Fashion Designer and Businesswoman.
“Gabrielle “Coco” Bonheur Chanel was born on August 19, 1883 to an unwed mother at the Sisters of Providence Hospital in Saumur, France. Her mother was a laundrywoman named Eugenie Devolle and her father was Albert Chanel, a street vendor who sold clothes and undergarments. She had five siblings.
Her mother died when she was twelve years old. Her father sent her and her two sisters to the convent of Aubazine. When she turned 18 years old, she left the convent and stayed in a boarding house for Catholic girls in Moulins.
She was able to find work as a seamstress since she learned sewing during her 6-year stay at the convent. She also sang in a cabaret, where she earned the nickname Coco. She soon realized that life on stage was something she did not wish to spend the rest of her life doing.
She began designing hats initially as a way to pass the time. In 1910, she became a licensed hat-maker and opened her own boutique which she called Chanel Modes. Her hats became popular when the famous theatre actress Gabrielle Dorziat wore them during F. Noziere’s Bel Ami play in 1912. Soon, Dorziat modeled her hats in Les Modes.
In 1913, through the help of Arthur Capel, she opened her own shop called Deauville. She sold hats, jackets, sweaters and the sailor blouse, or the mariniere. She found support and help from her sister Antoinette and her aunt, Adrienne Chanel.
With the success of Deauville, she opened another shop in 1915 which she called Biarritz. In 1915, she became a registered couturiere and set up her maison de couture at No. 31 as rue Cambon. Twelve years later, Chanel owned five properties on rue Cambon. In 1924, she entered into an agreement with the Wertheimer brothers to create Parfum Chanel.
In 1923, he met Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, Duke of Westminster. She had an affair with him and it has been said that she was lavished with expensive gifts and fabulous homes. Their affair lasted for 10 years. They did not marry. When asked why, she replied, “”There have been several Duchesses of Westminster. There is only one Chanel.”
In 1913, she met Samuel Goldwyn, who commissioned her to design costumes for MGM stars in Hollywood.
She died in 1971 at the age of 87. She was the only fashion designer named in Time magazine’ list of “100 Most Influential People of the 20th century.” It is estimated that her net worth was at $160 million.