Style Icon: Chanel

The Chanel label was founded in 1909 when the young and ambitious Gabriel Coco Chanel opened a millinery boutique at 160 Boulevard Malesherbes in Paris. Chanel sold her hats to the upper class elite who were regulars to socialite and textile businessman Etinee Balsan, who resided above Chanel’s boutique. In 1910, popularity and hype regarding Chanel’s hats had increased so much, she was able to open her first independent shop, Chanel Modes, at 21 Reu Cambon in Paris. Only two years later, she opened two more shops in Deauville and Biarritz, and expanded her line to include womens’ ready to wear sports clothes. In 1915 and in 1917, Harper’s Bazaar magazine reported that the garments of the House of Chanel were “on the list of every buyer” for the clothing merchants of Europe. From there, the label continued to expand to its standing in today’s fashion industry. Chanel had undoubtabley created a prominent label, successful in making its mark world-wide.


Interestingly, however, Chanel’s success was not entirely her own doing and her journey was somewhat controversial. During her relations with Etinne Balsan, Chanel became acquainted with soon to be married Boy Capel. Capel was, according to his daughter’s obituary, “An intellectual, politician, tycoon, polo-player and the dashing lover and sponsor of the fashion designer Coco Chanel”. Capel financed her first shops, adding his own line of blazers to the industry. Their romance lasted and remained mostly secret for nine years throughout Capel’s marriage to Diana Wyndham, the birth of his two children and up until his death in 1919. Controversy arose in that Chanel was raised in orphanages, taught to sew and deemed not worthy of Capel’s attention by the upper-class social elite. However, without Capel’s economy, the chance of the Chanel label becoming what it is today, if anything at all, was next to nothing. Their romance was kept in secret as to avoid social unrest during Chanel’s rise to fame. Previous to Capel and the opening of her shops, Chanel had no funding of her own and no family to support her, only sheer creativity, truly timeless style and a fabulous imagination, along with a knack for hats of course. But in 1909, all those things were meant nothing without the aid of a few euros.

The controversy of 1910 Chanel can be seen in the 2012 company, especially in Lagerfeld’s social dismissal following his host of outspoken and disputed comments, especially towards the likes of Heidi Klum, Adel, Pippa Middleton, Lana Del Rey, Russian women, Yves Saint Laurant and even the Queen to name but a few. However without Chanel’s ambition, style, courage to condemn the judgement of society and Lagerfeld’s acid tongue, creativity and male influence on the fashion industry leader, would the Chanel label be what it is today, rather a no-name collection of hats? Most likely not.