A Year: Day to Day Men: 19th of August, Solar Year 2018
August 19, 1883 was the birthdate of French fashion designer Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel.
Coco Chanel began designing hats initially as a diversion that evolved into a commercial enterprise. She became a licensed milliner in 1910 and opened a boutique at 21 Rue Cambon, Paris, named Chanel Modes. Chanel’s millinery career bloomed once theater actress Gabrielle Dorsiat wore Chanel’s hats in the 1912 play “Bel Ami”.
In 1913, Coco Chanel opened a boutique in Deauville , financed by her long-time lover Arthur Capel, where she introduced deluxe casual clothes suitable for leisure and sport, constructed from humble fabrics such as jersey and tricot, at the time primarily used for men’s underwear. The location was a prime one, in the center of town on a fashionable street. Here Chanel sold hats, jackets, sweaters, and the mariniere, the sailor blouse. Her sister Adrienne and her aunt Antoinette were recruited to model Chanel’s designs; on a daily basis the two women paraded through the town and on its boardwalks, advertising the Chanel creations.
Chanel, determined to re-create the success she had enjoyed in Deauville, opened an establishment in Biarritz in 1915. Biarritz, situated on the Côte Basque, in proximity to wealthy Spanish clients, had neutral status during World War I, allowing it to become the playground for the moneyed and those exiled from their native countries by the hostilities. The Biarritz shop was installed not as a storefront, but in a villa opposite the casino. After one year of operation, the business proved to be so lucrative that in 1916 Chanel was able to reimburse Arthur Capel his original investment.
In 1918, Chanel purchased the entire building at 31 Rue Cambon, which was situated in one of the most fashionable districts of Paris. In 1921, she opened what may be considered an early incarnation of the fashion boutique, featuring clothing, hats, and accessories, later expanded to offer jewelry and fragrance. In addition to turning out her couture collections, Chanel threw her prodigious energies into designing dance costumes for the cutting-edge Ballets Russe. Between the years 1923–1937, she collaborated on productions choreographed by Diaghilev and dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, notably “Le Train Bleu” a dance-opera, “Orphee” and “Oedipe Roi”
Coco Chanel’s design aesthetic redefined the fashionable woman for the post World War I era. Chanel’s initial triumph was the innovative use of the jersey fabric, a machine knit material manufactured for her by the firm Rodier. Prior to this, jersey tended to be used only in hosiery and for sportswear for tennis, golf and the beach. The Chanel trademark became the look of youthful ease, a liberated physicality, and unencumbered sportive confidence.