For years it has been tradition in our household for the family to give me Chanel No. 5 perfume as a gift on my birthday. I look forward to that day every year. I love that fabulous scent that makes me feel so glamourous when I wear it. My birthday is coming up soon and I have been thinking not of that pretty little bottle I will soon be receiving, but, rather, the woman of inspiration behind the bottle. She was quite a firebrand for her time. When I consider how she lost her mother at such a young age and was then abandoned by her father, yet pushed forward and created not only a life but an incredible legacy, I am amazed and humbled. Not only will I feel glamorous the next time I wear a few precious drops of scent, I will feel empowered, inspired and invincible.
Coco Chanel was born in 1883, another century! She blazed a path as a woman in an industry that was dominated by men. She was famous for wearing suits in a time when women only wore dresses. When she did wear a dress, it was almost always a sophisticated little black dress. That may seem to be no big deal today, but, during her time, it was very controversial.
An orphan who grew up in France, she was taught to sew by the nuns in the orphanage. It’s no wonder she was strong, independent and knew everything about fashion. When she was a young woman in her twenties, she opened her first clothing store in 1910. At first, she only sold hats. She was so successful; she opened two more stores and began designing and making clothes. Her famous quote “luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury” sums up her fashion design ideology.
She revolutionized ladies fashion by using elements of men’s fashion. She rejected the practice of women’s fashion demanding corsets as an undergarment. It was too confining and definitely uncomfortable. She then took the traditional color adopted as mourning and transformed it into the much loved little black dress phenomenon. It became chic and stylish to be a woman clad in black. Before, the color was associated with dowdy widows. Now, it was the color of sophistication.
Within a decade of opening her first shop she launched her line of perfume with my very own favorite, Chanel No. 5. Her perfume philosophy is that perfume is the unseen and unforgettable fashion accessory. It announces your arrival and its imprint remains after you’ve gone. Chanel No. 5 endeavors to make a woman unforgettable.
When World War II broke out Chanel shuttered her shops. She became romantically involved with a German officer. This created such a scandal she eventually chose voluntary exile. Chanel left behind her native France and moved to Switzerland. Eventually, though, this dynamic woman would have to return to doing what she did best. At seventy years of age, Chanel returned to the fashion industry a triumphant fashion designer once again.
Her interesting life has been depicted in television movies and Broadway musicals. She has been the subject of multiple books. Many musicians and songwriters have been inspired by Coco Chanel as their muse.
When she died in 1971, the world lost a truly remarkable woman. Karl Lagerfield, a fashion icon in his own right, took over leadership of her company. However, her legacy lives on. Fortunately, I get to wear a bit of it every day.