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Tonie Ong

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Articles on Chanel

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The fashion industry is one of the very few fields that are dominated by women. With all due respect to the men in fashion through the years, the impact certain women have had in this industry are significant. It is, by many accounts, an industry focused on women, and women have, in turn, greatly responded to the heads of the field more so than men. But when it comes to naming a woman whose influence has greatly changed the industry, and the way people dress as a whole, none comes close to Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. Her life, label, and legacy are ones that have stood the test of time and continues to be relevant and significant to today.

Chanel bag before Salvatore Ferragamo fashion show in 2016. Milan, Italy.
Chanel bag before Salvatore Ferragamo fashion show in 2016. Milan, Italy. Photo: andersphoto

Impact on Fashion

Chanel
Chanel front store display in 2016. Verona, Italy. Photo: Creative Lab

No other house can boast the type of impact quite like the house of Chanel. Its journey to being found is, of itself, a revolution on how women dressed. Before Chanel, women were still wearing corsets, floor-length dresses, yards of lace, and full of embellishments. People were still opulent, but around that time was the industrial revolution, and people suddenly had to work to make a living, including women. Coco Chanel freed women from constricting garments and elaborate silhouettes, offering a look that is both contemporary (to this day) and wearable for any occasion. She’s also credited with creating the “flapper” look of the 1920’s, one of the first times women’s fashion revolutionized societal norms.

Early Beginnings

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel came to the world on August 19, 1883. At a young age, her father left her in one orphanage, where she was raised by a nun, from whom she learned sewing. In 1910, her first boutique was opened, which was a hat shop that attracted many customers. From her hats alone, she already exemplified her refined and simple style. A few years later, she started selling sportswear made out of jersey, a fabric that was mainly used to create underwear at that time. By 1915, her haute couture atelier in Biarritz, France was opened, which eventually moved to its current and permanent home at 31 Rue Cambon in Paris in 1918.

By the 1920’s, Chanel was the most prominent couture house in all of Paris. Women loved the freeing silhouettes she designed, leading to the “flapper” look that defined the decade. Also during this decade, she ventured into cosmetics and fragrances, becoming one of the first couture labels to do so. The 1930’s saw Chanel reach her peak, becoming the best-selling the most popular couturier in the world. She was even invited by Hollywood studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to create costumes for their leading ladies.

Like with any other couture house, Chanel closed hers in the 1940’s during the Second World War. In 1954, she opened it again, but this time had a lot of pressure as Christian Dior had taken her place as the premier couturier of the era. After a rocky start, the designer and the house quickly gained prominence in fashion again, standing out with her simplistic looks against the more elaborate “New Look”. She continued on designing until 1971 when she passed away at age 82.

Karl Lagerfeld

Karl Otto Lagerfeld
Karl Otto Lagerfeld at the entrace of Fendi Fashion Show during Milan Fashion Week in 2017. Credit: Marco Aprile / Shutterstock.com

A German designer by the name of Karl Lagerfeld took on the creative directorship of the house after the founder passed away. During this time, the house of Chanel wasn’t as prominent as it used to be, but Lagerfeld quickly turned things around. He incorporated all the known codes of the house, from the use of tweed to the black-and-white motif, into every shape, silhouette, style, and aesthetic he can think of. He made the Chanel woman, which had been criticized for being too refined and snobbish, younger and more playful. When the label branched into ready-to-wear, Lagerfeld’s designs got a lot quirkier and more commercial, inviting success back to the couture house and becoming the fashion giant it is today.

Iconic Signatures

Black Chanel Bags

When it comes to signatures, the house of Chanel is arguably the richest against its haute couture counterparts. Some of the most iconic items known in the industry and beyond emanated from the house of Chanel. One of the first of these is the little black dress, which Chanel herself introduced in the 1920’s. Back then, the color black was only worn when one was mourning, but Chanel transformed it into a chic hue worn for any occasion. There’s also the iconic Chanel suit, a trademark still produced by the house today. Usually, made out of tweed, the suit gave women a supremely-sophisticated look without an elaborate silhouette.

Other than its highly coveted bags and feminine apparel, Chanel has also come up with innovations in the beauty department that make the French brand a beloved name everywhere. It’s only sound, because oftentimes an outfit and a bag will still need to be complemented by beauty products and fragrances to complete the getup.  Some of the products have been around since the 1920s when Chanel was still a budding fashion house, but the French company has expanded its collection since then to cover more cosmetics and skin care products.

We know what fragrance you’re gonna say, but before we reveal that, here’s a little intro to that now iconic bottle. Chanel was once quoted as saying that “A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future,” and while we believe that isn’t entirely true, it makes some sense. After all, a woman with her own signature perfume, something she picked by herself, expresses her personality and puts herself forward. So, yes, it could be interpreted that way. Knowing that line of thinking, Chanel commissioned perfumer Ernest Beaux to create a scent that is distinctly feminine and is, according to her, composed. Beaux presented her with 10 vials that he thought were in line with what she demanded, and she chose the fifth. Now, we can say the words—it was what became Chanel no. 5.

Coco Chanel considered bringing her newfound scent made out of jasmine, vanilla and sandalwood to a wider audience, and reached out to French businessman Pierre Wertheimer to make this happen. They founded the Parfums Chanel, which soon became the division of Chanel’s fashion house to sell fragrances and cosmetics. Within 10 years, the Chanel no. 5 became a sensation, and it has been since, occupying a level of its own when it came to women’s fragrances. The Chanel no. 5 is instantly recognizable and has mostly remained unchanged since it was created by Ernest Beaux.

To this day,Chanel No. 5 is still the most well-known fragrance. The scent has become so massive that it’s practically a rite of passage for a woman to have a bottle. 

Chanel No. 5

Another is Mademoiselle Chanel, a younger and more playful scent for the ingenue. When it comes to accessories, the quilted Chanel bag is also one of the most iconic. Made of leather and paired with a gold chain strap, the item is one of the most best-selling bags in the history of luxury leather goods.

But even though Chanel has the no. 5, its offerings of fragrances does not stop there. In its collection are plenty of options that you can cop if you have the penchant for non-conformity, or if you just want to try something else.

Take for instance the Chanel No. 19, which was created by perfumer Henri Robert in 1970. This has the distinction of being made specifically for Coco Chanel’s use, and used to be a way for the designer to show appreciation to her friends and clients. It is noted for its green color and its iris base. And no, it wasn’t the 19th of vials presented by Robert to Chanel, the number was taken from Coco Chanel’s birthday, August 19.

Meanwhile, the Chance Chanel is a scent that features amber patchouli, jasmine, pink pepper and a strong sense of vanilla. You’ll know a Chanel Chance right away because of its round bottle, the only perfume in the Chanel line to have that. The Les Exclusifs de Chanel collection was first started with the 1922 sample that was created by Beaux, and was further developed under the main perfumers who took his place in the following decades at Parfums Chanel. It is among the most concentrated scents in Chanel, showcasing the soft and enchanting spell of white jasmine.

Touch-ups are worth the extra dime

There’s no denying it, a Chanel beauty product is on the higher end of the spectrum when it comes to price. But it is always important to invest on quality make up that your skin will love and that can make you happier as you beautify yourself, too! For any beauty product, it is always more fun with Chanel cosmetics on your collection.

Among the many Chanel must-haves on your makeup kit, a standout would be the house’s collection of lipsticks, first created in 1924 and marketed by Coco Chanel herself. Well-versed in the things that make women beautiful, Chanel found the available tubes in the market unsatisfactory, so she released her own. While rich in color, her version of the red lippy isn’t overboard, still keeping a lady classy and sophisticated. The current Rouge Allure Intense Long-Wear Lip Color is not only enticing in shade but also in finish, and is maximizing your buck considering its staying power and lusciousness even when it’s been on for many hours.

Indeed, Chanel’s makeup line is best known for its ability to outlast even the harshest of conditions that would wipe the glow of any other brand, although you may just have a little trouble with your makeup remover when the day is over. The colors are as elegant and refined as the brand’s sartorial offerings, and it’s beloved by users for its easy application. Pay a little more for a smooth and hassle-free makeup? Well, why not?

Unleash your natural glow courtesy of Coco

The line of skincare products Chanel includes toners, soaps, lotions, creams and moisturizers that are intended to manage the effects of aging and replenish your tired skin that’s been exposed to various elements. Take for instance, the much acclaimed Luxe Multitasking Oil that was recognized by Vogue as among the groundbreaking products of the line. The oil, lauded for its natural ingredients and moisturizing capability, can be incorporated into your skincare regimen or on your makeup.  Chanel’s Sublimage line, which mostly combats the signs that come with aging, uses the Vanilla Planifolia as the main ingredients for its products. The ingredient, sourced from Madagascar, has been noted to reduce dark spots and make the skin more luminous when used in its purest form. Again, they come with quite a price tag, but we’re of the opinion that Chanel’s products that keep it natural as much as possible are good investments for your skin in the long run.

Chains and Pearls

Chane Chains and Pearls

Despite popularizing simple and minimal fashions, it’s the jewelry where the Chanel became elaborate and exuberant. The famed designer created a balance that would make the woman free and move with ease in an haute couture suit but still look expensive and glamorous. She defined a look that, to this day, is still embraced by women of all ages. It’s a look that is quintessentially French but also dictates the universality of the Chanel style. When it came to the house’s jewelry, only two stood through the years—the chains and the pearls.

Coco Chanel was always decked out in pearls, personifying the look she wanted to give women. Her clients followed suit, wearing strings of them with almost all their pieces, whether it was a little black dress, a Chanel suit, or an evening gown. Way before Audrey Hepburn’s “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” look popularized it into greater heights, Chanel was already known for her pearls. When Karl Lagerfeld took over the haute couture house, he began dressing his women with chains as a substitute to pearls. Gold chains added a sense if ruggedness yet still refined, the same way the founder feminized masculine staples of fashion to create the Chanel look.

Plume De Chanel

Plume De Chanel

Even though Chanel is famous for their simple clothes and their ostentatious jewelry, their Plume De Chanel collection is the opposite. For this delicate and pristine jewelry, designed by Coco Chanel herself back in 1932, the feather is interpreted into a series of diamonds. They decorate an array of necklines, rings, pendants, and brooches—all add a touch of sparkle for any ensemble. It’s arguably their most sophisticated line, absent of all the commercialism the brand is known for. The items are precious and minimal, quite like how Chanel once envisioned her women to look like when wearing her couture creations.

Coco Crush

Chanel Coco Crush

The house also adapted their signature quilting into their jewelry line with “Coco Crush.” Made out of gold, silver, and diamonds, the line has the famous pattern embossed in the fine materials. It follows the house’s tradition of incorporating and interpreting their iconic signatures into each and every piece they make. Similarly to how the famous interlocking C’s and the camellias are featured in almost every Chanel item in their roster, Coco Crush proves that quilting can work as well on jewelry as it does on their leather goods. Such is the dedicationtoi brand identity that the famous French label is known and beloved for.

The Camellia

Chanel Camellia Jewelry

Adapted from the famous play, “The Lady Of The Camellias,” Coco Chanel embraced camellias. She constantly had a bouquet of them in her offices in Paris, and in her famous apartment right above her famous atelier. When Karl Lagerfeld inherited the design leadership for the brand, he adapted the founder’s love of camellias into a fashion staple.

Soon, camellias were worn as brooches, whether they were real, fabric, or made out of diamonds. Camellias also became pendants and rings, further diversifying the house’s jewelry line. Aside from the pearls and the chain, camellias became one of Chanel’s most indelible signatures, one that makes you think of the famed fashion house in an instant.

Well-Known Muses

From the 1960’s to today, a lot of prominent women have become fans of the Chanel look. Silver screen icons such as Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, and Catherine Deneuve have all worn Chanel both on and off screen. Former First Lady of the United States Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis also prominently wore Chanel throughout her life. She was even wearing what is now an iconic pink Chanel suit when her husband, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated beside her back in 1963.

In the 1980’s, models became the houses’ most prominent muse. Karl Lagerfeld had a special relationship with them, most famously with French model Ines de La Fressange, who was the house’s muse of that entire decade. When the supermodels came about, German model Claudia Schiffer became Lagerfeld’s new runway and campaign favorite. But by the early 2000’s, the house went back to picking celebrities to front its name. British actress Keira Knightley, for example, has for the longest time been the face of the Mademoiselle Chanel perfume, often appearing in its print and TV campaigns.

The house of Chanel is one of the bedrocks of modern and contemporary fashion. The house not only changed the industry but revolutionized how modern women dressed. To this day, the house stands as a reminder of the founder’s impactful legacy, as well as Paris’ significance in the world of fashion.

Chanel boutique on Sloane street, London, United Kingdom.
Chanel boutique on Sloane street, London, United Kingdom.


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