If you’ve ever picked up a fashion magazine or clicked around a website focused on fashion (as I’m sure everyone does), then you’ve seen the requisite willowy model or current celebutante posing next to an older man dressed in black, wearing sunglasses and rocking a gray ponytail that probably hasn’t been washed since the ‘80s. Karl Lagerfeld is the director and head designer of Chanel, the fashion house that has been revolutionizing women’s clothing since 1909.
Most of us are familiar with the three inventions Chanel is famous for: Chanel N°5, the classic Chanel suit and of course, perhaps one of the best inventions to hit the fashion world, the little black dress. The LBD, seen as a fashion staple today, may not seem revolutionary but keep in mind Chanel was founded during a time when women didn’t even wear pants or go sleeveless. Coco Chanel was responsible for some of the most iconic looks in fashion and history. Lisa Chaney’s ‘Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life,’ covers all of Chanel’s sensational life from her family’s humble beginnings to the beginnings of the business that would become a house of haute couture to her death at age eighty-seven in 1971 to her legacy and Lagerfeld’s taking the reins at Chanel.
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was born in 1883 in France, the second of five children to a poor, unwed mother and ne’er-do-well father. Chanel’s mother died in 1895 and her family was unwilling to take of the children from a relationship they had never supported. Chanel’s father was incapable and unwilling to support his children and Chanel and her two sisters were sent to a convent for orphaned children to be cared for by nuns. Chanel was secretive about her childhood throughout her life and always twisted the facts whenever she spoke about her early years. Chanel left the convent at eighteen and became a seamstress and cabaret singer, which is where she picked up the nickname Coco.
Chanel is famous, or infamous, for defying conventions at the time by openly being a kept woman throughout her life and using the connections to build her business. Commonly characterized as haughty and proud, she wasn’t above using her amours’ influence to finance and publicize the business that would become one of the most famous fashion houses in the world.
Chaney covers all of Chanel’s controversial aspects; from her rumored drug use to the conspiracy theories that speculates that Chanel was a Nazi spy during WWII. Coco Chanel has probably one of the most sensational lives of anyone from the time. She defied convention in every way she could and rose from humble beginnings to become a worldwide icon.