French Icon: Coco Chanel

French Icon: Coco Chanel

From the little black dress and Chanel suit to the quilted purse and No.5 perfume, the weight of her influence on the industry is immense

Born into poverty in a poorhouse in Saumur in 1883 and abandoned at an orphanage, Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel would become a seamstress and later dominate Parisian haute couture for almost six decades. Chanel moved to Moulins when she was 18 to be employed as a seamstress after learning to sew in the orphanage. In 1913 she opened a boutique in Deauville and went on to revolutionise women’s fashion, rejecting impractical and uncomfortable clothes, creating a clean and classic brand that has become a symbol of French chic. Her originality and practical designs that exuded elegance earned her the position of perhaps the most iconic fashion designer.

As the first major fashion designer to launch a perfume and simplify the bottle design, making it sleeker and more chic, Chanel commissioned perfumer Ernest Beaux and partnered with Galeries Lafayette to promote the emblematic Chanel No. 5.

The House of Chanel was led by a series of designers including Karl Lagerfeld following her death at the Hôtel Ritz Paris in 1971. Her fashion innovation and legacy can be witnessed to this day at the iconic 31 Rue Cambon with its famed Art Deco staircase. Her apartment here remains as she decorated it in all its opulence and is sometimes open to special guests. In her words, luxury must be comfortable otherwise it is not luxury.

Wanting to learn more about France’s icons?

From Le Petit Prince’s author to the Michelin man, France has its fair share of icons – you can read more about them here

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