Coco Chanel

(1883—1971) French couturière

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French couturière who originated the slim low-waisted style that dominated women's fashion in the 1920s and who launched the famous range of perfumes that bears her name.

Chanel, whose nickname derives from ‘cocotte’, was born in Deauville and, orphaned at an early age, worked with her sister in a milliner's shop. By 1912 Chanel had opened her own shop in Deauville and, with its success, in 1914 established her fashion house in the Rue Cambon in Paris. Chanel's clothes marked the departure from the stiff corsetted style then prevalent to looser more comfortable garments. By the 1920s the Chanel style was famous all over the world, and while still at the height of her career she took on the manufacture of her own textiles, jewellery, and perfume, besides running the couture house. Her most famous fragrance, Chanel No. 5, was introduced in 1922. Chanel became a prominent figure in fashionable society and a close friend to the Duke of Westminster. In 1933 she became engaged to one of her directors, the designer Paul Iribe, but she never married.

In the 1930s Chanel's clothes were eclipsed by the more extrovert designs of Elsa Schiaparelli and others, and in 1938 her couture house had to close, leaving only the perfumery business to continue. However, her distaste for the designs of the 1940s and early 1950s prompted her to reopen: she presented her first ‘comeback’ collection in 1954, which again correctly judged the needs of the public and influenced the style of an entirely new generation in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Industrial and Commercial Art.

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