from 1975 to 1983.

Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld took over Chanel’s haute couture design in 1983 and ready-to-wear design in 1984. He annually reinvents Coco’s signature styles in various fabrics and has helped to maintain Chanel’s powerhouse place within the fashion industry. The House of Chanel is a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture and the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode.

Chanel, Fall/Winter 1996. Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Cosgrave Bronwyn. Vogue on Coco Chanel . London : Conde Nast Publications, 2012.