We all boast of at least one LBD (Little Black Dress) in our closets. Our parties and club nights seem incomplete without that one piece of garment which is glamorous and elegant at the same time. Fitted or flared, a LBD comes in all shapes and sizes and is enough to make a statement in any occasion that you go wearing it. But how many of us know how the ‘Little Black Dress’ came into being? Who created it? Who the first person to come up with this idea?
It was a woman who is considered to be the pioneer of change in women’s fashion. It was none other than Coco Chanel.
One famous quote as said by Chanel was, “Fashion fades; only style remains the same.”
Chanel wholeheartedly believed in this saying and incorporated it in her sense of design. Her designs were so advanced that they are being diligently followed even today. Chanel’s name is now synonymous with the biggest name in fashion, the brand, ‘CHANEL’.
Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel was born on 19th August, 1883 in Saumur, France to an unmarried woman named Eugenie Jeanne Devolle who was a laundrywoman. Her father was a roving street vendor, Albert Chanel, who sold work clothes and undergarments. When Gabrielle was eleven her mother passed away due to bronchitis; unable to care for his five children, Albert sent his two sons to work in the farm as labourers and his three daughters to a convent for the poor and destitute. At the age of eighteen Coco went to live in a boarding house for girls in the town of Moulins because she was too old to stay in the convent any longer.
To make ends meet, Chanel, who knew sewing, found work as a seamstress and when not plying her needle she sang in a cabaret which was frequented by cavalry officers. It was in one such performance at the ‘La Rotonde’ that Gabrielle met young ex-cavalry officer and textile heir Etienne Balsan. She became his mistress and lived with him in his chateau for three years. These three years were a lie of luxury for the young woman as she had Etienne’s wealth at her disposal. He gifted her diamonds, dresses and pearls, but that was not enough. Chanel unknowingly started having an affair with one of Balsan’s friends, Captain Arthur Edward Capel. Capel made arrangements for her to move out of the chateau and start a life of her own, providing her with lodging quarters and funding for her first shops.
Chanel, began her career by selling self-made hats. Her first boutique, Chanel Modes, opened in 1910 when Chanel was registered as a licensed hat-maker. In 1913, encouraged by the success of her millinery career, Chanel ventured into deluxe casual clothing.
This was the beginning of her future as one the most sought after couturieres in the history of fashion. Chanel’s designs were liberating in a sense that they provided comfort and room to breathe in a time when women were constrained in the strings of a corset. Coco Chanel is credited for doing away with the corseted silhouette by providing women with a casual, chic and sporty shape in their garments. She was also the first designer to bring to use the machine-knit heresy fabric for the construction of mainstream garments at a time when jersey was used only for making undergarments.
Her death in 1971 was a huge blow to the fashion industry. The industry had lost one of its most loved and cherished creators. She was bid farewell with white flowers and puffy eyes glistening with tears.
However, Chanel’s legacy as a designer still remains strong through her trademark look of youthful ease, liberated physicality and unencumbered confidence which is represented by her amazing silhouettes, pearl neckpieces and perfumes.
Salute to a fashion designer who transformed the history of fashion into what it is today. May her name keep shining in the years to come.