Those of you that know me outside of internetland (and many of you that only know me in that manner) know that I am absolutely obsessed with Chanel, Coco Chanel and vintage Chanel in particular.
The other day someone asked me, 'Why?' It's just a cute bag. Well, yes, the 2.55 Quilted Handbag is an amazingly beautiful piece of wearable art. But it's got so much history behind it. And the bag represents the Chanel history, which always makes me feel like a million bucks. And here, briefly, is why.
Gabrielle Chanel was born in August 1883, she had 5 siblings and her mother died when she was 12 and her father left the family. Gabrielle was sent to an orphanage, where she initially learned to sew. The nuns at the orphanage had long chains that held their keys, and she was fascinated by these chains. These chains are the inspiration for the chain handle on the famous 2.55 handbag.
When she turned 18 and left the orphanage, she decided to become a cabernet singer. It was here that she obtained the nickname "Coco", a shortened version of "Coquette." Coco then began a series of love affairs as a mistress to several men - the most important being Arthur "Boy" Capel. She was not fond of the huge hats that women were wearing, so she began to invent smaller boater hats, and they became popular in France as a show of women's liberation.
In 1910 Coco opened her first shop, financed by Capel. Soon she began designing clothing that was much different than the clothing of the time. She created loose, casual clothes out of soft jersey that up until this point was only used for men's underwear. She shunned corsets (which was scandalous at the time) and modeled her designs after menswear. Because of Coco Chanel we have:
- Pants for women as acceptable attire - yep, hard to believe this didn't exist before Coco, but they didn't.
- Pajamas for women (as opposed to nightgowns).
- Swimming suits for women (they were very modest, but she was the first!) It was SCANDALOUS for women to be seen in the water at the beach.
- Bell bottoms (she was vacationing in Venice and having trouble getting in and out of gondolas - these pants were her solution).
- Chanel No. 5 - the first perfume to use synthetic ingredients, and the first designer fragrance.
- The famous Chanel "box" suit - weighted with chains to hang just right.
- That amazing 2.55 flap bag - the first handbag to be able to be carried on the shoulder. It has a secret pocket for storing love letters, the quilting has roots in stable boys clothing, and she insisted on having the lining of the bag be as beautiful as the outside. The bag was released in February 1955, hence the name 2.55. Coco's original design still exists, as well as several variations designed by Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld.
- Sun tanning - she was the first to be tan on purpose. Previously it was seen as a sign of poverty, as pale skin was a sign of not having to work outside.
- Jackie Kennedy's iconic pink suit worn on the day that JFK was assassinated? Chanel.
She lived her life on her terms and has a legacy that stands through today. And that, my friends, is why Coco Chanel is one of my heroes.