Including how long it takes to create a couture gown
We don’t know about you, but we love a good fashion history lesson. Whether it’s five things we didn’t know about Mulberry to the story behind Princess Diana’s favourite bag, there’s something about discovering hidden facts about our favourite designers that we just can’t get enough of.
With that in mind, we decided to find out a little more about Chanel, and we were quite surprised…
1. Coco Chanel isn’t actually called Coco.
Coco Chanel is actually named Gabrielle Chanel, though the rest of the world knows her by her childhood nickname Coco. However when she was born, her birth certificate actually had a massive spelling mistake and it read Gabrielle Bonheur Chasnel – instead of her real surname that would endure to this day.
2. Gabrielle Chanel started off with hats
While early on Gabrielle initially wanted to work in entertainment in Vichy, she realised quickly that her talents lay elsewhere. In 1910, Gabrielle Chanel set up her milliner’s studio at 21 rue Cambon in Paris, and in 1913 she opened a boutique in Deauville devoted to hats and a small range of clothes, made predominantly from jersey. In 1915 she reached new heights when she opened her Maison de Couture in Biarritz, in the Villa Larralde just opposite the Casino.
3. She was the first to create clothes that were stylish AND comfortable
She created the first collection which extolled the virtues of freedom and comfort while banishing ornamentation in favour of line. In addition to the jersey outfits, she introduced crepe and embroidery. Having never been a fan of the corset and how it restricted women, Coco Chanel focused on clothes that were both beautiful and comfortable to move in.
She introduced the first version of the Chanel suit in the 1925, which was revolutionary for its collarless jacket and exquisite tailoring, and it soon became a hit. In 1929, she also turned her eyes to crafting handbags – which were inspired by soldiers’ bags as well as the quilted fabric of racing jockeys’ jacket.
4. The House of Chanel is the oldest active haute couture house
In 1918, Gabrielle Chanel established her brands definitively at number 31 rue Cambon – the legendary address – which remained devoted to Haute Couture throughout the designer’s life (1883 – 1971). Today the House of Chanel is the oldest active couture house. The Chanel ateliers have always been firmly established in the upper floors of the historic building.
5. Creating a collection is a military operation
Two ateliers of 25 people are devoted to the ‘flou’, generating a dialogue between the dresses and blouses and the delicate materials (tulles, organza, chiffon, crepe and lace…).
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The ‘suit’ atelier consists of 50 people dedicated to the jackets, skirts, trousers and coats made in tweeds, wool, leather and the other fabrics that require exceptional knowledge. Head seamstresses ensure the highest possible execution of the 50 to 70 models in every collection. The crème-de-la-crème of Paris’ embroiders, feather workers, milliners and shoe makers respond exclusively to the materials and prints…
6. Collections are perfected until the very last minute
Karl Lagerfeld, the artistic director of the House of Chanel since 1983, designs the two annual collections – Spring-Summer and Fall-Winter Haute Couture – handing over his highly detailed sketches to the ateliers specialising in ‘flou’ or ‘suits’. The sketches come to life as a cotton toile, the first version of the garment shown to the designer. Karl Lagerfeld regards the moving body as an essential element in his creative process and lays great emphasis on fittings on the in-house model.
The final fittings take place the night before the runway show and only then are outfits accessorised – jewellery, gloves, hats and shoes – and the final touches added.
7. If you shop at Chanel often enough, you get your own mannequin
The day after the show clients are received by appointment only in the Couture Salons at 31 rue Cambon, a luxurious setting in the emblematic House colours, beige, black and white. The fittings – up to five for the wedding dresses – are orchestrated by the head seamstress. Regular clients of the House have their own wooden mannequins in their exact measurements.
8. It takes hundreds of hours to create a dress
It takes more than 100 hours of work to make a suit and up to 1000 hours to create a wedding dress.
9. Chanel had nothing to do with Chanel No. 5.
Gabrielle was only slightly involved in the process of creating the brand’s signature perfume. Instead, she licensed her name out to a perfumer who crafted and presented her with a number of samples to choose from. She picked the fifth sample, as it was her favourite number.
10. There’s a Chanel Broadway musical.
Coco Chanel’s life inspired the musical Coco, which first premiered on Broadway in 1969. When it opened, Coco was played by the Hollywood actress Katharine Hepburn in her only stage musical ever. It was an instant hit and was nominated for seven Tony Awards, two of which it won for Best Featured Actor in a Musical and Best Costume Design (naturally).