When I was reading Lisa Chaney's book titled, "Coco Chanel An intimate life" I couldn't stop thinking to myself, "This woman was incredible!" The biography outlines her life from being a nomad daughter of a market gypsy trader to a high class call girl who met a man that fell in love with her natural beauty, spirit and fight. Is this the entire story of Gabrielle Chanel? Of course not! But boy did this woman have a idea a feminism before her time. Maybe it is the fact that I can relate to this August born Leo leader or that fact that I adore the risks that she took which were clearly before her time. Maybe it is the not so classic rags to riches story that motivates me, after all a label like Coco Chanel did not come easy. That tale is becoming the norm for entrepreneurial success stories. It is my true belief that people who are passionate about what they do will work hard because they love that work and that hard work will be deemed a success in some way shape or form.
Coco's story and other stories that tell the tale of coming from poverty to riches are due to something deeply hidden in a person that drives their will to succeed. Early in life Coco was socializing with the most powerful designers, artists and politicians of her time due to inhibition and her inner drive to be the best at whatever she desired or maybe it was the desire to be accepted. The woman was arguably a German spy during world war two, enjoyed the company of women and was never content with one man. Do you think there was some inner turmoil there? Maybe it is a story we can all relate to as we learn to love ourselves in the midst of achieving, dreaming and living larger than life. Needless to say her behavior was publicly controversial for the mid 1900's...and this is why so many loved and continue to love Coco.
Coco the competitor drew her to love horseback riding and eventually put her in the eye of a wealthy and successful polo player Arthur Capel. Where there lovers before and after? Of course, but it was Arthur that captured the heart of a woman that would admit that she hated "to submit to anyone, to humiliate myself...to give in, not to have my way," because "pride is present in whatever I do." Her pride and industriousness led her to make practical and functional clothing for women during a time when women simply dressed to impress. Her use of jersey knits that were more cost efficient and practical was for functionality, she was an active woman who enjoyed horse riding and anything outdoors. The fact that she charged a pretty penny for fabric that cost her a fraction of the price compared to that of other designers gives you a glimpse of her shrewd business sense. Coco was able to develop an image among the Parisian elite that allowed her to market her garments as Haute Couture when she really was bringing an entirely new idea of what clothing was meant to do on a woman's body. Women began accentuating their body while being active, taking risks with her famous black dress and even styling their outfits with imitation jewelry; all while Chanel was working to fit in.
Did her cash flow come from a man? Yes, Arthur Capel was her sugar daddy in a sense, but he adored her strong will, and the opinions that came along with it. Chanel's fashion risks made her recognizable among the social elite but it was also her behavior that turned heads. Back in the day it was not a norm for women to ride a a horse sitting astride, do you think Coco cared? She took risks when interacting with her horseman and polo lover Arthur, she was his arm candy and could pull off dressing in menswear because she took her riding seriously. Gabrielle even took risks with her bathing suit (a knee length tight black dress) among her elitist social circle that was less than accepting of a new mistress. Was it the fact that she actually braved getting in the water when they were at the sea that made her so memorable? Or was it her honesty, charm and ability to detect the essence of a person like a "kind of sixth sense" that made her so desirable?
So it was Arthur who helped Coco open her own store when she recognized an untapped market in the area of eccentric yet modest and stylish hats. Coco got a few compliments on her race day hats as she glammed them up with her personal touch and Chanel's first designs were born. She didn't believe in putting large feathers or fruits on her head, instead Chanel went for a more noticeable yet mod look because they expressed her unconventional style. Coco's hat designs undoubtedly were noticed in the stands at races while she was on the arm of one of the most eligible horse loving bachelors in Paris. Without knowing much about hats Coco took on well established Parisian courtesans head on with unorthodox instincts to squash the competition. Even though she didn't take the advice of apprentices who had studied before her she was among her people, she felt more comfortable around these women who worked for their living and were not out to make her feel socially inadequate.
The "socially inadequate" side of Chanel seems almost impossible to imagine from a woman who took such bold risks and won the heart of many. A saleswoman she was not but an intuitive inventor she was. Coco was constantly trying new things and inventing a "New" Chanel; Artist Chanel, Singer Chanel, Dancer Chanel, Designer Chanel, Perfume Maker Chanel, Jewelry Designer Chanel, Costume Designer Chanel...and the list goes on. Read the book, Coco Rocks. In reading this book I found perfection in imperfection, this woman worked so hard to make things appear to be perfect when she was really coming apart at the seams. Maybe she even said things she didn't really believe, a trap that catches the best of us from time to time. Somewhere along the way Coco got lost in her own image; and in her life. "My life didn't please me. So I created my life." Most Chanel statements were strong, namely her phrase, "I don't do fashion. I am fashion." which was disputed by many at the time and yet Coco Chanel is very much alive everywhere you look. She lived in her designs "liberated the body" and "made fashion honest." let's be honest, every woman desires to have some Chanel in their life. So... Go get it.