Celebrating LBD icon Coco Chanel’s Birthday

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Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel Collection

“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.” Coco Chanel

This month, people will be celebrating the birthday of the original and ultimate LBD icon, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel. Born 19 August, 130 years ago, the late, great Coco Chanel is of course acclaimed for creating the little black dress as we know it today. Over four decades since the Parisian couturier’s death, such is the influence of the woman with dark bobbed hair and blazing red lips, a razor-sharp tongue and a cigarette smokescreen, that the closely-guarded archives of the prestigious House of Chanel continue to be raided, relished and referenced year after year. In memory of the legend, this article looks back at her dazzlingly colourful life in fashion – and the illustrious legacy she left behind.

Becoming Coco

How many times have you lusted after that infamous interlocking CC trademark? The gold hardware logo on that timeless quilted leather classic handbag, the emblematic buttons on the eternally elegant silk-lined tweed jackets? The seduction of these pieces, and of all that is Chanel, lies behind the allure of the party girl herself – the woman who, by her own admission, was so displeased with her early poverty-stricken life in an orphanage that she ‘created’ a new one. Drawing on everything from her time as a cabaret performer where she first sung the song that was to become her namesake, Ko Ko Ri Ko, to her risqué romantic liaisons (more on that later), Coco packaged and promoted her own contemporary attitude and sophisticated style and became her own best advertisement. In the words of Chanel: she didn’t do fashion, she was fashion.

The LBD is Born

At the height of the opulent and splendid Jazz Age, Chanel dreamt up the iconic little black dress that was to revolutionise the face of women’s dressing. The ‘Ford’ dress, as American Vogue called it, gained its name because, like Henry Ford’s cars, it was an instant hit, widely available and, like the Model T, it came in only one colour: black. Previously, black had been a colour worn only to signify mourning, but with the new Jazz age Chanel’s black dress, with its form-fitting sleekness, became a symbol of liberation. Her LBD was a straight, calf-length, long-sleeved garment crafted out of jersey, which freed its wearer from the corseted constraints of the styles that had dominated the Belle Époque. In 1926, Vogue named Chanel’s chic and timeless LBD, the ultimate motif of independent femininity, the ‘little boy look’ and predicted that it would become the uniform for ‘all women of taste’. And so it did.

Chanel No 5

At the dawning of Roaring Twenties, Chanel made history by becoming the first fashion designer to launch her signature perfume when she collaborated with acclaimed perfumer Ernest Beaux to create the Chanel No 5 fragrance – the fifth sample product, introduced on the 5th day of the 5th month of 1921. Not only was this the scent that would accompany the fever of creativity of the 1920s, but the timeless floral notes would open the door to eternal fame and fortune. Over the years, Nicole Kidman, Audrey Tautou and even Brad Pitt have been selected as the faces of the aromatic elixir. Marilyn Monroe famously wore nothing to bed except for five drops of her Chanel No 5, and today one bottle continues to be sold every 30 seconds.

31 Rue Cambon

If the walls of 31 Rue Cambon, Paris could speak, you can only imagine the captivating tales of secrets and soirées they would whisper. Comprising of the flagship Chanel store, haute couture dressing rooms, Chanel’s apartment and her workshop, all connected by the fabled mirrored spiral staircase that is the backbone of the House of Chanel, 31 Rue Cambon is the modern day Mecca of the fashion world. So sacred is the place that everything has been preserved exactly as it was left by Chanel. Over 100 seamstresses continue to work there entirely by hand, the great fashion connoisseur and current creative director of the brand, Karl Lagerfeld, has assumed one of the rooms as his study, and the crème de la crème of present day LBD icons – Victoria Beckham, Rihanna, and Blake Lively to name but a few – have been photographed on the kaleidoscopic staircase where, once upon a time, Chanel would hide to view her fashion shows and observe the crowd’s uninhibited reactions.

Friends in High Places

When Chanel was not liberating women by designing pantsuits, the first handbag with a strap, and androgynous jersey garments, the fashion icon was wining and dining with the world’s elite. Whether she was hunting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the Duke of Westminster’s estate or fuelling rumours of an affair between herself and Salvador Dali, the enigmatic Chanel attracted the attention of a string of aristocrats and artists. Even when the glitz and glamour subsided at the outbreak of WW2, her romantic relationship with German military intelligence officer Baron Hans Gunther von Dinklage secured her a wartime residence in The Ritz hotel. When accused of being a collaborator for the Germans, her friendship with Churchill ensured she was never charged with the offence. Not surprisingly, she was featured in Time magazine’s Top 100 influential people – for far more than just fashion.

Chanel: The Current Empire

130 years after the birth of the great Parisian couturier, the interlocking CC logo remains one of the most recognisable motifs in the world. From the 300 Chanel stores sprinkled across the globe to the £3 billion yearly turnover, the countless biopics and documentaries to the persisting popularity of the little black dress, the unforgettable catwalk shows to the many ‘faces’ of the brand, Chanel’s legacy resonates in all corners of the fashion industry. In the words of Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s head designer and creative director since 1983: Chanel provided the world with certain classic musical notes that great musicians can use time and time again to make a new and innovative tune.

The Coco Collection

In honour of the late, great LBD connoisseur, Little Black Dress have compiled a collection of classic Coco-inspired little black dresses and timeless accessories to bring out your inner Chanel.

Shop The Coco Collection at LittleBlackDress.co.uk.

Press contact: gemma.press(at)littleblackdress(dot)co(dot)uk.

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