Coco Chanel: From Rags to Couture
'Little Black Dress' Revolutionizes Fashion, Frees Women from Corsets and Confines
by Alexis Cherry, age 16
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening,” said Coco Chanel.
Gabrielle Bonheur 'Coco' Chanel, one of the world's most well-known fashion designers, did not come into the world with wealth and fame. In fact, she began life as a poverty-striken orphan. Coco's mother died shortly after giving birth to her in 1883, leaving six children to a father who quickly left his family. Determined to make a life for herself, 17-year-old Coco left her job as a seamstress to sing in a cabaret. As a cabaret singer, Coco met many wealthy society women. Inspired and funded by these high-fashion elite, Coco decided to open her first women's clothing botique.
By the 1920's, the Chanel brand had become incredibly successful. Coco's two most legendary creations--the Chanel No. 5 perfume and the 'little black dress'--quickly earned recognition on a global scale.
However, during the course of World War II, Coco’s business came to a screeching halt. For nearly 20 years, she was condemned by society for siding with the Fascist philosophy and having relations with a Nazi officer, Hans Gunther.
Coco reopened Chanel in 1954, and ran the company until January of 1971, when she died. After her death, many of her designers ran the company. Since 1983, Karel Lagerfeld has maintained and kept the Chanel company modern and alive.
Though Coco died decades ago, many credit her for revolutionizing women's dress. While she may not have called herself a feminist, she certainly played her part in the feminist movement. Coco did more than free women from the confines of corsets. She also challenged many limits of traditional female clothing. Integrating masculine elements into her designs, Coco influenced women to push the limits that clothing had placed on women in the past.
[Source: Women Who Changed the World]