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Biography of Fashion Designer Coco Chanel

Updated on December 15, 2014

Coco Chanel

Life of Coco Chanel

The life of Coco Chanel was unlike you would ever have imagined. Coco Chanel was a French fashion designer whose modernist philosophy, menswear-inspired fashions, and pursuit of expensive simplicity made her arguably the most important figure in the history of 20th-century fashion. Fashion designer Coco Chanel's influence on haute couture was so immense that she was the only person in the fashion industry to be named on TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people of the 20th century! Learn more about the life and fashion career of Coco Chanel and how fame didn't come easy to this inspiring fashion designer icon.

Fashion Designer Coco Chanel

The Life of Coco Chanel

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel was born August 19, 1883 and died on January 10, 1971.

Coco Chanel was born the second illegitimate daughter of traveling salesman Albert Chanel and laundress Jeanne Devolle in the small city of Saumur, Maine-et-Loire, France. Coco was born in a poorhouse. She had five siblings: two sisters and three brothers. In 1895, when she was 12 years old, Chanel's mother died at age 32 from the stresses of their impoverished life; her father left the family a short time later. The young Chanel spent seven years in the orphanage of the Catholic monastery of Aubazine, where she learned how to sew and earned the title of being a trained seamstress. School vacations were spent with relatives in the provincial capital of Moulins, where female relatives taught Coco to sew with flourish. When Coco turned eighteen, she left the orphanage, and took up work for a local tailor.

It was at the tailor shop where she met and soon began an affair with the English playboy ienne Balsan. She was quite the party girl and sang in seedy nightclubs during the evenings. While living with Balsan, Coco began designing hats as a hobby. She simplified them by removing all the feathers and flowers making women's hats appear more streamlined. The hats immediately caught the attention of the female Parisian ite, and provided designer Chanel with a path toward earning financial independence for herself. With the aid of Balsan and another rich lover Arthur "Boy" Capel, Coco Chanel was able to acquire the property and financial backing to open her own millinery (hat) shop.

The Chanel Empire

The extremely influential Chanel suit, launched in 1923, it was an elegant women's suit consisting of a knee-length skirt with trim, along with a boxy jacket. This designer Chanel suit was traditionally made of woven wool with black trim and gold buttons and worn with large costume-pearl necklaces. Coco Chanel also popularized the little black dress, whose blank-slate versatility allowed this designer Chanel dress to be worn for day and evening, depending, of course, on how it was accessorized. Although unassuming black dresses existed before Chanel, the ones she designed were considered the haute couture standard.

In 1923, Chanel told Harper's Bazaar that "simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance." Chanel always kept the clothing she designed simple and comfortable. Chanel's boutiques sold practical, loose sportswear made of jersey (a fabric then only used for men's underwear), and ignored the corseted style of the time. Coco not only popularized the bob haircut and the tan, but introduced us to costume jewelry, which she cleverly mixed with real jewels, man-style dressing, and the first designer perfume to be marketed as a brand extension.

Hollywood stars including Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly fell in love with her effortlessly chic boxy cardigan suits. Her death in 1971 at age 87 came suddenly, with Coco spending her last moments in the style she had become accustomed to at her opulent private apartment in The Ritz. A true icon of fine women's fashions, no other designer can compare with the classic, feminine styles of designer Coco Chanel.

History of Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel

Creating a whole new look of elegance, the glorious life of the incomparable Coco Chanel shines again through the writings about her life and hundreds of illustrations.

Coco Chanel Photographs

Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel/Summer 62: Photographs by Douglas Kirkland
Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel/Summer 62: Photographs by Douglas Kirkland

"Images left behind are in the end stronger than truth and facts. Through Douglas Kirkland's images we can imagine what the famous Coco had been all about before she became the formidable Chanel," muses Karl Lagerfeld in Mademoiselle, a selection of photographs of Chanel taken by Douglas Kirkland in 1962 on assignment in Paris for the American magazine Look. Lagerfeld is the designer currently at the helm of the Parisian fashion house, made iconic by designer Coco Chanel during her long reign, from 1909-1971--and the designer of this handsome edition as well. Through his introduction and captions to these photographs, we understand how important Chanel's image has been to the success of the century-old French couture line. Kirkland, a Los Angeles-based photographer famous for his portrayals of Chanel and Marilyn Monroe, gives us a glimpse of the sympathetic character beneath the hard-working fashion doyenne's ever-impeccable exterior, with his elegant shots of Mademoiselle leaving her suite at the Ritz Hotel, in her apartment and studio at 31 rue Cambon and watching a runway show from the apartment's famous mirrored staircase.


Authentic Chanel Suits

If you want to really stand out at the office, wear one of these women's suits. You won't look like a clone and when you receive all the compliments, you can proudly state "Oh, It's a Chanel".

Chanel Jewelry

Chanel Jewelry
Chanel Jewelry

Chanel No. 5 Perfume

Coco Chanel introduced Chanel No. 5 on May 5th 1921 and its still in great demand in the year 2015, way to go Coco! She was the first fashion designer to lend her name to a fragrance line.

No. 5 by Chanel for Women, Eau De Parfum Spray, 3.4 Ounce
No. 5 by Chanel for Women, Eau De Parfum Spray, 3.4 Ounce

Launched by the design house of Chanel in 1921, CHANEL #5 is a women's fragrance that possesses a blend of a classic scent of sparkling florals. It is recommended for evening wear.


Coco Chanel

Are You Fond of Chanel? What Line? - Chanel Clothing? Chanel Fashion Accessories?

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    • crystalfashion profile image

      crystalfashion 3 years ago


    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      just love rags to riches stories like Coco Chanel's !

    • profile image

      mari-jungstet 5 years ago

      I love the Coco Chanel story too =$

    • Sisi-cfield LM profile image

      Sisi-cfield LM 5 years ago

      can't belief what I just saw, the white bag, so lovely.

    • bagbag lm profile image

      bagbag lm 5 years ago

      omg chanel accessiores look like they are mine? LOL, they look lovely

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      wow, the most perfect lens ever on squidoo page about Chanel! I think Coco is an inspirational for women who want to build their own empire and a timeless brand. She actually started with nothing and build everything from scratch. Most important is that she love what she was doing. True inspiration.


    • profile image

      Kali-Shay 6 years ago

      I love the Coco story. It makes me think of changing my name to Coco. I'm not big on Chanel Jewelry, but I'm dying for a Chanel flap bag. I thought the pics of the suits were really cute. Sorry for rambling.

    • profile image

      Watch-man 6 years ago

      chanel is a legend!! awesome lens

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Great lens

    • Phillyfreeze profile image

      Ronald Tucker 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      I vividly recall purchasing Chanel No. 5 perfume for my girlfriend in the early 1970s and the scent was so memorable that I could tell when she was wearing it from a distance of serveral feet.

      It was Coco Chanel who said,"A woman that doesn't wear perfume...has no future." This lens is thoroughly distinctive and brought back a lot of fond mememories of my youth.

    • ggalea profile image

      Gilberto Galea 7 years ago from Willemstad

      Nice lens!, She's one of my favorite!,

      Thanks by share

    • profile image

      scar4 7 years ago

      I enjoy the essence of Chanel design, but I can't afford the money to buy it.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      i like parfum collection of coco chanel...

    • compugraphd profile image

      compugraphd 7 years ago

      One of the first gifts my first boyfriend bought me was a Chanel #5 gift set. I loved the scent and, to this day almost 30 years after we broke up, I still think of him when I smell Chanel.

      My fashion lens is at

    • KokoTravel profile image

      KokoTravel 7 years ago

      I love the classic style of Chanel... still love Chanel Number 9

    • profile image

      SofiaMann 7 years ago

      I like everything. Thanks for the info.

    • cbessa profile image

      cbessa 7 years ago

      Have you seen that movia about her and Igor Stravinsky romance?

    • profile image

      dandbal 7 years ago

      In my opinion, Coco defines class and elegance.

    • blue22d profile image

      blue22d 7 years ago

      It has been a fun time here. I had seen the movie about Chanel's life and fashion. I love her hats. Thanks for doing this lens.

    • Laura Schofield profile image

      Laura Schofield 7 years ago from Chicago, IL USA

      Coco Chanel is definitely one of my favorite designers. I LOVE her suits and hats!! I put together a page on another iconic woman in fashion you might be interested in, Donna Karan: . I've lensrolled this to my Donna Karan lens and featured it as well, excellent job!

    • DarylSerrano LM profile image

      DarylSerrano LM 7 years ago

      Great lens! Chanel's history is very inspiring, from rags to riches. Her simple yet elegant designs for clothes are very classy too, love it.

      Congratulations to your nomination to Giant Squid Awards 2009!

    • clouda9 lm profile image

      clouda9 lm 8 years ago

      Such a rich history of design and fashion. Wonderful lens! Congrats on your 2009 Giant Squid Awards nomination.

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image

      WindyWintersHubs 8 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

      Wonderful Lens and Really Classy! What an amazing lady. I remember Chanel No.5 was the first cologne my hubby bought me. It's a beautiful scent. Congrats on your Purple Star and Giant Squid Award Nomination. This lens is a winner. Best Wishes to you! :)

    • Laniann profile image

      Laniann 8 years ago

      Yes, I am fond of Chanel Clothing and her designs. Nicely presented. Congratulations on being nominated for the 2009 Giant Squid Awards.

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 8 years ago

      Beautiful lens. Chanel perfume was "the" gift for women in my Mom's generation. 5*

    • profile image

      myraggededge 8 years ago

      Very interesting - rags to riches. Gives us all hope. Good luck in the GS awards.

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 8 years ago

      Nice lens on a great designer!

      Congratulations on your 2009 Giant Squid Awards!


    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 8 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Congratulations on your purple star and nomination for the 2009 Giant Squid Awards

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      What a great lens about Coco Chanel! Congratulations on your nomination for 2009 Giant Squid Award! Spreading my wings for an Angel Blessing while I'm here.

    • Laura Schofield profile image

      Laura Schofield 8 years ago from Chicago, IL USA

      Very nice job. Fashion designers can be such interesting people. I love Chanel designs.

    • kateloving profile image

      Kate Loving Shenk 8 years ago from Lancaster PA

      Trip of nostalgic memories!! Thanks for this--and congrats on your purple star!!

    • PromptWriter profile image

      Moe Wood 8 years ago from Eastern Ontario

      Congratulations on the purple star.

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 8 years ago from Royalton

      Congratulations on the well-deserved purple star!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I love this fragrance. Fantastic lens!

    • CoolFoto profile image

      CoolFoto 8 years ago

      Congrats on your well deserved Purple lens.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 8 years ago from Arkansas USA

      I so remember the generation of the Chanel suit. Still love the style and the pictures. Nice lens! Congratulations on your purple star!

    • Risa28 profile image

      Risa28 9 years ago

      I love Coco and your lens. 5*s

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Your lens would be a great addition to the 'Fashion - Fashion Models' Group

      ( )

      Feel free to add it anytime!

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      I love Chanel, how many designers can say that their designs are still being worn decades latter. That little white and black suit, so chic, it can be worn just about anywhere.

      Thanks for the lens.

    • profile image

      ReneeMichele 9 years ago

      Nice lens, keep up the good work!

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Fabulous! Coco is timeless and perfect.

    • profile image

      maryluaggo 9 years ago

      Thanks for this great lens on fashion and Coco Chanel! Wonderful! For all your fashion trends needs, check out

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      We are looking for new modeling talent. Check out our lens for more information at ”TRU Talent Management for more info.

    • daoine lm profile image

      daoine lm 10 years ago

      Welcome to the Phenomenal Women group :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 10 years ago

      Chanel also makes some great fashion accessories for men.

      Styles For Him