[shuh-nel; Fr. sha-nel]
Chanel, Coco (Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel), 1883-1971, French fashion designer b. Saumur. She established a millinery shop in Deauville in 1909, founded her first house of couture there in 1913, and opened in Paris in 1914. An enormously influential designer from the mid-1920s on, she was noted for her simple, elegant modern styles: jersey dresses, especially the "little black dress," and suits; perfumes, notably Chanel No. 5, created in 1922; black or gray pullovers with white piqué collars and cuffs; boxy, braid-trimmed suits; trousers for women; and clothing generally designed for comfort. Among the most imitated of all designers she had a major resurgence of popularity beginning in 1954, when she reopened the business she had closed (1930) at the beginning of World War II. Her fashion empire ranged from Chanel suits and quilted handbags with chains to costume jewelry and a textile house.

See P. Galante, Mademoiselle Chanel (tr. 1973); C. Baillén, Chanel Solitaire (tr. 1974), E. Charles-Roux, Chanel and Her World (tr. 1981, rev. ed. 2005); A. Madsen, A Woman of Her Own (1990); J. Wallach, Chanel (1998); H. Koda et al., Chanel (2005).

Chanel S.A. ʃə.ˈnɛɫ ), is a Parisian fashion house created by Coco Chanel. Specializing in luxury goods (haute couture, ready-to-wear, handbags, perfumery, and cosmetics among others), the Chanel label has become one of the most recognized names in luxury and haute couture fashion . According to Forbes, the privately held House of Chanel is jointly owned by Alain Wertheimer and Gerard Wertheimer who are the grandsons of the early (1924) Chanel partner Pierre Wertheimer.

Rivals of la Maison de Chanel include the Parisian fashion labels of Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, and Hermès. Other competitors are Bvlgari, Cartier, Gianfranco Ferre, Versace, Gucci, and Prada. The company has had many high-profile celebrities as spokesmodels, including Catherine Deneuve (1970s Chanel No.5 spokesmodel), Nicole Kidman (early 2000s Chanel No. 5 spokesmodel), Audrey Tautou (current Chanel No.5 spokesmodel), and most famously, Marilyn Monroe (1950s Chanel No. 5 spokesmodel) pictured splashing herself with a bottle of Chanel No. 5. The image is certainly the most famous of all Chanel advertisements, and continues to be one of the most popular advertisement photos in the history of marketing, used in countless biographies, and still selling in large quantities as a poster and art piece using Marilyn Monroe as the model..


The Coco Chanel Era

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (b.August 19, 1883 – d.January 10, 1971) heralded new designs and revolutionized the fashion industry by going “back to basics,” incorporating elegance, class, and originality. Under her tight reign from 1909-1971, Coco Chanel held the title as ‘Chief Designer’ until her death on January 10, 1971.

Establishment and recognition: 1909 through 1920s

In 1909, Gabrielle Chanel opened a small shop on the ground floor of the Balsan's apartment in Paris - the beginnings of what would later become one of the greatest fashion empires in the world. The Balsan home was a meeting place of the hunting elite of France and the gentlemen brought their fashionable mistresses along, giving Coco the opportunity to sell the women decorated hats. During this time Coco Chanel struck up a relationship with Arthur Capel, a member of the Balsan men's group and the only one who worked for a living).

He saw a businesswoman in Coco and helped her acquire her location at 31 Rue de Cambon in Paris by 1910. There was already a couture shop in the building, and so Coco was not allowed in her lease to produce couture dresses. In 1913, Chanel introduced women’s sportswear at her new boutique in Deauville and Biarritz, France. She detested the fashions of women who came to these resort towns. Chanel's designs tended to be simple rather than opulent in look (common haute couture fashion of the Belle Époque). World War I affected fashion. Coal was scarce and women were doing the factory jobs that men had held prior to the war; they needed warm clothing that would stand up to working conditions. Chanel fossella's designs from this era were affected by the new idea of women's sports. During World War I, Coco opened another larger shop on Rue de Cambon in front of the Hôtel Ritz Paris. Here she sold flannel blazers, straight linen skirts, sailor tops, long jersey sweaters and skirt-jackets.Her fashion became known in 1915 throughout France for its simplicity. In the years 1915 and 1917, Harper's Bazaar mentioned that Chanel's name was "on the list of every buyer." Her boutique at 31 Rue Cambon previewed simple day dress-and-coat ensembles and black evening dresses in lace or jet-embroidered tulle (she also piled cushions of feathers, fur and metallic fabrics on the sofas in the gray and amber salons).

Coco Chanel established her reputation as a meticulous fashion couturier. Following the fashion trends of the 1920s, Chanel produced beaded dresses. The suit in two or three pieces created in 1920 remains a modern fashion look. The suit was advocated as the "new uniform for afternoon and evening as far back as 1915." 1921 saw the introduction of her first perfume Chanel No. 5. Earnest Beaux created the fragrance for Coco and she named it after her lucky number 5. The fragrance was a success. The signature scent was a result of her belief in superstitions. She was scheduled to show her collection on the fifth day of the fifth month. Coco informed Harper's Bazaar, “simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance," in 1923.

Parfums Chanel: the late 1920s

Parfums Chanel was founded in 1924 by Pierre Wertheimer (in collaboration with Coco Chanel) to produce and sell perfumes and beauty products. Theophile Bader (founder of the successful French department store Galeries Lafayette) introduced Coco to Wertheimer. Wertheimer retained 70% of Parfums Chanel, while Bader retained 20%, and Coco a modest 10%. Coco was forced to operate her couture business apart from Parfums Chanel. In 1924, Coco also introduced her first costume jewelry which were a pair of pearl earrings, one black, one white. Along with the success of her haute couture business, Coco expanded her "social desirability and her personal legend." A new love interest in her life was the Duke of Westminster. She introduced her signature cardigan jacket in 1925 and in 1926, the ‘little black dress,' and a tweed, inspired by visits to Scotlands. Soon, Coco operated a boutique near the renowned Louvre museum.

As the couture Chanel and Parfums Chanel gained success, business relations between Coco and Pierre were sour. She resented the partnership with Pierre Wertheimer and believed she deserved more then 10% of the profits, and believed that the Wertheimers were exploiting her talents for their own personal gain. Wertheimer reminded Coco that he had funded her venture, and that he had made her a wealthy woman.

Coco hired René de Chambrun as her attorney for renegotiating the terms with the Wertheimers. but this failed. The youngest model she hired was a teenager from her area, Meredith Annaline.

Chanel and Nazi affiliation: 1930s through 1950s

Evening couture dresses from Chanel evolved into an enlongated feminine style. Summer dresses have contrasting scintillating touches (e.g. rhinestone straps and silver eyelets). Coco a line for petite women in 1937. Throughout the 1930s, Elsa Schiaparelli was competing more strongly with the House of Chanel, but this was only a short term rivalry. Chanel premiered an exhibition of jewelry in 1932 dedicated to the diamond. Several of the pieces, including the "Comet" and "Fountain" necklaces were re-introduced by Chanel in 1993. When World War II began in 1939, Coco Chanel retired and moved into the Hôtel Ritz Paris with her new beau, Nazi officer Hans Gunther von Dincklage. Only her parfums and accessories were sold in her existing boutiques.

When France fell under the control of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany in 1940, the Nazis made the Ritz their French headquarters. Pierre Wertheimer and his family fled to the United States in 1940, and before Coco could take control of Parfums Chanel, Wertheimer made an "Aryan proxy" for the company. Rumors spread that Coco was on good terms with the Germans. Chanel biographer Edmonde Charles-Roux states that German intelligence sent her to "visit Winston Churchill as a part of a secret peace mission. Coco Chanel was arrested immediately after the liberation of France and charged with abetting the Germans, but Churchill intervened on her behalf and she was released." When France was liberated after the fall of the Nazi Empire, many French people meted out punishments to French women who were believed to have collaborated with the Nazis. Coco Chanel was without a doubt a target after the rumors, and so she fled to Switzerland.

In Coco's absence, Pierre Wertheimer returned to Paris to control Wertheimer family holdings. Out of spite, Coco created her own collection of parfums. Wertheimer felt his legal rights were infringed, but he wanted to avoid a legal battle and settled with Coco by giving her $400,000 USD, 2% royalty from all Chanel products, and gave her limited rights to sell her own parfums in Switzerland. Coco stopped making parfums after the agreement. She sold the complete rights to her name to the Wertheimers for Parfums Chanel, in exchange for a monthly stipend. The stipend supported her and her friend, von Dincklage.

Chanel's comeback: 1950s through 1970s

Chanel returned to Paris in 1953 to find that fashion designer Christian Dior now dominated the couture market. Coco re-approached Pierre for business advice and financial back-up. In return, he gained complete rights to all products stamped with the name "Chanel." Their re-collaboration paid off as Chanel became the top label in fashion again. Chanel re-introduced the "Chanel suit" and introduced the Chanel chain handled quilted leather handbags in February 1957, and her first eau de toilette for men, Pour Monsieur. Chanel and her spring collection received the Fashion Oscar at the 1957 Fashion Awards in Dallas. Pierre bought Badar's 20% share of the perfume business, giving his family 90%. Pierre's son Jacques Wertheimer took his father's place in 1965. Coco's attorney Chambrun called the now-gone-relationship as "one based on a businessman's passion for a woman who felt exploited by him." He told Forbes, "Pierre returned to Paris full of pride and excitement [after one of his horses won the 1956 English Derby]. He rushed to Coco, expecting congratulations and praise. But she refused to kiss him. She resented him, you see, all her life."

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel died on January 10, 1971 at the age of 87. She was still "designing, still working" at the time of her death. Leadership of the company was handed down to Yvonne Dudel, Jean Cazaubon and Philippe Guibourge. The House continued average success, and Jacques Wetheimer bought the entire House of Chanel. Critics stated that during his leadership, he never paid much attention to the company as he was more interested in horse breeding. In 1974, the House of Chanel launched Cristalle eau de toilette, which designed when Coco Chanel was alive. 1978 saw the launch of the first non-couture, prêt-à-porter line and worldwide distribution of accessories.

Alain Wertheimer, Jacques son, took over in 1974. Back in the U.S., Chanel No.5 was seen as a passe perfume. Alain revamped Chanel No.5 sales by reducing the number of outlets carrying the fragrance from 18,000 to 12,000. He removed the perfume from drugstore shelves, and invested millions of dollars in advertisement for Chanel cosmetics. This ensured a greater sense of scarcity and exclusivity for No.5, and sales rocketed back up as demand for the fragrance increased. Looking for a designer who could bring the label to new heights, he persuaded Karl Lagerfeld to end his contract with fashion house Chloe.

Post-Coco through today

In 1981, Chanel launched a new eau de toilette for men, Antaeus. In 1983, Lagerfeld took over as chief designer for Chanel. He changed Chanel’s fashion lines from the old lines to shorter cuts and eye capturing designs. During the 1980s, more than 40 Chanel boutiques were opened up worldwide. By the end of the 1980s, these boutiques sold goods ranging from $200-per-ounce perfume, $225 USD ballerina slippers to $11,000 USD dresses and $2,000 USD leather handbags. Rights to Chanel cosmetics and fragrances were held by Chanel only and not shared with other beauty producers and distributors. As Lagerfeld took charge as chief designer, other designers and marketers for Chanel worked on keeping the classic Chanel look to maintain the Chanel legend. Chanel marketer Jean Hoehn explained, "We introduce a new fragrance every 10 years, not every three minutes like many competitors. We don't confuse the consumer. With Chanel, people know what to expect. And they keep coming back to us, at all ages, as they enter and leave the market." The launch of a new fragrance in honor of the late Coco Chanel, Coco, in 1984 maintained success in the perfumery business with Chanel. In 1986, the House of Chanel struck a deal with watchmakers and in 1987, the first Chanel watch made its debut. By the end of the decade, Alain moved the offices to New York City.

The company earned the placed as a global leader in fragrance maker and marketing in the 1990s. Heavy marketing investment increased revenue. The success of the Maison de Chanel brought the Wertheimer family fortune to $5 billion USD. Product lines such as watches (retailing for as much as $7,000 USD), shoes, high-end cloths, cosmetics and accessories were expanded. Sales were hurt by the recession of the early 1990s, but Chanel recovered by the mid-1990s with further boutique expansion. 1990 saw the launch of ĹŹ. As the business trend was going about (buying up other fashion companies), Chanel -- like Moët-Hennessy • Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada -- bought up numerous companies. The House acquired Les Broderies Lemarié (a renown feather and flower craftshouse which provided embroidery for the haute couture industry), A. Michael et Cie, and Lesage. Chanel was also rumored to also buy the company Massaro. By 1996, Chanel bought gunmaker Holland & Holland. It attempted to revamp the guns maker but did not succeed. 1996 also greeted the launch of Allure fragrance and due to its immense popularity, a men’s version, Allure Homme was launched in 1998. Better success came with he purchase of Eres (a renowned swimwear label). The House of Chanel launched its first skin care line, PRÉCISION in 1999. That same year, Chanel launched a new travel collection, and under a license contract with Luxottica, introduced a line of sunglasses and eyeglass frames.

While Alain Wertheimer remained chairman of Chanel, CEO and President Françoise Montenay brought Chanel into the 21st century. 2000 saw the launch of the first unisex watch by Chanel, the J1. In 2001, Chanel boutiques offering only selections of accessories were opened in the United States. In 2002 saw the launch of Chance fragrance, with a scent of surprise and glamour. The House of Chanel also founded the Paraffection company that gathered the five Ateliers d’Art: Desrues for ornamentation, Lemarié for feathers and camellias, Lesage for embroiderer, Massaro for shoemaker, and Michel for millinery. A prêt-à-porter collection proposing their know-how was designed by Karl Lagerfeld. It is now traditionally presented each December. In July 2002, a jewelry and watch flagship store was opened on the upscale Madison Avenue. Within the months, a 1,000sqft shoes and handbags boutique was opened next door to the Jewelry and watches flagship. A rumor circulated in the fashion world that Chanel was going to merge with Hermès.. This brought the store count in the U.S. to 25 locations nationwide. To please its younger followers, Chanel introduced Coco Mademoiselle and an "In-Between Wear" in 2003. The company founded a second atelier on rue Cambon and a boutique in Hong Kong to keep up with demand.

Influence on fashion & popularity

Coco Chanel revolutionized haute couture fashion by replacing the traditional corseted silhouette with the comfort of simple suits and long, lean dresses. The years of the 1920s and 1930s will best be remembered as the era of Coco whose simpler lines of women's couture led to the popular "flat-chested" look of the 1920s. Her clothing was relaxed and changed the way women dressed for outdoor leisure. Coco omitted corsets, liberating women and creating more comfort. Contemporary Fashion states, "She dressed the modern woman in clothes for a lifestyle." Coco is credited for making jersey (a soft elasticated knit used for undegarments) a new fashion fabric. Her jersey dresses in navy and gray were cut to flatter the figure rather than to emphasize and distort the natural body shape. These dressed were highly popular by wealthy women, and so she extended her range with them being manufactored by Rodier. Chanel also incorporated ideas from male wardrobe into her designs.

She had numerous other major successes that changed the fashion industry, including the ever popular Chanel suit, composed of a knee-length skirt and trim, boxy jacket, traditionally made of woven wool with black sewing trim and gold buttons, worn with large costume-pearl necklaces. The hem of the suit is weighted down with a chain. Wealthy women around the world began to flock to her 31 Rue Cambon boutique to commission couture outfits from her. The House of Chanel became an icon of elegance and from then on, the name "Chanel" became synonymous with elegance, wealth, and elitism, as well as the ultimate sign of French high class. After the phenomenal success of her perfume, Chanel No. 5, Coco Chanel's fashions became even more well-known and were purchased by the high flyers of London and Paris society alike. The financial gain from the fragrance also helped her company during difficult years.

Overall, Chanel has touched many American and European fashion designers for her pioneering search for originality and simple perfection. They "continue to re-inforce her concept of uncomplicated classics that inspire many contemporary designers' ready-to-wear collections -- a homage to Chanel's essential modernist styling and her legacy to the world of fashion.

Chanel is also known for its quilted fabric and leather which also has a "secret" quilting pattern sewn at the back to keep the material strong. It was inspired by the jackets of jockeys. This material is used for clothing and accessories alike. The Luxury Line, introduced in 2006 featuring a metal chain embedded in the leather, was one of the most desired bags of the moment. Chanel still is popular because it mixes the trends of today with the class and simplicity it had when it first opened. The brand is currently headed by German-born designer Karl Lagerfeld, who also designs for the House of Fendi, as well as his namesake label.

Chanel logo & counterfeiting

The signature Chanel logotype is an interlocking double-C (one facing forwards the other facing backwards). Originally it was not a logo that Coco Chanel came up with. The logo derives from the name "Coco", the two C's. The logotype was not trademarked until the opening of the first Chanel stores.

Chanel is currently dealing with illegal use of the double-C logotype on cheaper goods, especially counterfeit handbags. Countries said to be producing great numbers of counterfeit Chanel handbags are Vietnam, Thailand, and China. An authentic Chanel handbag retails from around $1,500 USD, while a counterfeit usually costs around $100 USD, creating a demand for the signature style at a cheaper price. All authentic Chanel handbags are serialized.

Chanel locations

Chanel operates over 200 Chanel boutiques worldwide. The locations are found in upscale shopping districts, upscale department stores and malls, and inside major airports.


Creative Director at Chanel Jacques Helleu followed Coco Chanel's credo, having designed the first Chanel watch named 'Premiere' in 1987. The first model of the Chanel J12 watches line was introduced in 2000.

In 2005, Chanel designers introduced the J12 line into the area of Fine Jewelry timepieces - they developed the jewelry watch that was equipped with the tourbillion. Chanel asked experienced Swiss watchmakers to develop the exclusive 'CHANEL O5-T.1' movement.

In 2006, the line was joined by Chanel J12 Haute Joaillerie set with 597 baguette-cut diamonds, followed by the creation of the Chanel J12 Tourbillon Haute Joaillerie. In 2007, Chanel launched its first J12 GMT model.

In 2008, Chanel initiated the partnership with Audemars Piguet, having developed the 'J12 calibre 3125', equipped with an innovative automatic movement - CHANEL AP - 3125, the fusion of the AP 3120 movement and Chanel 'J12' ceramic.

Marketing filmography

Chanel No. 5

Chanel launched a new advertising film that cast Nicole Kidman as the new face of Chanel No. 5. It was produced by Baz Luhrmann, the director of Moulin Rouge and Romeo+Juliet, and was shot on location in Sydney. Kidman takes on the role of the most famous woman in the world while Brazilian Model/Actor Rodrigo Santoro plays a struggling writer in love with Kidman. The commercial lasts three minutes, and reportedly took many months of pre- and post-production. It cost about €26 million ($46 million), making No. 5 The Film one of the most expensive advertisements in history.

Audrey Tautou, French actress and star of the film, The Da Vinci Code (2006), replaced Kidman as spokesmodel for the No.5 fragrance.

Coco Mademoiselle

Academy Award-nominated British actress Keira Knightley, current model of the Coco Mademoiselle fragrance, starred as the young Coco Chanel in a short advertisement film for the fragrance. The film was directed by the BAFTA-winning English film director Joe Wright. He has worked with Keira in his critically acclaimed, Academy-award winning films, Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007).


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