Chanel’s beginnings

Did you know Coco Chanel began her career as a milliner? C’est vrai, her first business venture which began at the now legendary 21 Rue Cambon location (just behind the Ritz) was to sell hats to the wealthy nobles and elite upper class. Her style became known after she began buying straw boater hats and decorating them in a simpler manner than current fashion dictated. Always the shrewd businesswoman, even from the beginning, she saw the opportunity to gain her highly desired financial independence by capitalizing on her millinery talents.

P4300392   Chanel in one of her boaters at the race track, 1910

What drove her to open this shop? She had to be highly motivated as she called in many favors from the men in her web of lovers to make it happen, borrowing money to lease the commercial space from her current beau, Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel, as well as living in an abandoned apartment that belonged her previous protector, Etienne Balsan, who had kept Chanel as his mistress for over half a dozen years, before Boy Capel became the man Chanel would later call “the love of my life.” Her first move towards independance came when she took up her own residence at 31 Rue Cambon in an apartment she would keep for the rest of her life.

Whether her business acumen hinged on her desire to be self-sufficient, or her burgeoning love of fashion, she had found a niche in the market, and clientele responded eagerly to the young woman’s vision. A century ago, the on-trend fashion for hat wear amongst ladies were huge, overblown hats that appeared to have an entire bird atop the wearer’s head.

             edwardian hats            1901hats

Chanel’s hats scaled back in the use of feathers, but kept them in her designs in smaller number… sometimes just a few and sometimes just one lone plume, as the hat’s primary adornment. Pictured below left, this hat is thought to be one of the earliest Chanel hats on record, pictured in Les Modes in 1912. To the right is actress Gabrielle Dorziat in a Chanel hat of the same period.

chanel hat 1912  P4290380

Published in: on July 26, 2009 at 3:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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