Something a little different for you all. For as long as I can remember I have always been mezmarised with fashion trends, and the designers who create them. As a little project over this lockdown period I am going to delve deeper into their pasts and pull out some really interesting, different facts and pieces of info that we all most probably wouldn’t of known. So today it’s the huge fashion power house of Chanel!
Here are 16 really interesting facts I have found on Chanel that I didn’t know, I needed to know!
- Chanel’s star sign was a Leo, this explains why there is the lion emblem some of her bags, jackets and clasps. Most famously used on the buttons of her tweed suits. She believed that the lion protected her creations, even having a huge painting hang over her desk in her apartment.
2. Her lucky number was 5, which is why she named the world famous perfume Chanel No.5.
3. The nickname Coco first originated from Chanel’s father who hated her real name Gabrielle. He refused to call her by this and used to call her ‘Little Coco’, when she was older she just became Coco. The nickname later stuck with her in later life as she once desired to be a cabaret singer and sang at a little cafe in Moulins pavilion, La Rotonde. She only had 2 songs in her repertoire one being ‘Qui qu’a vu Coco’ a song about a girl who has lost her dog, and the other ‘Ko Ko Rik Ko’ the French version of Cock-a-doodle-do. The locals soon addressed her as Coco.
4. Both Chanel and her father’s surname were misspelt on their birth certificates due to a clerical error as ‘Chasnel’.
5. A lot is left unknown about Chanel’s past as she would very often lie, or alter information about her life in interviews. She admitted to often adjusting her date of birth when it suited her purposes, she even tore out the page in her passport! When she was 76 she said “My age varies according to the days and the people I happen to be with”.
6. Coco lived for the majority of her life in the Ritz hotel, suite number 302. She did however have a second appartment at 31 Rue Cambon, a luxurious apartment which sat on top of one of her boutiques. This had no bedroom though, as this was just a creative space for her to design. Interestingly, the apartment had no doors, Chanel hated them. It reminded her of people leaving, one of her deep routed fears was being alone – this probably stemmed from her mother dying when she was just 18 and her father walking out on her and her siblings. She would lay out Chinese screens where the doors should be as she hoped it would lead to people not remembering to leave.
7. Chanel always kept a bag of wheat under her bed in her Ritz home and one in each room of her apartment in Rue Cambon. Her father had told her that wheat was a form of good luck to soothe her from the fear of the ‘evil man’ who she feared was under her bed at night, who wanted to throw wheat at her when she was a little girl (11 years old).
8. Following her mothers death, she was sent to live in an Orphanage in Aubazine with her sisters. Her brothers were sent to live with ‘peasant families’, Chanel hated it there and would plead with her father to rescue her and take her away. This is a part of her life that she desperately tired to keep out of the newspapers.
9. Chanel had a nephew called Andre, who she claims her sister Julia had in the convent. Although it is believed to be Chanel’s secret love child with Èteinne Balsan. Andre was sent to live at a boarding school in England after Chanel’s sister Julia killed herself. People believe that Coco didn’t want him traced back to her and that’s why she sent him away. However, she would often visit Andre, who later named his daughter Gabrielle after Chanel.
10. Although later on introducing more colour into her collections, Chanels favourite colour was Black. She liked to use plain muted colours in her designs, she thought it was the most complimentary of the women’s physique and showed class and elegance.
11. Returning back to France after taking refuge in the South of France for serval months she moved back into her Ritz apartment in 1940 to find a Swastika flying over the entrance. Her status and connections however still secured her a room where she lived during the remainder of the war. Chanel had a love affair with Hans Gunther von Dinklage better know as ‘spatz” who was also staying at the Ritz during this time. His status in the war is still unknown but rumours fly around that he was a spy working as a double agent for both the Nazi’s and the British.
12. Chanel was actually involved in a secret mission during the war called ‘Operation Modellhut” (meaning fashion hat) in 1944. She often boasted about her great friendship with Winston Churchill, and had suggested that she could act as an intermediary and use her persuasive powers to encourage Churchill to enter peace talks with the German government. The mission ended up fizzling out, as Chanels close friendship with Churchill seemed to be amazingly overstated.
13. Two weeks after the Liberation of France Coco Chanel was arrested in her room at the Ritz for her collaboration with the German’s. The punishments were brutal for women, they were imprisoned for months, their heads were shaved and they were paraded down the streets. Some were even shot, Chanel was lucky however and with intervention from the Duke of Westminster (who she had a 10 year love affair with) via Winston Churchill, she was released after a few hours of being imprisoned.
14. Chanel had a great friendship with Jean Couteau, he would often sketch lots of her designs for magazines such as Vouge, and many fashion journals. He was one of her most trusted friends.
15. After a long 14 years of closure for Chanel she decided to reopen her doors at the age of 70. It was believed she decided to do this after her time in exile had left her bored and lonely, and she was infuriated to see the success of Christian Dior reversing the trend she had set by bringing tighter silhouettes and subordinated women’s bodies to make a male view of femininity.
Doir’s tighter silhouette suit vs Chanel’s loose fitting boxy suit
16. Gabrielle Chanel designed her own headstone for her grave. Many designers attended her funeral, Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Balmain, Cristóbal Balenciaga and Jeanne Moreau. Her service was held at L’Eglise de la Madeline a grande church right next to 31 Rue Cambon. Her final resting place was a cemetery in Lausanne Switzerland.
I obtained most of this information through the following books. Highly recommend these, both great reads!
- Little Book of Chanel – Emma Baxter Wright
- Coco Chanel The Legend and The Life – Justine Picardie