Born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel in 1883, Coco Chanel is one of the biggest fashion icons the world has ever known. She had a difficult past and later on tried to disguise it with claims that her date of birth was not 1883 but 1893 (making herself 10 years younger) and saying that she was actually born in Auvergne and not in the Loire Valley.
When she was only six , the mother of Coco died, leaving her and 4 more children to her father. The family quickly disbanded, the children were sent to various relatives. Fragile and young Chanel was sent to an orphanage in the monastery of Aubazine. It was the place where she learned the seamstress craft. Gabrielle’s vacations were spent with relatives in the provincial Moulins, where her sewing improved even more. At the age of 18 she left the monastery and began working for a local tailor.
The stigma of poverty that Chanel always aimed to diminish was even backed up with the statement that her father sailed for America when her mother died and that she was sent to her two spinster aunts that were treating her with cold attitude at all times.
The famous designer adopted the name Coco during her singer times in cafes and concert halls. The soldiers that came to watch her gave her that name.
When WW 1 struck she moved to Deauvileand became the mistress of heir Etienne Balsan. It was 1908 and she was 23 at the time. During the 3 years spent in the chateau she started designing hats which later grew into a business.
Her next relationship was with a wealthy Englishman, a friend of Balsan. He was the man that helped her establish several shops and even gave her a Parisian apartment. This time the relationship lasted 9 years and even after she married in 1918!
With the money and connections that her relationships provided she soon expanded her business and opened several boutiques.
The 1920’s were successful for her, it was her birth as a fashion icon. In 1922 she launched Chanel No.5, her most famous and successful fragrance. In 1925 came her extremely famous cardigan jacket and a year later the little black dress followed.
During WW 2 she became a nurse and also the mistress with a Nazi officer which made her move to Switzerland. She returned to the fashion world in 1954 with her pea jackets andbell-bottoms for women which stars like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly adored.
Coco Chanel continued her work until 1971, when she died in her apartment in The Ritz at the age of 88. Since 1982 Carl Lagerfeld is the head designer of the Chanel fashion house, continuously mining old sketches of Coco for inspiration.