My obsession with Coco Chanel began before I even knew who she was. The scent of Chanel No. 5 is as embedded in my memory as any I can think of, reminding me of afternoons playing dress-up from grandmothers' closets and church on Christmas Eve. Of course I am not alone in this regard -- No. 5 is the most recognizable fragrance in the world, and it was my first, subtle introduction to Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, better known as Coco. Born on August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France, Mlle. Chanel would grow up to change the world, both in her own time and beyond.
If I sound enamored of Coco Chanel, it's because I am. She is fascinating, complicated and impossibly romantic. She defies the imagination: A couturier worth millions, a Parisian fashion powerhouse draped in pearls and dipped in diamonds, the most elegant woman in the world who had a string of famous (and infamous) lovers...once went stream fishing with Winston Churchill.
In honor of Coco's birthday, we present five of her signature innovations in fashion and beauty.
5. The Chanel Suit Featuring menswear-inspired lines with boxy jackets and straight, narrow skirts, her tweed suit remains a timeless fashion staple for the luxury brand even today. No more corsets, or manipulation of the female figure. Comfort, ease and natural fluidity are the focus. Chanel's tweed suits were favored by such fashionistas as Jacqueline Kennedy, and today by Vogue editrix Anna Wintour.
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4. Layering costume & fine jewelry There is hardly a picture of Mademoiselle without a string or ten of pearls. But the pearls themselves, while certainly her signature, were just one part of a larger fashion trademark that Coco created: layering costume jewelry with fine jewelry. Mademoiselle never hesitated to pair inexpensive and expensive, and she made creative, playful accessorizing accessible to the masses as a result.
3. Chanel No. 5 Famous faces representing Chanel No. 5 include Nicole Kidman, Catherine Deneuve, Cheryl Tiegs and, of course, Mademoiselle herself. Marilyn Monroe became the unofficial face of Chanel No. 5 when, in response to an interviewer's question about what she wore to bed, she answered, "Chanel No. 5." That spontaneous answer led to a contract with Chanel for Monroe.
2. Jersey fabric Jersey was inexpensive and considered "cheap" before Coco began making beautiful clothing out of the fabric once reserved for making men's underwear. Coco thought about luxury and style in a new way, favoring simplicity over total opulence. She once said, "Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity."
1. The little black dress The dress that changed everything. In the 1920s. Coco transformed a color that was previously reserved for mourning and created the ultimate evening look for women.