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Coco Chanel

Big Thinkers

Coco Chanel was born in 1883, Saumur, France. She was raised in orphanages and worked for a brief spell as a singer, but by the time she was 30 years old she had already opened her first shop and was soon carving out her own line of clothing, after being commissioned to replicate a jersey dress she made on a cold day.

The famous concept of the little black dress can also be attributed to Coco Chanel, as she demonstrated that black needn’t be saved for mourning and could be stylish eveningwear, if designed correctly.

The Chanel brand is still iconic today, but what is often overlooked is the freedom she gave women, as her designs were an escape from the once constrictive and uncomfortable fashion-wear that was commonplace. She emphasised that luxury should be comfortable, thereby allowing women to dispose of their corsets and still look presentable and stylish.


Coco Chanel was so successful because she combined her natural talent with a business plan that met a common need. She created new ideas and transformed women’s style, but she never lost focus because she created a brand that people wanted and would pay for.

Growing up in a orphanage where the nuns taught her to sew, it is clear that Coco Chanel’s love for design began at a young age, but her choice of friendships in later life are also key to understanding her talent. She surrounded herself with creative personalities, from the composer Igor Stravinsky to artist Pablo Picasso and these influences helped to inspire and maintain her creativity.


  • Coco Chanel was the only fashion designer to ever appear on the Time magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People in 20th Century.
  • As she loved sunbathing, Chanel helped to make tanned skin look fashionable once more.
  • During World War II there was controversy regarding her relationship with a Nazi officer that tarnished her reputation.

Photo credit: “Coco Chanel, 1920” by Time / Getty – Hal Vaughan. Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War. Random House (2011), p. 20.. Via Wikipedia.

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