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10th Sep 2015

Reeling Back The Years – History Of Fashion House Chanel

Where it all began for Chanel.

Cathy Donohue

Chanel is one of the most loved and established fashion houses in style history.

Synonymous with ladylike fashion, tweed, pearls and the classic 2.55 quilted chain bag, this luxury brand is largely responsible for creating classically elegant chic.

Coco Chanel’s words have been immortalised and while having her opinions plastered all over the internet may not have been her goal, there’s no denying the power of the legacy Coco left behind her.


“A girl should be two things, classy and fabulous.”

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”


One of Coco Chanel’s famous quotes.

“Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping it will transform into a door.”

“Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”

“As long as you know men are like children, you know everything!”


The House of Chanel is known for the little black dress, the perfume Chanel No. 5 and the timeless Chanel suit consisting of a cardigan style jacket and knee-length skirt.

Chanel originated in 1909, when Gabrielle Chanel opened a millinery shop at 160 Boulevard Malesherbes, the ground floor of the Parisian flat of businessman Étienne Balsan.

Gabrielle was Étienne’s mistress and through him and his friends, she met women who also had an interest in fashion and style.

When the first World War began, Gabrielle opened a large dress shop at 31 rue Cambon, near the Ritz hotel in Paris.


It is thought Gabrielle earned the name Coco from singing the French songs Ko Ko Ri Ko and Qui qu’a vu Coco.

In 1915 and in 1917, Harper’s Bazaar announced that the lines created by the House of Chanel were “on the list of every buyer” in Europe’s clothing factories.

In 1921, Coco Chanel commissioned Ernest Beaux to create a perfume for the House of Chanel and so Chanel No.5 was born, named after the number of the sample Coco liked best.

After the war, came further success including collaborations with jeweller Robert Goosens; he designed jewellery (bijouterie and gemstone) to complement the fashions of the House of Chanel.


Coco Chanel wore jewellery to complement her clothes.

Statement pieces included long-strand necklaces of black pearls and of white pearls, the high contrast softened the severe design of the knitted-wool Chanel Suit (skirt and cardigan jacket).

At this time, the House of Chanel also presented leather handbags with either gold-colour chains or metal-and-leather chains, which allowed carrying the handbag from the shoulder or in hand.

It is thought that the chain strap was a way of remembering Coco’s years spent in an orphanage, as the caretakers used to wear waist chains to hold their heavy keys.

The burgundy red lining on the interior of the bags was the same colour as the uniform Coco wore attending a convent school.

Coco Chanel died on 10 January 1971, at the age of 87. Although she had several romances, she never married, having once said “I never wanted to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.”

Change Of Direction

In 1983 Karl Lagerfeld took over as chief designer for Chanel.  He incorporated the Chanel fabrics and detailing such as tweed, gold accents, and chains. Lagerfeld kept what was signature for Chanel but also helped bring the brand into today.


Karl Lagerfeld can be credited with modernising Chanel.

The House of Chanel launched its first skin care line, Précision, in 1999. That same year, Chanel launched a travel collection and introduced a line of sunglasses and eyeglass frames with Luxxottica.

beauty chanel

Chanel’s beauty line is cosmetic luxury at its best.

The logotype was given to Chanel by the Château de Crémat in Nice, and was not registered as a trademark until the first Chanel shops were established.

2000 saw the launch of the first unisex watch by Chanel, the J12.

Classic Chanel 2.55 Bag

In February 2005, Karl Lagerfeld re-made the 2.55 – exactly as Coco Chanel had made in 1955, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 2.55 – it came to be known as the Reissue.

The classic has the double CC turn-style lock, the Reissue has the Mademoiselle lock (rectangular shape).

In contrast, the reissue has a chain handle, while the classic has leather interwoven between the chain links.

The lego Chanel bags show how the brand has modernised but still retains that classically chic Chanel edge.


Can we have a Chanel Lego bag… PLEASE?

Famous Fans

Blake Lively, Keira Knightley, Nicole Kidman and Brad Pitt are just some of the famous faces who have fronted the Chanel brand in various campaigns throughout the years.


Blake Lively has been the face of Chanel’s Mademoiselle bag.