'Those on whom legends are built are their legends,' declared Coco Chanel to her friend Paul Morand, one of several writers to whom she tried, and failed, to tell the story of her life. 'People's lives are an enigma,' she said to another friend, Claude Delay, not long before her death.
'I don't like the family,' she also told Delay. 'You're born in it, not of it. I don't know anything more terrifying than the family.' And so she circled around and about it, telling and retelling the narrative of her youth, remaking history just as she remade the sleeves of a jacket, unfastening its seams and cutting its threads, and then sewing it back together again.
The official record shows that her mother, Eugénie, gave birth to Gabrielle on 19 August 1883 in the poorhouse in Saumur, a market town on the river Loire. Eugénie (known as Jeanne) was 20, Chanel's father Henri-Albert (known as Albert) was 28, and listed as a marchand , or merchant, on Gabrielle's birth certificate. They were not yet married but already had one daughter, Julia, born less than a year previously.
Gabrielle Bonheur, a nun in the hospice where Chanel was born, was made her godmother, and so, according to Chanel, 'I was baptised Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel'. Gabrielle she stayed throughout her childhood - Coco was a creation that came later - although she invented a story that is revealing in its untruths: 'My father used to call me "Little Coco" until something better should come along,' she told Marcel Haedrich (editor-in-chief of Marie-Claire).
The Chanel Camelia
Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel (19 August 1883 – 10 January 1971) was a French fashion designer and founder of the Chanel brand. She is the only fashion designer listed on Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.Along with Paul Poiret, Chanel was credited with liberating women from the constraints of the "corseted silhouette" and popularizing the acceptance of a sportive, casual chic as the feminine standard in the post-World War I era. A prolific fashion creator, Chanel's influence extended beyond couture clothing. Her design aesthetic was realized in jewelry, handbags, and fragrance. Her signature scent, Chanel No. 5, has become an iconic product.
Chanel and her World
The iconic Chanel handbag
Chanel Number 5
“It’s probably not just by chance that I’m alone. It would be very hard for a man to live with me, unless he’s terribly strong. And if he’s stronger than I, I’m the one who can’t live with him. … I’m neither smart nor stupid, but I don’t think I’m a run-of-the-mill person. I’ve been in business without being a businesswoman, I’ve loved without being a woman made only for love. The two men I’ve loved, I think, will remember me, on earth or in heaven, because men always remember a woman who caused them concern and uneasiness. I’ve done my best, in regard to people and to life, without precepts, but with a taste for justice.”
— Coco Chanel