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Luxury, What Do We Really Worship…

luxury-consumption

An International consulting firm, Brain & Company, estimated that the luxury market was valued at $274 billion in 2014, and was set to grow even bigger to a whopping $280 billion by 2015. And just like only a small percentage of the world wealthiest people make up most of the world’s wealth, only a handful of the most expensive clothing designers make up the bulk of the luxury clothing market.

Along with being a form of expression, fashion has always been a way for people to showcase their status. Much like the size of your house or the price tag on your car, the designer that you are wearing says much more about you than just where you shop. It also says a lot about your level of income, your style and taste levels, whether you prefer funky cool, or sleek sophistication…

I picked up four Luxury Houses for my research. They are not chosen because of their income ladder, but in the order of my preferences… And here we start, with the House of Chanel…

The House Of Chanel

Chanel, Rue Cambon, Window Display

Chanel is a still a privately owned company. It is still owned by the brothers Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, grandsons of Pierre Wertheimer, who, in turn was the business partner of the couturière Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel. From Bloomberg Business: “The pair keep their private lives – and their finances – are out of the spotlight to such an extent that their combined $19.2 billion fortune is more than double previous estimates.” “Chanel would rate at the very top of the industry,” Gilbert Harrison, chairman and founder of investment bank Financo LLC, said in a phone interview. “Given luxury companies are going for three to four times revenues you can easily get to a $20 billion valuation.” “We’re a very discreet family, we never talk,” Gerard was quoted as saying in an article in the New York Times in February 2002. “It is about Coco Chanel. It is about Karl [Lagerfeld]. It is about everyone, who works and creates at Chanel. It’s not about the Wertheimers.”

Lets talk about Coco Chanel for better or for worse! Somebody has to…

I must admit that my research might have resulted in a biased and one-faceted story, when describing this extraordinary and multifaceted personality. I have tried my best. I tried not to gloss Chanel’s personality over, but I tried to be objective at the same time…

The history of House of Chanel is very different from any movies ever made about its creator.

Early Years

Gabrielle, “Coco”, Chanel, came from very humble beginnings. She was born in the town of Saumur, in 1883, one of three daughters of a very sickly mother and forever unfaithful father, who worked as a travelling salesman.

After Gabrielle’s mother died, when the girl was only 11, the father deposited the girls to the orphanage house in Auvergne and was never seen again.

Gabrielle Coco Chanel

At the age of 18, Chanel went to a Catholic boarding school, where the nuns taught her how to sew. Chanel was able to find employment as a seamstress. When not plying her needle, she sang in a cabaret frequented by cavalry officers. Chanel made her stage debut singing at a café-concert (a popular entertainment venue of the era) in a Moulins pavilion, “La Rotonde”. She was among other girls dubbed “poseuses”, the performers who entertained the crowd between star turns. The money earned, was what they managed to accumulate when the plate was passed among the audience in appreciation of their performance. It was at this time that Gabrielle acquired the name “Coco”, possibly based on two popular songs with which she became identified, “Ko Ko Ri Ko”, and “Qui qu’a vu Coco”, or it was an allusion to the French word for kept woman, cocotte.

Coco Chanel With Etienne Balsan
Coco Chanel With Etienne Balsan

Life As A Courtesan

It was at Moulins, that Chanel met the young French ex-cavalry officer and the wealthy textile heir Étienne Balsan. At the age of twenty-three, Chanel became Balsan’s mistress. For the next three years, she lived with him in his chateau Royallieu, near Compiègne, an area known for it’s wooded equestrian paths and the hunting life. It was a life style of self-indulgence, which only Balsan’s wealth and leisure allowed.

Chanel and "Boy" Capel
Chanel and “Boy” Capel

In 1908, Chanel began an affair with one of Balsan’s friends, Captain Arthur Edward ‘Boy’ Capel. Capel, a wealthy member of the English upper class, installed Chanel in an apartment in Paris at Rue Cambon, directly behind Hotel Ritz and financed Chanel’s first shops. It is said that Capel’s elegant style influenced many of Chanel’s creations. The bottle design for Chanel No. 5 had three probable origins, the first two attributable to the sophisticated design of Capel belongings and the third one, to the aesthetics of an apothecary bottle. It is believed, Chanel adapted the rectangular, bevelled lines of the Charvet toiletry bottles he carried in his leather traveling case, or it was the design of the whiskey decanter Capel used and Chanel so admired, that she wished to reproduce it in “exquisite, expensive, delicate glass. The affair lasted nine years, but even after Capel married an English aristocrat, Lady Diana Wyndham in 1918, he did not completely break off with Chanel. His death in a car accident, in late 1919, was the single most devastating event in Chanel’s life. She commissioned the placement of a roadside memorial at the site of the accident, which she visited in later years to lay flowers in remembrance. Twenty-five years after the event, Chanel, was quoted as saying, that “in losing Capel, I lost everything. What followed was not a life of happiness, I have to say”…6 years after Capel’s death, Chanel acquired a logo with two interlocking Cs, said to be dedicated to Boy Capel and herself….

Chanel with Grand Duke Romanov
Chanel with Grand Duke Romanov

No.5

After a three years stint in Deauville, Normandy seaside town, Gabrielle moved to Rue Cambon in 1918, where she settled there since. She sold hats and couture until 1919… In 1919, Chanel’s then lover, The Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich Romanov (known for being involved in the murder of the mystic peasant and faith healer Grigori Rasputin), introduced Chanel to Ernest Beaux, the Russian French Perfumer. Beaux was born to the French Perfumers in Russia, where in 1881 he became the Czar’s official perfumer. Since the Revolution, Beaux fled Russia and settled in an inland town near Cannes. Chanel met him there and asked him to produce a perfume “which would have everything in it and nothing in the bottle”. Her brief was laconic: an abstract of flowers, which would evoke the smell of a woman. Beaux presented his concoctions to Mademoiselle. She chose the fifth composition and called it simply, No.5.

Ernest Beaux - inventor of No.5
Ernest Beaux, the Creator of No.5

 

Chanel No.5 is still constructed of approximately 50 ingredients. The most important is jasmine, but there is also ylang-ylang, patchouli, dried leaf from Indonesia, that was used as a repellent in silk shipments. There is a healthy dose of Provence roses. For the flask, Chanel chose the most banal shape, the rectangular chemist’s bottle. Chanel launched the perfume quietly without any announcement. She wore it herself, spritzed in the dressing rooms. The rumour mill started working – “Mademoiselle Chanel has a new perfume!!!” Only then, Chanel put an order for Number 5 into production.

Happy Birthday Mr President
Happy Birthday Mr President

 

 Wertheimers, The New Era

 

Pierre WertheimerChanel in her 40-s

Theophille Bader, the founder of the French Department Store Galleries Lafayette, wanted to sell the perfume, but in order to do this, Chanel needed to expand her production. Bader introduced her to his friend Pierre Wertheimer, co-owner of Bourjois cosmetics company. In 1924, the deal was signed for Les Parfumes Chanel: Wertheimer got 70% for production of perfumes in his Bourjois factories, Bader got 20% for the finders fee, Chanel received 10%. It did not take long for her to realise she had been duped. She filed so many suits to no avail, that by 1928 Wertheimers hired a lawyer to deal exclusively with Chanel’s demands. Throughout the 20-s Chanel added few more perfumes to her perfume house: Gardenia, No.22, Cuir De Russie, but none of them could surpass the soaring popularity of No.5, which was named the best perfume in the world in 1929. By the 1930-s Coco Chanel was earning $4 million a year and reportedly, had assets of $10 million dollars.

les exclusifs de chanel collage
Exclusive to House of Chanel Collage of Chanel Perfumes

English Aristocracy

Chanel with Winston Churchill and His Son

In 1923, Chanel was introduced into the highest levels of British aristocracy. It was an elite group of associations revolving around such personages as Winston Churchill, aristocrats such as the Duke of Westminster, and royals such as Edward, Prince of Wales. It was in Monte Carlo, in 1923, that at the age of forty, Chanel was introduced to the vastly wealthy Duke of Westminster. The Duke of Westminster lavished Chanel with extravagant jewels, costly art, and a home in London’s prestigious Mayfair district. His affair with Chanel lasted ten years. The Duke, an outspoken anti-Semite, intensified Chanel’s inherent antipathy toward Jews and shared with her an expressed homophobia. In 1927, the Duke of Westminster gave Chanel a parcel of land he had purchased in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Riviera. It was on this site that Chanel built her villa, La Pausa] (“restful pause”). When asked, why she did not marry the Duke of Westminster, she has supposedly stated: “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster. There is only one Chanel.”

Chanel and Hollywood

It was in 1931 while in Monte Carlo that Chanel made the acquaintance of Samuel Goldwyn (most well known for being the founding contributor and executive of several motion picture studios in Hollywood) The introduction was made through a mutual friend, her then lover, the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, cousin to the last czar of Russia, Nicolas II. Goldwyn offered Chanel a tantalizing proposition. For the sum of a million dollars (approximately seventy-five million in twenty-first century valuation), he would bring her to Hollywood twice a year to design costumes for MGM stars. Chanel accepted the offer. Chanel said she had agreed to the arrangement to “see what the pictures have to offer me and what I have to offer the pictures. Chanel designed the clothing worn on screen by Gloria Swanson, in “Tonight or Never” (1931), and for Ina Claire in “The Greeks Had a Word for Them”. Both Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich became private clients. Her experience with American movie making left Chanel with a dislike for the Hollywood film business and distaste for the Hollywood culture itself, which she denounced as “infantile”.Chanel’s verdict was that “Hollywood is the capital of bad taste … and it is vulgar.” Ultimately, her design aesthetic did not translate well to film. The New Yorker speculated that Chanel had left Hollywood because “they told her the dresses weren’t sensational enough. She made a lady look like a lady. Hollywood wants a lady to look like two ladies.” Chanel went on to design the costumes for several French films, including Jean Renoir’s 1939 film “La Règle du jeu”, in which she was credited as La Maison Chanel.

Coco Chanel in Hollywood
Coco Chanel Costume Design Hollywood

Another part of Chanel’s story are her “Channelisms” often attributed to her as Chanel’s famous expressions, which as we say in Russian, became the “winged phrases”. They are flying from one story to another, but they might not be by Chanel at all. Chanel was the mistress of some of the most influential men of her time, but she never married. At some stage in her life, she had a loving relationship with the poet Pierre Reverdy. After her romance with Reverdy ended in 1926, they still maintained a friendship that lasted for some forty years. It is postulated that the legendary maxims attributed to Chanel and published in periodicals were crafted under the mentorship of Reverdy, as a collaborative effort. A review of Chanel’s correspondence reveals a complete contradiction between the clumsiness of Chanel’s writing, and the talent of Chanel as a composer of maxims … After correcting the handful of aphorisms that Chanel wrote about her métier, Reverdy added to this collection of “Chanelisms” a series of thoughts of a more general nature, some touching on life and taste, others on allure and love.” In short, when you come across the expression “A women who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.”, attributed to Chanel, it might not have been by Chanel, but by Reverdy…

Chanel and the World War II

When Nazis arrived to Paris in 1940, brothers Pierre and Paul Wertheimer had to flee to USA, since they were Jewish. Once settled in New York, they sent an American H. Gregory Thomas to Grasse to secure the formula and the ingredients to produce number 5 in the United States during the war. Thomas also helped Pierre’s son Jacques escape via Morocco and Portugal to New York. Thomas was later named the President of Chanel USA – he held this position for 32 years. In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Chanel closed her shops, at the same time, maintaining her apartment situated above the couture house at 31 Rue de Cambon. She claimed that it was not a time for fashion and her 3,000 female employees lost their jobs. Chanel moved to a “house” across the road – to Hotel Ritz. Hotel Ritz at the time housed the German military headquarters. Chanel lived there with her young lover, the Nazi officer Hans Gunther Von Dincklage. World War II, specifically the Nazi seizure of all Jewish-owned property and business interests, provided Chanel with the opportunity to gain the full monetary fortune generated by Parfums Chanel and its most profitable product, Chanel No. 5. The directors of Parfums Chanel, the Wertheimers, were Jewish, and Chanel used her position as an “Aryan” to petition German officials to legalise her claim to the sole ownership. On 5 May 1941, she wrote to the Vichy government administrator charged with ruling on the disposition of Jewish financial assets. Her grounds for proprietary ownership were based on the claim that Parfums Chanel “is still the property of Jews” and had been legally “abandoned” by the owners. “I have,” she wrote, “an indisputable right of priority … the profits that I have received from my creations since the foundation of this business … are disproportionate … you can help to repair in part the prejudices I have suffered in the course of these seventeen years.” Chanel was not aware that the Wertheimers, anticipating the forthcoming Nazi mandates against Jews had, in May 1940, legally turned control of Parfums Chanel over to a Christian, French businessman and industrialist Felix Amiot. At war’s end, Amiot turned “Parfums Chanel” back into the hands of the Wertheimers.

Chanel World War II
In 1939, because of the sudden outbreak of World War II, Coco Chanel closed Maison Chanel. “This is no time for fashion” she said.

Declassified, archival documents unearthed by Hal Vaughan (former US secret service agent turned writer) in his book “Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War” reveal that the French Préfecture de Police had a document on Chanel in which she was described as “Couturier and perfumer. Pseudonym: Westminster. Agent reference: F 7124. Signalled as suspect in the file” (For Vaughan, this was a piece of revelatory information linking Chanel to German intelligence operations). Vaughan establishes that Chanel committed herself to the German cause as early as 1941 and worked for General Walter Schellenberg, chief of SS intelligence. At the end of the war, Schellenberg was tried by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, and sentenced to six years imprisonment for war crimes. He was released in 1951 owing to incurable liver disease and took refuge in Italy. Chanel paid for Schellenberg’s medical care and living expenses, financially supported his wife and family and paid for Schellenberg’s funeral upon his death in 1952.

In September 1944, Chanel was invited for questioning by the Free French Purge Committee, L’Epuration. The committee, which had no documented evidence of her collaboration activity, was obliged to release her. According to Chanel’s grand-niece, Gabrielle Palasse Labrunie, when Chanel returned home she said, “Churchill had me freed” The extent of Winston Churchill’s intervention became a subject of gossip and speculation. It was supposedly feared that if Chanel were ever made to testify at trial, the pro-Nazi sympathies and activities of top-level British officials, members of the society elite and those of the royal family itself would be exposed. Some claim, that Churchill instructed Duff Cooper, British ambassador to the French provisional government, to protect Chanel. Finally induced to appear in Paris before investigators in 1949, Chanel left her retreat in Switzerland to confront testimony given against her at the war crime trial of Baron Louis de Vaufreland, a French traitor and highly placed German intelligence agent. Chanel denied all accusations brought against her. She offered the presiding judge, Leclercq, a character reference: “I could arrange for a declaration to come from Mr. Duff Cooper.” Chanel’s friend and biographer Marcel Haedrich provided a telling estimation of her wartime interaction with the Nazi regime: “If one took seriously the few disclosures that Mademoiselle Chanel allowed herself to make about those black years of the occupation, one’s teeth would be set on edge.”

Vaughan’s disclosure of the contents of recently de-classified military intelligence documents, and the subsequent controversy generated soon after the book’s publication in August 2011, prompted The House of Chanel to issue a statement, portions of which appeared in myriad media outlets. Chanel Group “refuted the claim” (of espionage), while admitting that company officials had read only media excerpts of the book.

“What’s certain is that she had a relationship with a German aristocrat during the War. Clearly it wasn’t the best period to have a love story with a German even if Baron von Dincklage was English by his mother and she (Chanel) knew him before the War,” the Chanel group said in a statement.

Photo Collage of Coco Chanel in Hotel Ritz and of Her Dashing Nazi Lover Baron Von
Photo Collage of Coco Chanel in Hotel Ritz and of Her Dashing Nazi Lover Baron Von Dinclage

In an interview given to the Associated Press, author Vaughan explains the trajectory of his research. “I was looking for something else and I came across this document saying ‘Chanel is a Nazi agent’…Then I really started hunting through all of the archives, in the United States, in London, in Berlin and in Rome and I came across not one, but 20, 30, 40 absolutely solid archival materials on Chanel and her lover, Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, who was a professional Abwehr spy.” Vaughan also addressed the discomfort many felt with the revelations provided in his book: “A lot of people in this world don’t want the iconic figure of Gabrielle Coco Chanel, one of France’s great cultural idols, destroyed. This is definitely something that a lot of people would have preferred to put aside, to forget, to just go on selling Chanel scarves and jewellery.”

Chanel after World War II

During the period directly following the end of World War II, the business world watched with interest and some apprehension the ongoing legal wrestle for control of Parfums Chanel. Interested parties in the proceedings were well aware of Chanel’s Nazi affiliations during wartime, if made public knowledge, would seriously threaten the reputation and status of the Chanel brand. Forbes magazine summarized the dilemma faced by the Wertheimers: it is Pierre Wertheimer’s worry how “a legal fight might illuminate Chanel’s wartime activities and wreck her image—and his business.”

Ultimately, the Wertheimers and Chanel came to a mutual accommodation, renegotiating the original 1924 contract. On 17 May 1947, Chanel received wartime profits from the sale of Chanel No. 5, in an amount equivalent to some nine million dollars in twenty-first century valuation. Further, her future share would be two percent of all Chanel No. 5 sales worldwide. The financial benefit to her would be enormous. Her earnings would be in the vicinity of twenty-five million dollars a year, making her at the time one of the richest women in the world. In addition, Pierre Wertheimer agreed to an unusual stipulation proposed by Chanel herself. Wertheimer agreed to pay all of Chanel’s living expenses—from the trivial to the large — for the rest of her life.

cococ-chanel-in-her-studio-1954chanel-and-suzy-parker-photo-by-richard-avedon-jan-1959

 

In 1945, Chanel moved to Switzerland where she lived with Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, eventually returning to Paris in 1954. When No.5 sales began to lag in the early 1950-s, Pierre Werthemeir paid a visit to then 70-year old Mademoiselle Chanel at the Beau Rivage hotel in Lausanne. Within a few days she was back on the Rue Cambon, planning the relaunch of Chanel Couture. Her 1920-s reminiscent collection in the era of Christian Dior New Look design was simply dismissed. The crowds snickered and simply laughed. “It was a fiasco and one of the cruelest experiences I’ve ever witnessed “, film director Franco Zeffirelli recalled. Chanel, the ultimate survivor, was not to be swayed. “I want to go on, to go on and win”, she told Pierre Werthemeir. He agreed. He also financed Coco Chanel’s hopes. Chanel did go on and her collections became stronger and stronger. It took only one year for Chanel to achieve her ultimate success and to become the Queen of Fashion again. Her success in in fashion boosted the perfume sales and Mademoiselle’s position in the company. In 1954, Wertheimer negotiated his final deal with her: the family would pay all Chanel’s personal expenses, for her Rue Cambon headquarters, her taxes till the rest of her life in exchange for the full control of her name for perfume and fashion. As she had no heirs, upon her death, the family would receive all her royalties too. The same year Pierre bought off remaining 20% from the Bader family. When Chanel died in 1971, Werthemeirs became the sole owners of the company. They still are.

The End of a Turbulent Life

As 1971 began, Chanel was 87 years old, tired, and ailing, but nonetheless stuck to her usual routine of preparing the spring catalogue. She had gone for a long drive the afternoon of Saturday January 9 and feeling ill went to bed early. She died on Sunday, January 10, 1971 at the Hotel Ritz where she had resided for more than 30 years. Her funeral was held at the Église de la Madeleine; her fashion models occupied the first seats during the ceremony and her coffin was covered with white flowers – camellias, gardenias, orchids, azaleas and a few red roses. Her grave is located in the Bois-de-Vaux Cemetery, Lausanne, Switzerland…

White Camellias, Chanel's favourite flowers - Coco Chanel's Grave in Lausanne
White Camellias, Chanel’s favourite flowers – Coco Chanel’s Grave in Lausanne

Coco (Gabrielle) Chanel’s Legacy

Chanel Show

Chanel’s legacy as a person and as a designer will live with us forever… As early as 1915, Harper’s Bazaar raved over Chanel’s designs: “The woman who hasn’t at least one Chanel is hopelessly out of fashion … .” Chanel’s ascendancy was the official deathblow to the corseted, restrained female silhouette. The frills, fuss, and constraints endured by earlier generations of women were now passé; under her influence—gone were the “aigrettes, long hair, hobbling skirts. Her design aesthetic redefined the fashionable woman for the post WWI era. The Chanel trademark was a look of youthful ease, a liberated physicality, and unencumbered sportive confidence. Chanel’s philosophy was to emphasize understated elegance through her clothing. Her popularity thrived in the 1920s, because of her innovative designs. Chanel’s own look itself was as different and new as her creations. Instead of the usual pale-skinned, long-haired and full-bodied women preferred at the time.

French couturier Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel (1883 - 1971) at her home, Fauborg, St Honore, Paris.   (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)
French couturier Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel (1883 – 1971) at her home, Fauborg, St Honore, Paris. (Photo by Sasha/Getty Images)

Jersey’s Fabrics

Chanel’s initial triumph was the innovative use of jersey fabric, a machine knit material manufactured for her by the firm Rodier, and traditionally relegated to the manufacture of undergarments. Chanel’s early wool jersey traveling suit consisted of a cardigan jacket, and pleated skirt, paired with a low-belted pullover top. This ensemble, worn with low-heeled shoes, became the casual look in expensive women’s wear. Prior to this, jersey tended to only be used in hosiery and for tennis, golf and beachwear. It was too “ordinary” to be used in couture and its weave was difficult to handle. Chanel’s introduction of jersey to high fashion worked well for two reasons. First, the war had caused a shortage of other materials and second, women started to desire more simple and practical clothes. Her fluid jersey suits and dresses were created for practicality and allowed free movement. This was greatly appreciated at the time because women were working for the war effort as nurses, in civil service and in factories. Their work involved physical activity and they had to ride trains, buses and bicycles to get to work. They desired outfits, that did not give away easily and could be put on without the help of servants

chanel-linton-tweed-840x1024

Chanel Suit

The Chanel tweed suit was built for comfort and practicality. It consisted of a jacket and skirt in a matching Scottish tweed and a blouse and jacket lining in jersey or a silk crepe. The jacket had the piping and gold buttons. The tweed she used was supple and light. She did not stiffen the material or use shoulder pads. She also cut the jackets on the straight grain, without adding bust darts. This allowed for quick and easy movement. She designed the neckline to leave the neck comfortably free and also added pockets that could actually hold things. On most other suits, pockets were just for show. For a higher level of comfort, the skirt had a grosgrain across the hips, instead of a belt. More importantly, meticulous attention was placed on detail during fittings. Measurements were taken in a standing position with arms folded at shoulder height. She also conducted crash tests with models where they would walk around, hop on a platform as if they were stepping on an imaginary bus, and then bend over as if they were getting into a sports car. She wanted to make sure women could do all of these things while wearing her suit, without exposing unwanted parts of their body that might catch the eyes of men. Each customer could get repeated adjustments until the suit was comfortable enough for her to perform her daily activities with comfort and ease.

 

Chanel Camellias

 

The Camellias

The camellia had an established association with Alexandre Dumas’s literary work, “La Dame aux Camélias” (”The Lady of the Camellias”). Its heroine and her story had resonated for Chanel since her youth. The flower itself had become identified with the courtesan who would wear a camellia to advertise her availability. The camellia came to be associated with The House of Chanel, making its first appearance as a decorative element on a white-trimmed black suit in 1933.

Chanel Camellia Sneaker
Chanel Camellia Sneaker

The Little Black Dress

After the jersey suit, the concept of the little black dress is often cited as a Chanel contribution to the fashion lexicon and as an article of clothing survives to this day. Its first incarnation was executed in thin silk, crèpe de chine, and had long sleeves. Chanel started making little black dresses in wool or chenille for the day and in satin, crepe or velvet for the evening. The dress was fashionable, yet comfortable and practical because it was stripped of all excess. In 1926, the American edition of Vogue highlighted such a Chanel dress, dubbing it the jargon (little boy look). They predicted it would “become sort of a uniform for all women of taste”, embodying a standardized aesthetic, which the magazine likened to the democratic appeal of the ubiquitous black Ford automobile. Its spare look generated widespread criticism from male journalists who complained: “no more bosom, no more stomach, no more rump…” The popularity of the little black dress can be attributed to the timing at which it was introduced. The 1930s brought in the Great Depression Era during which women desired affordable fashion. Chanel quoted, “Thanks to me they can walk around like millionaires.”

 LBD

Jewellery

Chanel introduced a line of jewellery that was a conceptual innovation in design and materials incorporating both simulated and fine gemstones. This was revolutionary in an era when jewellery was strictly categorized into either fine or costume jewellery.

Basque Diamond necklace by Paul Iribe for Chanel
Basque Diamond necklace by Paul Iribe for Chanel

In 1933, designer Paul Iribe collaborated with Chanel in the creation of extravagant jewellery pieces commissioned by the International Guild of Diamond Merchants. The collection, executed exclusively in diamonds and platinum, was exhibited for public viewing and drew a large audience.

Costume Jewellery Chanel-Goossens collaboration
Costume Jewellery Chanel-Goossens collaboration

Starting in 1953, Goossens worked with Coco Chanel to design jewellery to accompany her fashion designs, mostly through presentations where she would guide his inspiration. Chanel herself loved to blend the rich with the poor and Goossens’ creations were entirely in keeping with that approach. Notable work during his tenure at Chanel includes silver and gold plaited pins set with emeralds, moon earth pendants, and crystal Byzantine crosses. Goossens would create original pieces for Mademoiselle Chanel made of real gold and genuine stones, which in turn were copied as imitations designed for fashion shows and presentations. These models ultimately served as the basis for Chanel’s costume jewellery designs.

Chanel/Goossens Famous Bracelet
Chanel/Goossens Bracelet

Goossens continued his work with the house of Chanel after its founder’s passing, and collaborated with her successor Karl Lagerfeld throughout the 1980s and 1990s to create costume jewellery for Chanel’s ready-to-wear and couture collections. Chanel bought Goossens’ company in 2005.

Chanel quilted bag

Chanel Early quilted bag made from Jersey
Chanel Early quilted bag made from Jersey

Identifying a need to liberate women’s hands from the encumbrance of a hand held bag, Chanel conceived of a handbag that would accomplish this stylishly. Christened the “2.55” (named after the date of the bag’s creation: February 1955), its design, combined with Chanel’s creative inspiration, evoked the memories of her convent days and her love of the sporting world. The original version was constructed of jersey or leather, the outside featuring a hand-stitched quilted design influenced by the jackets worn by jockeys. The chain strap was a nod to her orphanage years, reminiscent to Chanel of the abbey caretakers who wore such waist chains to hold keys. The burgundy red uniform worn by the convent girls was incorporated into the bag’s interior lining.

Karl Lagerfeld's version of Chanel's 2.55 bag
Karl Lagerfeld’s version of Chanel’s 2.55 bag

The bag design went through a reincarnation in the 1980s when it was updated by Karl Lagerfeld. Known as the Classic Flap, the bag retained its original classic shape, with the clasp and chain strap differing from its initial form. Lagerfeld worked the House of Chanel logo, “CC” into the rectangular twist lock and wove leather through the shoulder chain.

Epilogue

I tried to create a true homage to a great designer and to a great business woman. I tried to be as objective as I could. 

The history will never see such a great and, as I love to say, multifaceted input in fashion, design, perfumery, textiles, innovations, as the one, created by Chanel. Should I say I admire this lady? How can I? She was an anti-semite and a Nazi-symphatizer, to put it mildly. At the same time, I admire her for her fashion greatness, for her art, for her business qualities in the same way I would admire Leni Riefenstahl?…( Or maybe more, because Coco Chanel’s talents were much bigger and her horizons and aspirations were much higher…

I do, however, reserve my judgement for the current owners of the House of Chanel.

There are two aspects I wished to mention – I do believe that Pierre Wertheimer was in love with Mademoiselle Chanel, or he was at least fascinated by her survival skills.

Pierre Wertheimer died six years before Coco Chanel passed away, putting an end to an intriguing and curious relationship of which Parfums Chanel was just one, albeit pivotal, dynamic. Coco Chanel’s attorney, Rene de Chambrun, described the relationship as one based on a businessman’s passion for a woman who felt exploited by him. “Pierre returned to Paris full of pride and excitement (after one of his horses won the 1956 English Derby),” Chambrun recalled in Forbes. “He rushed to Coco, expecting congratulations and praise. But she refused to kiss him. She resented him, you see, all her life.”

For the current owners of The House of Chanel – I would like to tell an old legend…

There is a very famous Latin Expression,”Pecunia non olet”, or “Money does not stink”. Roman Emperor Vespasian imposed a Tax on public urinals in Rome’s Cloaca Maxima (great sewer) system. The buyers of the urine (tanners) paid the tax.The Roman historian Suetonius reports that when Vespasian’s son Titus complained about the disgusting nature of the tax, his father held up a gold coin and asked whether he felt offended by its smell (sciscitans num odore offenderetur). When Titus said “No,” he replied, “Yet it comes from urine”…The phrase Pecunia non olet is still used today to say that the value of money is not tainted by its origins.

The owners of Chanel are very private Jewish people. Chanel did everything in her power not only to survive but to prosper during the Nazi occupation… If she could betray the Jews she would…indirectly though.  The Jewish owners of the company did everything they could to gloss her not so glorious past over. It makes their behaviour incredibly opportunistic. And money does stink… In my only humble opinion. There will be more research and more disclosures and more beautiful actresses will be hired to play Chanel in more glorious and more romantic movies to counterweigh those disclosures. But for how long? I think it is a high time to stop this charade – it will only benefit the company.

I started dreaming Chanel…It is not healthy. Therefore,

     Fin…

Chanel Fashion Show 2012
Chanel Fashion Show 2012

 

 

 

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