Coco Chanel is undoubtedly the most famous designer in the world, celebrated as a style icon who made her mark on fashion in the 20th century, creating a style that is still popular today.
She thought of herself as merely a seamstress, but she revolutionised the concept of female elegance and the way women saw themselves and liked themselves.
She was born in Saumur on 19th August 1883. Her mother died young and her father abandoned the family. She was sent to an orphanage where she learnt the ancient art of cutting and sewing from the nuns. When she came of age, she opened her first boutique selling hats – the first items that revealed her practical and elegant style, which would become the trademark of her fashion house. She made them from straw with satin ribbons, which were very different from the rather pompous fashions of the Belle Époque.


Widely known as the first lady of fashion, Coco was also a perceptive interpreter of her age and knew how to make a magnificent contribution to female emancipation.
Social changes rarely remain within one limited sphere, but are often reflected in every area of life, and in the arts first and foremost. Fashion is a subtle representation of the age in which one lives. In fact, it has a particular sense for what we are living through or will live through in the future.
The tragedy of the First World War was an event that began a transformation for women and their role in society.
The war forced the men of the house – mostly farmers and factory workers – to leave for the front. They were replaced at work by women. It was an extremely important moment in society that radically changed the role of a woman from an angel of the hearth to an active member of the economy and of society.
Women began to work in factories and fields, in the same roles as their male colleagues, including heavy work, and they obviously couldn’t do their tiring jobs wearing the constrictive clothing dictated by the style of the time.
A new type of woman appeared on the horizon: one that was dynamic, a working woman who was vigorous and, above all, independent of a man. This inspired Coco and she wanted to give her the right clothes.
She freed women from corsets and cumbersome adornments and made them light, practical and absolutely elegant. She gave them comfortable clothing with a simple style, to move dynamically through everyday life. The clothes she designed were linear and functional. They were focussed on simplicity.
Skirts became shorter, beneath the knee, the waist dropped and jersey was promoted to an elegant material, in a ‘sailor’ style. She even introduced the use of trousers for women.
Coco didn’t just create a range of clothing, but a revolutionary style for the ‘20s that was a lifestyle. She wanted to free women from the control of men, making them emancipated, modern and avant-garde. She never wanted to define herself as a feminist, but her revolution in the design of women’s clothing coincided with the explosion of the feminist movement.


If we could express the style of Madam Chanel in one phrase, this would definitely be the best, because her style mantra was a paean to sobriety and simplicity.
She was crowned the queen of the “genre pauvre”, meaning a scarcity of luxury that was modern and snobbish. She believed that luxury was not the opposite of poverty, but of vulgarity, and that simplicity is the key to true refinement, while excess risks achieving the opposite effect.
Her poverty of luxury is made up of linear, simple lines, a few decorations and top-quality fabric.


Madame Coco graced the world with extraordinary sartorial alchemies that made fashion history.

The tweed suit. The idea of a suit was born in 1919, with a men’s jacket, a straight skirt or trousers. The most common colours were dark blue, grey and beige. In 1954 she created her first tweed suit, made up of a cardigan-style jacket with a typical chain and gold buttons sewn inside. The skirt, which was shorter than that of the first suit, was straight and was worn with a coordinated shirt in the same colour.

Comfort. Madame believed that “true elegance must allow the body to move freely”. Long live freedom! The frills of the 1800s were banned, along with whalebone corsets.

The timeless elegance of black and white. Coco was truly revolutionary. At the time, black was associated with mourning, but she transformed it into an elegant and extremely sensual colour to be worn on any occasion. Many think that her predilection for black and white was a result of her life in the convent, as was her preference for simple styles.

Essential pieces.

The little black dress, perfect for any occasion, which every woman should have in their wardrobe, was invented by her.

Chanel n. 5. Who doesn’t remember Marilyn Monroe’s famous phrase, “What do I wear in bed? Chanel no.5, of course”. It is the most iconic perfume of all time, a must-have of female elegance. Its name derives from the fifth essence Ernest Beaux presented to Chanel, who chose it after testing almost 20. Notice the simplicity of the name, Chanel n. 5.

Tanning. Madame Coco was the first woman to think that a tan could be an element of beauty for a woman. Until then tanned women were farmers who worked in the fields under the sun. They acquired a healthy golden glow, but this was associated with poverty. Paleness was a mark of nobility and economic well-being, so much so that ladies of the age could be seen strolling around cities with rather cumbersome parasols, veils and sundresses.
In 1923 Coco rehabilitated the tan. On her return from a holiday on the Ivory Coast, where she let herself be bronzed by the sun, she was admired for her colour and immediately copied.

Red lipstick. The growing feminist movement acclaimed it as a symbol of female power. It was a democratic accessory that made women equal, whatever their social class, economic position or profession, and Madame elevated it to the symbol of a true femme fatale. It had to be applied to highlight the outline of the lips, creating as perfect a heart shape as possible.

Costume jewellery. She invented it. She made jewellery as an accessory, made of metal and semi-precious stones, available to everyone, and it could be worn at any time of day.

A true revolutionary, Madame Chanel was never impeded by society’s rules. She gave importance to women, emancipating them and making them independent and avant-garde. She destroyed the stereotype of a woman “constrained” by tight clothing, in outmoded social roles and created another, made of freedom, of aspiration and of emancipation. She gave women a new way of dressing, of expressing themselves and, ultimately, of being.