Discover Gabrielle Chanel’s life journey throughout the cities that marked her self-made revolutionary career
Edited by: Fiammetta Cesana
Photos © CHANEL – Collection Bernstein-Grüber
Chanel presents three new chapters about the story of the maison, “Deauville”, “Biarritz” and “Venice” – the places where the global success of its creator flourished.
Today if we think about the French heritage brand, we immediately come up with the idea of classic, of pure and rigorous shapes, of elegance par excellence. Nothing more than Chanel N° 5 fragrance comprises the sense of pure femininity and beauty… However, we can’t forget that Gabrielle Coco Chanel was a true fashion rebellious, an inventor, who changed the way women wore and behaved. She found elegance in more casual and masculine silhouettes and carried out the example of women’s extraordinary capacities and need of independence.
The early bohemian – Deauville
She was born and raised in Deauville during the prosperous period of the French Belle Epoque. Here, the young Gabrielle was immersed in the richness of both natural and urban landscape, from the beachside promenades to the Anglo-Norman architecture and the new resorts.
In the advent of outdoor sports, she took inspirations from the elegant yet practical menswear, especially from the wardrobe of her beloved Boy Capel, the British polo player. Thanks to his support, she opened a hat shop in Paris, then in 1913 she started her boutique in Deauville too.
She began to pursue a completely new vision on women’s clothing, finally unleashed them from the constraints of corseted narrow dresses. Looking at how the clothes of horsemen and fishermen fitted smoothly, Gabrielle realized that women as well had to feel thus comfortable in their dresses.
The beach was another inspirational site: she loved sunbathing (something very unconventional and unrecommended for the ladies at the time) and, observing ladies bathing in improbable swimming attire, she started to imagine fluid beach pyjamas and functional swimsuits. Also the beige tones of the sand turned into her favorite color palette.
The designer used to attend cafes and restaurants showing her vivacity and carefree attitude. She loved watching the performances of dancers and started to design their costumes. Pioneer in the short hair cut style as well, Gabrielle was a free-minded spirit, who invented sports fashion and even anticipated feminist ideologies and styles.
A business woman – Biarritz
In Biarritz, always alongside her Boy, in 1915 she started a new exciting chapter of her life and finally became what she always wanted to be: a fashion designer and an independent business woman. By that time, many aristocrats and artists moved to the Basque Coast to refuge from the turmoil of the First World War. Here indeed Gabrielle interacted with different cultures and personalities, meeting many Russian and Spanish aristocrats and being stimulated to develop Chanel’s identity.
She was amazed by the colors, sounds and perfumes of the ocean, and decided to open her couture maison at Villa Larralde. Conquering all that independence, economically and professionally, all by herself, was something incredible for a woman at the time. Within Paris, Deauville and Biarritz, she would shortly hire three hundred employees, all women. Standing up for gender equality, she wanted to be a good model for other women and urged them to be confident and spontaneous, to dance, to swim, to sunbathe, to love…
Then with the launch of Chanel N°5 and the slinky black dress, she turned her forward-looking imaginery into an iconic fashion couture. Her modern and unconventional impetus, united women overseas, making both the Europeans and the Americans desire her clothes.
The return of the lion – Venice
After Boy’s death in 1919, she lost her unique splendor. So her dearest friends brought her to Venice to help her overcome the grieving and regain that energy which had seduced people, women, all over the world. Discovering the beauty of art, from the baroque and Byzantine churches, the Murano glass production, the golden tapestries and religious iconographies, Gabrielle took new inspirations for her clothing and jewelry designs.
The rich history of the city resembled her own spirit, exuberant and profound. The winged lion itself, as representation of Saint Mark and protector of the city, was evocative for the creator. Being her astrological sign, the lion embodied her strength and passionate soul that finally returned after the loss of her great love. So re-finding her smile and thanks to her nonchalant elegance, she charmed the Venetian high society at aristocratic and artistic circles.
Always attracted by the sun, during the day Gabrielle used to go to the Lido, where she was inspired to invent cork-soled sandals and commissioned them to a local shoemaker. While by night she used to go to elegant shows and parties, where she met her close friend Paul Morand, who would then write L’Allure de Chanel.
Gabrielle would always keep the intensity of this city in her heart, making it the inspirational place for both her life and fashion style. Venice, the winged lion, the vibrant architectures and artworks, reflected her renaissance, bringing a new wave of creativeness and passion for her work.