The rise of the luxury brand Chanel and Coco Chanel's Nazi connections : The Chanel Story
Updated: Nov 4, 2020
"Fashion is like revolution- it only enters our lives after it has gone down the streets." - Coco Chanel
Coco Chanel was one of the most influential women of her time - she liberated the
women 's fashion , gave the world mesmerizing fragrances like the Chanel No. 5 and laid the foundation of the "modern" women's fashion by introducing pants for women and making it all about comfort and liberation.
Coco Chanel was more than a fashion designer and a style symbol. She had a complicated love life , was abandoned by her own father and also worked under the Nazis as an agent. Even her work life wasn't perfect and she died with just a 2% stake in her own company CHANEL.
Let's trace down the events and understand how it all happened. Coco Chanel's ( formerly Gabrielle Chanel ) mother died when she was just 11 and her father abandoned her and the other siblings; all the girls were sent to an orphanage and the boys were sent to work as farm labourers.
It was in the orphanage Chanel learnt to sew and she became a seamstress and sang in a bar as her second job. In the process of auditioning for stage jobs and doing petty jobs Coco met Etienne Balsan , who was a rich aristocrat and the heir to a textile business. Coco was a poor yet charming lady and she knew how to make her way in using her charms. Soon , she became Balsan's mistress; probably she knew that it was Balsan who could introduce her to influencial people. She began residing with Balsan but he never took her to parties, maybe because he was ashamed of her. Coco felt hurt and disrespected but again she knew how to deal with situations, she decided to go to the party uninvited. But , what would she wear?
She used one of Balsan's old suits and customized it as per her size and went to the party wearing a man's suits and caught the eyes of everyone in the party. The people were charmed by her looks and wanted to know who the young lady was and why was she wearing a man's suit. "Because it is comfortable" was her gentle reply.
"Dress shabbily and they remember the dress , dress impeccably and they remember the women." - Coco Chanel
Balsan started taking Coco with her more often now and therefore she had a chance to mingle with influencial people which would help her start her own clothing business. Coco found a friend and a business partner in "Boy" Capel who was a wealthy aristocrat and she became a mistress to Capel who invested in her boutique in Paris where she started selling high-fashion hats and expanded to other clothing items. Capel helped her in handling her business ,invested in it and soon the boutique grew popular and even the influencial people started visiting it.
In the process Capel and Coco fell in love but Capel couldn't not marry Coco because she was not a wealthy aristocrat , so he married a rich divorcee women but their relationship continued behind closed doors. Destiny did not support their relationship and Capel died in a car crash when he was 32.
It is said that that was the only time Chanel cried in her life.
Chanel did not stop and continued living a rather complicated life; the international economic depression shook her business and finally the World War II led her to close her shop.
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Interestingly , that wasn't the end of her career- the lady had more to achieve. At the age of 70 , she did a fashion show in Paris , her designs were ridiculed and the French press smirked at her age.
Later , Chanel did a fashion show in America and the American press called her fashion a "Revolution" which it indeed is. She gave the idea of women's suit comprising of a collarless jacket and a tight skirt.
Chanel was considered a Nazi spy and she worked under the name "Westminster" primarily because she was in a long relationship with the Duke of Westminster. Besides him , Coco had numerous "connections" with rich men all over Europe and America and she truly used her charms to make her way in.
Interestingly , though she owned an appartment in Paris , each day she slept in Hotel Ritz in Paris. It is said that that's where all the Nazi activities took place. We will never know.
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Chanel died on January 10, 1971 in Hotel Ritz in Paris. Her fashion still continues to rule the world.