Marsha at Splenderosa has asked us to talk about “something we really want to do” – I beg her, and your, indulgence as I tell you about a young girl with greater ambitions and courage than myself and who managed, against all odds, to make her dreams come true ……
The scene is set in 1895.
As a 12 year old orphan , Gabrielle’s prospects were not good. From a poor family, her mother had died and her father had abandoned her and left her in France while he set off to seek fortune in America.
At that time a young girl, without any family support or money could either go into service in a big house or learn a simple trade. The nuns who run the austere orphanage decided their girls should know how to sew, and after six years at the orphanage, Gabrielle is sent to a convent in central France to discover the needle and thread
But she wanted more. She was pretty and she had dreams. Her nature was to shun popular opinion and to seek to create her own luck rather than wait for a young man to marry her and expect her to keep house for the rest of her life.
She tried her chance on the stage, singing popular songs in music hall cabarets. Young officers visiting the show were quick to notice the slim girl with her dark mysterious eyes, and she found herself drawn into high society on the arm of a rich beau called Etienne. She could have married into his family, but she knew she could only be unhappy and bored and she ran away from his château.
Quickly she found herself on the arm of a new suitor. Together they were seen at the races and attending sparkling soirées along with the French high society. Gabrielle preferred not to depend upon her amoureux to dress her at the grands couturiers of the moment, she started to make her own clothes and hats. They didn’t go unnoticed!
She had no training as a milliner, so she bought the hat bases and dressed them up to her taste, wearing them perched forward, low to her brow. They were simple and discreet alongside the heavy, feathered and huge hats worn by other women. She also decided to wear her hair short.
She rejected the traditional dress styles; tight waisted, boned corsets, made from heavy silks and brocades. Doubtless influenced by her years of simple living with the nuns, and her longing for liberty of movement and choice in her own life, Gabrielle designed and sewed free flowing dresses and tunics in soft supple jerseys and linens. Even her colours were sobre and simple compared to the fashionable rich designs.
Her accessories were also noticed, strings of pearls and costume jewellery that she designed and made for herself.
She opened a small shop selling hats in Paris, but in 1913, shortly before the outbreak of war, she opened her first clothes shop in Deauville. The war got under way and women of high society found themselves sent to the coast, out of harm’s way, but without their domestic help. They needed clothes they could move in, that didn’t require a maid to button or to lace. They needed to be able to walk more easily.
Enter Gabrielle with her supple fabrics, loose cuts, hemlines above the ankles, and even trousers for women. She was an immediate success. During the war fabric was hard to come by, but she was happy to use the jersey hitherto reserved for mens underwear.
She was soon able to reimburse her lover, Boy Capel, who financed the first shop, thus fulfilling her dream of independence.
And when in the 1920’s she raised the hemline a little further and created her first LBD, she became an international star and her success seemed to know no limits. It was in the twenties that she created her perfumes, and opened her door to her Parisian clients on the rue Cambon, next to the luxurious Place Vendome.
The rest as they say is history, her name in Paris became synonymous with good taste, fine fabric, and perfectly cut tweed suits. By 1939, at the aged of 56, she was at the head of a company employing 4000 people. Not bad for a penniless orphan.
You know of course that I am talking about Coco Chanel.
She never owned a home in Paris, preferring to live for almost 15 years at the Ritz hotel, where she passed away in 1971 at the age of 87.
A girl who knew what she really wanted to do …
then did it.
And to see what other bloggers are dreaming of doing, just pop over to Marsha’s blog and take a tour!
all pictures from google images
you may enjoy a video interview of a strong minded Coco Chanel here