Iconic and Unmatched. Chanel is undisputedly the most significant brand of the century. The 10 billion dollar French fashion house has an impressive 108 year history. Rooted in a tireless celebration of grace, Chanel tells a modern-day tale of romance, prestige and incomparable refinement.
An industry stalwart, Chanel is one of the most sough-after fashion houses of the century. Ever since its inception by Coco (Gabrielle) Chanel, circa 1909, the brand has been at the cutting edge of innovation and glamour. Coco can be credited with some of the most iconic designs in couture history, but modern-day flag bearer, the legendary Karl Lagerfeld, is almost as synonymous to the brand as its namesake. We trace back the tumultuous journey that made Chanel what it has become today.
A Legend is born
The year was 1883, Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel was born in the quaint town of Saumur, France. She grew up in an orphanage where she was trained in the art of sewing and knitting. By the age of 18 she had started working for a local dressmaker.
She opened her first store in 1910. On 21 Rue Cambon (it still operates as the Chanel headquarters) where she become a licensed hat-maker.In 1913 she opened a boutique at Deauville and two years later she had opened her third boutique called Chanel-Biarritz, selling to an affluent set of Spanish clientele.
1921 – Launch of Chanel No.5
By the roaring twenties, Maison Chanel was already being recognized as one of the more prominent fashion houses of France. Chanel herself had become a style diva, thanks to her resolute preference for modernity in design, simplicity and her true signature – the fierce bob. In 1921 she launched her first fragrance set created by Ernest Beaux, the one and only – Chanel no.5. By 1930 she has entered the elite circles of the European Royals and the brand Chanel was so profitable that their annual turnover exceeded 120 million francs.
After a few years of downtime during world war II, Coco returned to a drastically changed fashion circuit – the creation of Le Petit Théâtre de la Mode, feminine silhouettes and a new rival in the name of DIOR had surfaced. By then American designers had popularised trousers and shirtwaist dresses. To her, it was a lackluster silhouette and she decided to bring back her statement style. Her tweed suit was relaunched with renewed vigour and it became a greater success than before.
Classic, Quilted, 2.55
In February 1955 the iconic bag was launched. It wasn’t the first Chanel-designed bag. That honour belongs to a 1929 creation, but the 2.55 was modified for practical reasons. “I got fed up with holding my purses in my hands and losing them, so I added a strap and carried them over my shoulder,” Chanel was reported saying. The strap was added, so that the high society ladies could juggle holding their champagne flûtes and theatre flyers, while carrying a bag.
In January 1971 – Chanel passed away. A spectacular life well documented in fashion scriptures. In the 1980’s, Chanel’s owner Alain Wertheimer hired the notoriously work-centric, Karl Lagerfeld who had previously worked for Fendi (he has kept the job to this day) and Chloe. Alain’s decision to hire Karl to helm the brand successfully changed the course of fashion history as he became the most celebrated icon after Coco herself.
Over the years, under his tight reigns, Chanel has mastered category segregation like no other. This strategy involves deftly addressing each consumer strata with a price sensitive product without losing the brand allure and aspiration. Combining commerce with couture, Karl has created a powerhouse. Each runway show surpasses the previous production. From a full beach set replete with sand, waves and lifeguards to enchanted forests, cliff edged ramps with waterfalls to an unforgettable showcase at the Grand Palais in Paris. The brand remains an unparalleled symbol of “avant-garde modernity and a source of inspiration for countless artists and designer’s throughout the world.