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Thursday, November 12, 2009
Gabrielle and Her Girls
Gabrielle's early years, were anything but glamorous.
Born in a brothel, Gabrielle was sent to an orphanage at the age of 12 by her peddler father after her mother had passed away. She was raised by nuns who taught her how to sew — a skill that would come in handy later in life. But, the nuns could not lead her to a calling at the convent - far too confining for a young woman seeking fun and adventure.
Around the age of 20, Gabrielle becomes involved with a young millionaire, but winds up leaving him for one of his even wealthier friends. As it turns out, both men were instrumental in supporting her first business venture.
Opening her first shop in Paris in 1910, Gabrielle starts out selling hats, before using her skills as a seamstress to begin making clothing. Her designs were revolutionary. She borrowed elements of men’s wear and emphasized comfort over constraints. More than anyone, Gabrielle helped women say good-bye to the days of corsets and other confining garments. In 1923, she told Harper's Bazaar, "Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance".
In 1926, Gabrielle unveils perhaps her greatest contribution to fashion with the introduction of the "Little Black Dress". She took a color once associated with mourning and showed just how chic it could be for evening wear. Strapless, backless and more than a little risque, it shocked the general public, but quickly became a fashion sensation. With rising hemlines, shorter hairstyles, and for the first time bare arms and shoulders appearing in public, the time was right for the the "L.B.D.".
It is still a flattering fashion essential in every woman's wardrobe more than 80 years later. And there have been many famous versions:
- Audrey Hepburn's Givency dress in "Breakfast at Tiffany's"
- Liz Hurley's Versace safety-pin black dress.
- The boob-tubed models in the Robert Palmer, "Addicted to Love" video.
Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe and the stars of Sex and the City are just some of the thousands of celebrities who have honored what Gabrielle created back in the "Roaring Twenties" with a statement that transcended fashion. In fact, her extraordinary influence on fashion was such that she was the only person in the field to be named on TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
Popular in Parisian literary and artistic circles, she counted artist Pablo Picasso and composer Igor Stravinsky among her friends and had affairs with some of the most influential men in the world, but never married. On several occasions, Gabrielle turned down proposals from the Duke of Westminster, with the now famous line, "There have been several Duchesses of Westminster, but there is only one Chanel".
Her business would employ thousands and would expand to include perfume and was the first to feature a designer’s name – Chanel No. 5. As Coco once explained, “Perfume is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion... that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure”. More than a fashion icon, it can be argued Chanel gave millions of women timeless permission to have the confidence to express themselves.
In her journey, Coco Chanel saw the greatness of the world and met all kinds of exciting people like kings and queens; moguls and movie stars. Few women have ever been truer to their own spirit as Coco believed, "There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony. There is time for work. And time for love. That leaves no other time"!
This Saturday, the Greater Moncton Women's Progess Club honors the spirit of Coco Chanel with their annual "Girls Night Out", in support of the the Greater Moncton YWCA, and other local charities. One of the highlights will be an "L.B.D. Fashion Show" hosted by a gal with Brockovich bravado and Madonna mojo, the brassy and sassy Sarah Albert of Metro Mortgage.
Tickets are available at Kramer's Corner, McSweeny's Box Office, from any member of the Greater Moncton Womens Progress Club, or online at http://www.gifttool.com/registrar/ShowEventDetails?ID=1883&EID=5798. Any questions can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.