Rags To Riches: Coco Chanel

Rags To Riches: Coco Chanel

Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel (19 August 1883 – 10 January 1971)[1] was a pioneering French fashion designer whose modernist thought, menswear-inspired fashions, and pursuit of expensive simplicity made her an important figure in 20th-century fashion. She was the founder of one of the most famous fashion brands, Chanel.

Chanel was born to an unwed mother, Jeanne Devolle, a laundrywoman, in a facility for the indigent in Saumur, France. This was Devolle’s second daughter. The father, Albert Chanel was an itinerant street peddler who with horse and cart lived a nomadic life, traveling to and from market towns, the family residing in rundown lodgings. He married Jeanne Devolle several years after Chanel was born. At birth Chanel’s name was entered into the official registry as “Chasnel.” It is speculated that this spelling was a clerical error or an ancient spelling of the family name. The couple eventually had five other children: Julia-Berthe, (1882–1913), Antoinette (born 1887) and three brothers, Alphonse (born 1885), Lucien (born 1889) and Augustin (born and died 1891).

In 1895, when she was twelve years old, Chanel’s mother died of tuberculosis. Her father sent her two brothers out as farm laborers and the three daughters to a bleak area of central France, the Corrèze, into the hands of a convent for orphans, Aubazine. It was a stark, frugal life demanding strict discipline and the rigorous indoctrination of the Catholic faith. At age eighteen, Chanel now too old to remain at Aubazine, went to live in a boarding house set aside for Catholic girls in the town of Moulins.

Having learned the sewing arts during her six years at Aubazine, Chanel was able to find employment as a seamstress. When not plying her trade with a needle, she sang in a cabaret frequently attended by cavalry officers. It was at this time that Gabrielle acquired the name “Coco,” a name possibly derived from a popular song she sang, or an allusion to the French word for kept woman: cocotte. As cafe entertainer, Chanel broadcast a juvenile allure and suggestion of a mysterious androgyny, tantalizing the military habitués of the cabaret.

Later in life, she concocted an elaborate, fabricated history to couch her humble beginnings in a more compelling light. Of the various stories told about Coco Chanel, a great number were of her own invention. These legends were to be the undoing of the earliest of her biographies. These were ghosted memoirs commissioned by Chanel herself, but never published, always aborted before fruition, as she realized that the facts exposed a personage less laudatory than the mythic Chanel she had self-invented. Chanel would steadfastly claim that when her mother died, her father sailed for America to seek his fortune and she was sent to live with two cold-hearted spinster aunts. She even claimed to have been born in 1893 as opposed to 1883, and that her mother had died when Coco was six instead of twelve.

Added on: January 27th, 2012

Category: DOCS, FASHION, RAGS TO RICHES

 
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