Coco Chanel has always been someone I have admired. She revolutionized fashion for women and has been a style icon for many decades.
Gabrielle Chanel learnt her sewing skills at a convent of Aubazine. She used these skills to become a seamstress. She moonlighted as a singer at a cabaret and it was there that she acquired her name ‘Coco’.
In around 1906, she went to Vichy to further her stage career but failed and soon moved back to Moulins. When she arrived back in Moulins she meet an ex-Cavalry officer, Etienne Balsan, who was heir to a textile company. She became his mistress and lived with him in his Chateau. She was very well looked after. Then she began an affair with Balsan’s friend, Capel, who funded her first shops and set her up in an apartment in France. And that was how her shops were born.
You have to think, if she didn’t have affairs would her shops have come into existence? Would there have been Chanel?
Coco ran her own fashion house, which was almost unheard of at that time as many women were not considered ‘boss material’. And being a boss was seen as a manly thing.
At 70, Coco restarted her couture house as she was aghast at what men were doing to women’s fashion and bodies.
“Fashion has become a joke. The designers have forgotten that there are women inside the dresses. Most women dress for men and want to be admired. But they must also be able to move, to get into a car without bursting their seams! Clothes must have a natural shape.” – Coco Chanel
She designed clothes for women. Clothes that worked for women. Not clothes that worked against women. She revolutionised fashion as she created clothes that were not restrictive and didn’t hide or ‘improve’ a women’s true figure (e.g. corsets).
Coco Chanel was, I believe, a beautiful women who always ensured that she dressed well and presented herself in an elegant way.
Now the bad news:
It was not until recently that I found out that she was (apparently) a Nazi sympathiser (I didn’t know much about the life of Coco Chanel, despite the fact that I love her clothes and designs).
During the war, Chanel closed her shops, causing many female employees their jobs. This was a way to make a political statement as many workers had caused her shops to be closed when they protested for better pay and work hours.
She had an affair with a German officer and lived in the Hotel Ritz in Paris. According to some people, she was a ‘Secret Agent’ for the Germans.
She also tried to wrestle Parfums Chanel from the Jewish directors. After the war, Chanel and the directors settled the case out of court. The directors paid her living expenses for the rest of her life.
She was also quoted as saying:
“Homosexuals? … I have seen young women ruined by these awful queers: drugs, divorce, scandal. They will use any means to destroy a competitor and to wreak vengeance on a woman. The queers want to be women—but they are lousy women. They are charming!”
Now, I do not know if the above statement is something she actually said, but it is something I have seen around on the internet. Her friend, Paul Morand, said that she said this to him.
I still admire her for her fashion designs and her style. But now I’m not sure if I think that she was a great person due to her actions during the war, her homophobia and how she treated her workers.
If she had been found guilty of collaborating with the Nazi’s (she was arrested and then released without having to have her hair shaved off as part of the public humiliation other collaborators had to go through), Chanel probably wouldn’t be so popular and most likely would be non-existent. Her reputation was tarnished in France after the war and her collection in 1956 was dismissed as ‘old hat’, however the American’s loved it!
It really brings up so many questions. If all of this is true, should she have been convicted as a collaborator, spy and Nazi sympathiser?
As much as I love the fashion line and her legacy as a designer, I say yes. It is not ok that certain people get away with things due to them being rich or famous. Other people paid the price for their actions, so why couldn’t she?