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Coco Chanel and The Little Black Dress

Updated on February 4, 2013

Coco Chanel Then and Now


Have you ever wondered where the little black dress of Coco Chanel began?

It all began when hat designer and seamstress had innovated with jersey fabric use which was an initial triumph since this material was relegated traditionally to undergarment manufacture.

Her traveling suit made of wool jersey consisted of a pleated skirt, a cardigan jacket with a pullover top that was low belted. Worn with shoes that had low heels, this ensemble became the expensive women’s “casual look."

Also, one often-cited contribution of Chanel was the "little black dress" concept. The first version was made of crepe de chine, a thin silk with sleeves that were long. Later, it was named a look that was "fashion forward" and this resonated with fashionable young women of the twenties.

Coco Chanel was by birth known as Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel and was born on the nineteenth of August in the year eighteen eighty-three until the tenth of January in nineteen seventy-one.

She was a French influential designer of fashion, founder of the Chanel famous brand whose pursuit of expensive simplicity, practical design and modernist though made her an influential and important figure in fashion of the twentieth century. In the Time 100 Most Important People of the Century, she was the only fashion designer to be named.

Chanel was born to a laundrywoman named Jeanne Devolle who was also a mother who was unwed. The Sisters of Providence charity hospital in France was where she was born as the second daughter of Devolle.

Albert Chanel was her father and he was a street peddler itinerant who lived a life that was nomadic traveling back and forth from the town markets. The family lived in lodgings that were run down. Later, years after the birth of Chanel, her father wed her mother.

At birth the official registry entered her name as Chasnel with her father registered as travelling and her mother was not well enough to take care of the registration. With both absent parents, the last name was not spelled right due to an error that is clerical.

Having been educated in the art of sewing in the time she was at Aubazine, Chanel was later employed as a seamstress and sang as a sideline in cabarets. This was where the name Coco began, derived from one of her popular songs about a "cocotte" or woman.

Later in life she would tell stories that were fabricated to cover up her beginnings which were humble.

At Moulins, Chanel met an ex cavalry, young French officer and wealthy heir of textiles Etienne Balsan. At the age of twenty-three she became the mistress of Balsan and for 3 years lived with him near Compiegne in his chateau Royallieu. This area was known for its hunting life and equestrian paths that were wooded.

The leisure and wealth of Balsan allowed cultivating a social set who reveled in the gratification of human appetites and in partying.

Chanel was lavished by Balsan with pearls, dresses and diamonds. It was while she was with him that Chanel started hat designing and later this became an enterprise that was commercial. One thing led to another and the rest, as they say, is history.

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