10 things you didn’t know about Chanel

Including how long it takes to create a couture gown

(Image credit: Rex Features (Shutterstock))

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.

chanel facts

Conde Nast via Getty Images
(Image credit: Conde Nast via Getty Images)

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.

chanel facts

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.

chanel facts

The LIFE Premium Collection/Getty Images
(Image credit: The LIFE Premium Collection/Getty Images)

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...).

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...

chanel facts

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.

chanel facts

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.

chanel facts

Michael Ochs Archives
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives)

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).

Penny Goldstone

Penny Goldstone is the Digital Fashion Editor at Marie Claire, covering everything from catwalk trends to royal fashion and the latest high street and Instagram must-haves.

Penny grew up in France and studied languages and law at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris before moving to the UK for her MA in multimedia journalism at Bournemouth University. She moved to the UK permanently and has never looked back (though she does go back regularly to stock up on cheese and wine).

Although she's always loved fashion - she used to create scrapbooks of her favourite trends and looks, including Sienna Miller and Kate Moss' boho phase - her first job was at MoneySavingExpert.com, sourcing the best deals for everything from restaurants to designer sales.

However she quit after two years to follow her true passion, fashion journalism, and after many years of internships and freelance stints at magazines including Red, Cosmopolitan, Stylist and Good Housekeeping, landed her dream job as the Digital Fashion Editor at Marie Claire UK.

Her favourite part of the job is discovering new brands and meeting designers, and travelling the world to attend events and fashion shows. Seeing her first Chanel runway IRL at Paris Fashion Week was a true pinch-me moment.