• Tishya Doraiswamy

7 Things You Didn't Know About Coco Chanel

Most of us have probably looked through the window of their store, looking at the gorgeous handbags and fragrant perfumes, and the lavish clothes on display. You’ve seen pictures of their stone-faced models walking down the ramp at high-end shows around the world. You’ve also probably never been inside their store, but heard about the brand one too many times - Chanel.

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To many, it’s just another luxury brand they can’t even imagine buying from, but when we learn about the founder of Chanel, the brand becomes far more interesting. Over a century ago, in 1909, the brand was founded by Coco Chanel (born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel). 

Today, she’s the only fashion designer to be listed in Time Magazine’s 100 most Influential People of the 20th Century. An icon, no doubt - and today, on her birthday, we give you 7 things you didn’t know about Coco Chanel. 

Although She Went on to Achieve Great Things, She Came from Humble Beginnings

The world may know her as a revolutionary designer, but Coco Chanel was born into a poor family as an illegitimate child to a laundrywoman named Jeanne Devolle Chanel and street vendor Albert Chanel. She spent her early childhood moving from town to town with her parents and five other siblings, where they resided in ramshackle lodgings. When she was 11 and her mother 32, however, her mother passed away, and she was sent to an orphanage. She Lived in an Orphanage for a Part of Her Childhood Neither Chanel nor her siblings attended school, and after her mothers’ death, her brothers were sent to work as farm labour, while she and her sister were abandoned and sent to an orphanage in a convent. While it wasn’t the morbid portrayal of orphanages shown in movies, it definitely wasn’t paradise - rather, a stark existence for a young girl. Here, however, Coco Chanel learned to sew – and this is how the humble seeds of her illustrious future were planted.

Chanel? Or Is It Chasnel? While the world knows her as ‘Chanel’, at birth, her name was entered into the registry as “Chasnel” as a result of a clerical error. At the time of her birth, her mother was far to unwell and weak to carry out the registration, while her father wasn’t present. As a result, no one was there to clarify the misspelled name. In fact, Coco Chanel died without changing it, as Gabrielle Chasnel, for going through the process of legally correcting it would mean admitting she was born in a poorhouse hospice. 

Before Becoming a Designer, She Worked as a Singer

Having learnt to sew at the orphanage, Chanel soon became employed as a seamstress. During the day, she worked at a tailor’s shop, and when she wasn’t sewing, sang at a French cabaret show for the working class, frequented by military men. During this job, she may have acquired her famed name ‘Coco’, when she frequently sang the song “Who Has Seen Coco”? 

Ladies - Thank Her for Pants!

Jeans, leggings, corduroys, slacks - these are such a simple concept for women today. Comfortable, versatile, breathable. However, if it wasn’t for Coco Chanel, we may still have been wearing skirts and corsets on a daily basis! As ease of movement became a priority in clothing, Coco Chanel was a big player in this shift, popularising trousers for women, saying “Fashion sometimes forgets that human beings live in these clothes.” However, in her later years, she confessed that she regretted just how popular they had become, expressing her sadness at seeing women wearing them at even formal places.  Nevertheless, we can’t imagine life in corsets and dresses today - thanks to Coco!

She Was Allegedly a Nazi Agent

After her death, classified documents were revealed, exposing the extent of her interaction with Nazi forces. In the 1940’s, Chanel began a relationship with Nazi officer Günther von Dincklage. This relationship eventually led to he becoming an agent for the Nazis. She became Agent F-7124, codenamed Westminster. She would obtain information from colleagues in Madrid under the pretense of business. She was, in fact, a part of Operation Modellhut, which was a part of the plan for the Third Reich to take control of Madrid. In 1944, her role as a German spy was denounced by Vera Lombardi, however, she managed to return to Paris safely. She managed to erase evidence tying her to the Germans, and was never subjected to any punishment for her wartime dealings!

Everything She Did Started a Trend! Lying on the beach and getting a tan? Once considered uncultured, Chanel made this popular when she got a bronze tan while spending time in the sun on a Mediterranean cruise. The pictures of her subsequently are credited for beginning the craze of tanning - one which she herself then took advantage of by releasing a line of tanning lotions. And that’s not all! The popular ‘little black dress’ every young adult swears by as a wardrobe stable was brought to the world by Coco Chanel. Jersey fabric, earlier only used for undergarments, was popularised by her as a comfortable fabric for simple dresses.

While most of us may not wear Chanel today, several of our daily fashion choices can be credited to her - shoulder bags, perfumes, party clothes, even something as simple as pants! She’s one of the most influential fashion designers in the world, and even years after her death, she is still remembered with the same level of admiration. 

So, here’s to her - Coco Chanel!


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Tishya Doraiswamy, Content Writer @ Skyshot Media

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