the founder


*The Allure of Chanel by Paul Morand, Hermann, 1996

© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP Paris 2016

Gabrielle Chanel lived her life as she alone intended. The trials of a childhood as an orphan and the successes of an accomplished businesswoman gave birth to an extraordinary character; daring, free, and ahead of her time. Faithful friendships and passionate love affairs, as well as a thirst for culture, discovery and travel helped shaped her personality. A wardrobe freed from constraints and superfluity, tweaked with masculine accents, created a visionary allure that has become timeless and yet wildly modern. Pearls and diamonds casually paired with iconic perfumes have created a signature style… That of an avant-garde woman, a pioneer whose lifestyle and multiple facets forged the values of the House she founded, and who remains an inspiration for all women.

coco in words


We see her again in 1930, wearing trousers and a sailor’s shirt, with her short hair blowing in the wind. For quite some time, Gabrielle had done nothing like anyone else. For quite some time, she had discovered the happiness of letting her skin darken under the sun’s caress while spending time in 1920 on Lido’s beaches in Venice in the company of Misia Sert. A life lived in the open air, punctuated by the discovery of sport and leisure, which she indulged in with pleasure: golf, skiing, yachting, fishing, etc. And of course, horseback riding, a passion that began with Étienne Balsan in 1906, which continued with Boy Capel, a distinguished polo player, and the Duke of Westminster.

Activities that inspired her to create a wardrobe that was not yet called sportswear, but which laid a foundation that was more current than ever. “I invented the sports dress for myself; not because other women played sports, but because I did. I didn’t go out because I needed to design dresses, I designed dresses precisely because I went out, because I lived, for myself, the life of the century.”* * The Allure of Chanel by Paul Morand, Hermann, 1996.

Gabrielle Chanel and her dog Gigot at La Pausa, 1930


Her first hat boutique, which she opened in 1910 and which drew in the entire city of Paris, was the cornerstone of her legacy. Two years later, with her instinct sensing the rise of seaside resort towns, she set up a second boutique in Deauville.

It was then in Biarritz, another city that would soon become in vogue, that she opened her couture house in 1915. Gabrielle Chanel took over 31 rue Cambon in 1918. She then created N°5 in 1921, the first perfume by a dressmaker, which overturned the codes of perfumery of the era with its trail and refined bottle. In 1937, she herself posed to create advertisements, an innovation and an act of boldness, again… And then there was the fine jewelry collection “Bijoux de Diamants” in 1932, which stirred up and sparked scandal in the subdued world of fine jewelry, and showed, once more, how she rendered everything that had been done previously out of fashion. And how she was a formidable businesswoman, the first of her kind to build an independent and international company, whose keen instinct has never failed her.

Mademoiselle Chanel at work, 1937


“Jersey, the sailor shirt, the tweed suit and jacket, knit twin sets, the little black dress, the two-tone pump, the shoulder bag in quilted leather, pearl necklaces… Gabrielle Chanel invented an allure and created a grammar of style, an eternal reference in the contemporary wardrobe.

Her vision of a simple wardrobe with understated, refined lines, and, most importantly, which would not restrict women’s movement and would suit their daily lives, was followed by other innovations. The first dressmaker to create a perfume in 1921, she had the instinct that would help her conquer the world. She stated, “Perfume is luxury.”* For her fine jewelry, she did not hesitate to once again strip away the superfluous, to lighten rigid settings, and invent ways of wearing it in the hair. Taking away the sacred nature of the most precious jewels was again a vision with surprisingly modernity. Gabrielle Chanel was also innovative in her way of speaking to women. When she agreed to work in Hollywood and dress American actresses in 1931, it was because she understood, as she said herself, that, “It is through cinema that fashion can be imposed today.” ** *Answer to an Interview with Jacques Chazot for the show DIM DAM DOM, Film by Guy Job, 1969 **La Revue du Cinéma, September 1, 1931

Gabrielle Chanel in garden of La Pausa villa in Roquebrune, 1938.


“I am the only volcanic crater in the Auvergne that is not extinct,”* Gabrielle Chanel playfully said. One of the hallmarks of the designer’s fiery temperament was never to be confined by anyone, let alone by men. This is one of the paradoxes of this great lover. Independent in her personal life, Gabrielle Chanel was just as much so in her business life.

Although she was financially supported by Boy Capel in the beginning, who helped her open her Parisian hat shop in 1910 as well as the Deauville boutique in 1912, Gabrielle made a point of paying him back every cent. A question of principle, as well as almost a survival instinct: to not depend on anyone, ever, and to remain free at all costs. Impelled by this very desire for freedom, she became the owner of the Bel Respiro villa in Garches, near Paris, and had the La Pausa villa built in Roquebrune Cap-Martin, on the Riviera. And of course, 31 rue Cambon in Paris, where she set up her apartments. To be free and independent was one of the finest examples she set for women. * The Allure of Chanel by Paul Morand, Hermann, 1996.

Gabrielle Chanel in her “La Pausa” villa, 1938


“It was the artists who taught me rigor,”* A patron, muse, and sometimes a real pygmalion; a costume designer for theater, ballet and cinema, an avid reader, and passionate about Baroque and Byzantine art and Slavic culture, Gabrielle Chanel built deep friendships with many artists. Misia Sert, her closest friend, introduced her to this world of constant creativity. Together, their paths crossed with those of Diaghilev, Cocteau, Stravinsky and Dali… Gabrielle Chanel would financially support Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and would design the costumes for his ballet, Le Train bleu (The Blue Train). For Cocteau, who considered her to be “the greatest dressmaker of her era,”** she designed costumes for his plays Antigone, Orphée and Œdipe Roi. She invited Stravinsky to her Bel Respiro villa and supported his musical works.

As for Salvador Dali, Gabrielle Chanel lent him her La Pausa villa for more than six months in 1938 so that he could work on an exhibition of paintings that he was showcasing in New York the following year. Dancer Serge Lifar, Jacques Lipchitz and Picasso were also among her close friends. As were poets Pierre Reverdy and Max Jacob, as well as writer Paul Morand, who devoted a book to her, The Allure of Chanel, and was loosely inspired by the relationship she had with Boy Capel in writing his novel Lewis et Irène. “She, by some sort of miracle, operated in fashion by following rules that seemed only to apply to painters, musicians, poets. She imposed the invisible, she imposed the nobility of silence on the furore of high society,”** Jean Cocteau stated. Gabrielle, an artist among artists. * The Allure of Chanel by Paul Morand, Hermann, 1996 **With thanks to the Jean Cocteau Committee

Gabrielle Chanel and her friend the dancer, Serge Lifar, 1937


“Books have been my best friends,”* Gabrielle confided to Paul Morand one day. They never left her, starting with her reading of Psalms at Aubazine Abbey. At Rue Cambon, in her apartments, shelves bend under the weight of books. One of them lays open near a pair of glasses… Lying on her beige suede sofa, on her quilted pillows, Gabrielle reads everything.

Sophocles, Homer, Plutarch and Virgil are displayed next to Rabelais, Dante, Shakespeare, and Montaigne. La Bruyère, Molière, Cervantes sit next to Rousseau, Voltaire, and Pascal. We also find Proust, Brontë, Stein, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. And then there are the poets: Rilke, Baudelaire, Apollinaire, Verlaine, Cocteau, Max Jacob and Reverdy. * The Allure of Chanel by Paul Morand, Hermann, 1996

Gabrielle Chanel in her apartment – 31 rue Cambon in Paris, 1937


Gabrielle helped reveal talent. Naturally, she connected her friends together, inventing the notion of a network well before its time… In 1936, she introduced young Luchino Visconti to director Jean Renoir who, immediately seeing the potential of this young Italian aristocrat who was mad about cinema, hired him as assistant director.

A few years later, Visconti sent Franco Zeffirelli to Paris and asked Chanel to help him enter the world of French cinema. Chanel introduced him Brigitte Bardot and Roger Vadim, thus launching the career of the Italian director.

Actress Jeanne Moreau and Gabrielle Chanel in Hollywood, 1960

Lover of the Arts

To learn, to discover, to nurture both her soul and her creativity through the arts: this was a motto that Gabrielle Chanel lived by her entire life. Passionate about painting, sculpture, architecture and history, Gabrielle fell in love with Slavic culture and charm in the company of Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich. From then on, Russian-style blouses, pelisses, multicolored cabochons and Byzantine crosses adorned her collections.

Accompanied by José Maria Sert, the husband of her friend Misia, she traveled through Rome and Venice, finding herself in awe of the beauty of the churches, and the magnificence of Baroque art. The templates of Antiquity, as well as the adoration of gold, appeared organically in her stylistic vocabulary. In her home, Gabrielle collected Chinese Coromandel lacquer screens (she owned about thirty of them, a rarity!) which also provided her with inspiration. The “bivouac of luxury” that she created in her houses and apartments without worrying about perfectly marrying styles and eras is an infinite source of creativity: the rock crystal balls, chandelier pendants, opulent mirrors, muted colors, bronze accents, and the marriage of East and West are some of the many influences that are found in CHANEL style.

Gabrielle Chanel in front of her Coromandel lacquer screens – 31 rue Cambon in Paris, 1937


Breaking down codes, tearing down gender boundaries to launch a classic future for fashion, that of “masculine-feminine,” Gabrielle Chanel dared to do everything. She stole tweed from menswear, and turned humble jersey knit into a privileged material; she designed pajamas for the beach, and dresses that erased the waist.

She was not afraid of anything when she decided, “These colors are impossible. I’m just going to dress these women in black.”* Transgressive in her style, her fashion and her personality. With her short hair, she tanned in the sun, and drew inspiration from the jackets worn by lads on the racetracks to create the quilted effect on her iconic handbags. With enthusiasm, she hurtled down the ski slopes, fished, golfed or galloped for hours. Making the headlines never caused her to panic, nor did creating shock waves with her lovers, or her independent attitude and free spirit. And even less with her commitment to working hard and fighting to be the only one to decide her destiny, to be the only one to run her business. In the article “We nominate for the Hall of Fame” in June 1931, Vanity Fair summarized her as such: “Gabrielle Chanel was the first to apply the principles of modernism to dressmaking; because she numbers among her friends the most famous men of France; because she combines a shrewd business sense with enormous personal prodigality and a genuine enthusiasm for arts’’. Avant-garde in every way. * The Allure of Chanel by Paul Morand, Hermann, 1996″

Gabrielle Chanel in the garden of her “La Pausa” villa, 1938


When creating N°5, her first perfume, Gabrielle Chanel had to choose between various work samples, and she decided on the fifth sample that was presented to her. To the question, “What should I name it?” she answered: “I’m presenting my collection of five dresses on May 5th, the fifth month of the year, we will therefore give it the number that it’s wearing, and the number 5 will bring it luck.”* Luck was the theme of a note that Jean Cocteau wrote to her one day… It was again luck and good fortune that she willed by cherishing the symbolism of the ear of wheat, cast in bronze on a coffee table base by goldsmith Robert Goossens in her rue Cambon apartment or painted for her by Salvador Dali.

Superstitious Gabrielle… Even though she alone shaped her destiny, the designer was in any case attentive to signs and symbols throughout her entire life. Therefore, her birthday, August 19th, became another legendary fragrance, N°19. And the lion, in honor of her astrological sign Leo, was found with many objects that never left her. It took up residence with royal presence in her apartment at 31 rue Cambon…As for the symbol of the star, which was paved in the floor tiles of Aubazine, it followed her throughout her life and was transformed into a flamboyant diamond star in her jewelry collection “Bijoux de Diamants,” presented in 1932. *Ernest BEAUX, “Souvenirs d’un parfumeur” (Memories of a Perfumer), Industrie de la Parfumerie, volume 1, N°7, October 1946, pp 228 to 231

Print of Gabrielle Chanel’s left hand, with her signature.

coco by artists

kees van dongen

Portrait of Gabrielle Chanel by Kees Van Dongen, 1940s

© Kees Van Dongen / ADAGP Paris 2022

george hoyningen-huene

Gabrielle Chanel posing for Apel-Les Fenosa by Geirge Hoyningen-Huene, 1939

CHANEL Patrimoine Collection

christian berard

Portrait of Gabrielle Chanel by Christian Berard, 1930s

CHANEL Patrimoine Collection

cecil beaton

Portrait of Gabrielle Chanel for the musical “Coco” by Cacil Beaton, 1969

© Cecil Beaton / National Portrait Gallery / Camera Press

robert doisneau

Gabrielle Chanel in the staircase at 31, rue Cambon, by Robert Doisneau, 1953


christian berard

Mademoiselle Chanel her apartment at the Ritz Sketch by Christian Berard, 1937

Sketch: Christian Berard


Portrait of Gabrielle Chanel by Cassandre, 1942


man ray

Gabrielle Chanel by Man Ray, 1935

© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP Paris 2016

jean cocteau

Chanel in Chanel, drawing by Jean Cocteau, 1937

© ADAGP / Comite Cocteau, Paris 2020

marie laurencin

Portrait of Gabrielle Chanel by Marie Lauarencin, 1923

© RMN-Grand Palais (musee de I’Oranderie) / Herve Lewandowski © Focdation Foujita / ADAGP, Paris 2020

when coco meets chanel