The history of Chanel collectibles
Gabrielle Chanel was born in 1883 and placed in an orphanage at the age of 12 following the death of her mother. In 1901, she disc
Gabrielle Chanel was born in 1883 and placed in an orphanage at the age of 12 following the death of her mother. In 1901, she discovered a passion for sewing, which she learnt at the convent in Moulins.
She found employment as a seamstress in the town and at the same time tried her hand at singing in a cabaret, taking the stage-name Coco. The cabaret was frequented by a rich heir Etienne Balsan, who invited her to lead of life of leisure with him at his Chateau de Royallieu estate.
Coco Chanel agreed but became bored, which is why she decided to turn her skills to her advantage, by making hats and plain, tomboyish clothing, contrasting with the feminine fashion of the time and quickly getting her noticed, particularly by Arthur Capel. This businessman – who was to be the love of her life – believed in her talent and offered her the chance to set up a studio in Paris. Her success led to the opening of a shop on Rue Cambon (1910), then two others, in Deauville (1913) and Biarritz (1915).
Coco Chanel’s simple style, rejecting showiness and expensive materials, was inspired by menswear and designed to give women’s bodies freedom of movement.
In 1920, Coco Chanel began designing costume jewellery, including the large brooches and long, ostentatious necklaces which remain emblematic of Chanel jewellery.
At the same time, her "little black dress" became an immediate hit and was widely copied, becoming ubiquitous during the 1950s and 1960s.
The first Chanel fragrance, Chanel n°5, was released in 1924, following a collaboration between Coco and the rich Wertheimer family (which owns a 70% stake in her fragrances), although this relationship soured in 1928 as Coco felt badly treated financially.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the famous Chanel tweed or towelling skirt-suits were launched and came to symbolise the brand.
The 2.55, Chanel’s first emblematic handbag, was launched in February 1955 (hence its name). It refers to Coco’s childhood memories and personal history, the quilted pattern of its distressed calfskin, for example, evoking the stained glass windows at Aubazine abbey, which she would visit while at the convent, while her rectangular clasp, known as Mademoiselle, reflects her choice never to marry.
Despite these new products, the Chanel style struggled to compete with the New Look introduced by Christian Dior, designed to revive a sumptuous and voluptuous pre-war femininity, of which the corset was once again an integral part. Coco Chanel was therefore obliged to sell her fashion house to Pierre Wertheimer in 1954 and it remains the property of the Wertheimer family to this day.
Coco Chanel died in 1971.
The brand’s prestige would be fully restored until the talented German designer Karl Lagerfeld was appointed as Chanel’s artistic director in 1983. Lagerfeld’s re-interpretation of the Chanel skirt-suit, in particular, was such as success that it is now a basic element of the female wardrobe.
The same goes for his re-interpretation of the 2.55 bag, with the launch of the Timeless bag in 1982. The main distinction between the Timeless and the 2.55 is the chain threaded with a leather cord (black or beige) and its fairly round clasp featuring the Chanel logo: the two intertwined Cs. These two models became Chanel’s it-bags, although this did not prevent Karl Lagerfeld from designing a new handbag, the Mademoiselle, in 2010 – featuring Blake Lively, star of the series Gossip Girl, as its ambassador. The rounded, quilted leather bag looks more like an evening bag than a handbag.
In 2011, the Chanel Corporate Foundation opened in Neuilly-sur-Seine. Loyal to Coco’s feminist spirit, it supports projects contributing to improving the quality of life of women around the world and encouraging their entrepreneurial initiatives.
Finally, from an economic perspective, the Chanel brand enjoys irrefutable international fame and success (Chanel n°5 is the most sold fragrance in the world), has more than 240 shops and embodies a certain concept of luxury which, according to Coco, is not the opposite of poverty, but of vulgarity. Although the brand prefers to remain discreet concerning its business figures and the breakdown of its international clientele, it appears to have achieved annual turnover of 1.8 billion euros in 2010 and 2.27 billion euros in 2011.