The Chanel Story: How Coco Chanel Changed The World Of Fashion

Gabrielle Chanel, better known as Coco Chanel, dominated the fashion scene for over six decades during her peak years in fashion and inspired women to morph their fashion from dull corsets to wearing suits and costume jewelry. Using her observations of the Parisian market and its customers, Chanel identified the need for a revolution in women’s fashion. She created designs using the original use of jersey fabric, which is now beloved everywhere in the world. More than five decades after her passing, the House of Chanel is valued at a whopping $9 billion and remains a favorite for A-list celebrities.

The story of Coco Chanel begins in a poverty-stricken childhood who used opportunity and innovation to change how people perceived fashion. Over the years, the iconic brand has expanded its reach into various industries, from fashion to makeup and accessories, with many celebrities serving as House Ambassadors. Let’s look at how Coco Chanel founded the brand that carries her moniker and changed the fashion world

3 From Gabrielle To Chanel


In the summer of 1883 in Saumur, France, Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel was born to Jeanne DeVolle. After her mother’s premature death, Chanel’s father gave her away to the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, where women were dressed in white and austere clothing. This later became an essential part of her iconic designs. At 18, she left the orphanage and began working as a shopgirl in Moulins as a part-time singer in cafes. One of her signature songs was Qui qu’a vu Coco, which reportedly earned her the nickname Coco, as noted by L’Officiel USA.

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At 31, Coco Chanel opened her first boutique in Paris. Her singing career at the establishment helped her meet prominent figures in fashion, and one of them, Étienne de Balsan, offered her to move into his castle where he financed her to design hats. Balsan recognized her talent by helping her establish a shop in Deauville in 1914. Chanel began designing non-traditional designs, unlike the corsets, which were uncomfortable and focused on sporty silhouettes. A French textile industrialist offered her the jersey fabric to make her clothes which has now become a significant aspect of Chanel creations.

2 Birthing The Infamous No.5 And The Chanel Suite

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Her relentless desire for innovation accelerated her growth in fashion, and Chanel began looking for various avenues to expand her brand recognition. One of her most iconic and essential designs that helped Chanel gain financial stability was the infamous Chanel No.5 perfume. In 1921, Chanel commissioned perfume maker Ernst Beaux in France to create a series of fragrances for her, as noted by Britannica. She challenged him to invent a scent that smelled like a woman, and after 80 creations, she chose the fifth one naming it the Chanel No.5. Chanel was the first person to sell perfume in a sleek bottle compared to the traditional packaging. The house’s iconic ambassador Marilyn Monroe once revealed in her now-iconic interview that she only wore five drops of Chanel No.5 to bed which drastically boosted its sales.

In 1926, the world was introduced to a simple calf-length black dress featured in Vogue which was dubbed Chanel’s Ford, an intelligent reference to the Model T. Called the Little Black Dress, it has become a staple in every female wardrobe today. Coco Chanel withdrew from the world of fashion during World War II and made her comeback in 1954. When the world critiqued that her house was on the verge of decline, she introduced the Chanel knitted suit that has become a staple of the fashion house. As mentioned by CNN, the suit became a game-changer and featured a collarless jacket and a slim skirt. Notable women in history, including Princess Diana, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Jackie Kennedy, used the Chanel suit as a staple.

1 A Legacy Carried For Generations

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Coco Chanel also introduced the world to costume jewelry featuring faux pearls, dainty chains, and layered necklaces as a fashion accessory considered a bold fashion risk during her time. Before Chanel’s bag innovation, women used clutches and purses carried by hand. Still, she introduced bags with shoulder straps and fashionable chains, which became a status symbol and convenient for use. Around two decades after her return to fashion, the fashion house founder passed away in 1971 at the Ritz in Paris, as stated by Chanel.

Shortly after her death, the reigns of the House of Chanel were given to her assistants Ramon Esparza and Gaston Berthelot. In the 1980s, Chanel was considered a long-forgotten brand since the death of Chanel, who was the creative force behind the house. Karl Lagerfeld, who had worked with Chloé and Fendi, was brought on board as the Creative Director. His vision of reintroducing the world to Chanel’s Ready-To-Wear designs by inculcating Coco’s essence with contemporary looks revived the brand. He retained his position for over three decades until his passing in 2019.

Since 2019, Virginie Viard has taken over the reins of Chanel as its Creative Director and has followed the footsteps of her mentor Karl Lagerfeld to bring his vision to life. The success of Chanel dates back to its originator Coco Chanel who brought innovation to fashion and changed its course forever.

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Sources: L’Officiel USA, Britannica, CNN, Chanel

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