what she really wanted to do ….

by Sharon Santoni
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


Francine Gardner March 5, 2013 - 12:59 pm

Isn't her life an extraordinary journey. Such an inquisitive, creative and strong ming. A remarkable woman indeed!

The enchanted home March 5, 2013 - 1:30 pm

Love it. What an inspiring story about someone who against all odds came to be the most iconic fashion name in history. Shows what a strong will and unstoppable determination can do! Did you see the movie that came out about 3 years ago? It was sooo good and really fascinating!

Splenderosa March 5, 2013 - 1:45 pm

Seemingly, the impossible dream. And, against all odds she made herself a worldwide success, an independent woman at a time when there were very few. Bravo, Sharon. I would have loved to be CoCo for a day.

Angie Burrett March 5, 2013 - 2:08 pm

I love Chanel – my daughter was at her show in Paris earlier – amazing!

Eleanor March 5, 2013 - 2:09 pm

And she will never cease to inspire.
There is nothing more admirable, or more frightening to men than a strong, independent woman.

Thank you for sharing!

Mumbai March 5, 2013 - 2:42 pm

I admire CC and read a lot about her. Not only she was a very ambitious, diligent and intelligent women, she followed her dream with willpower to become an independent woman."Fashion must be comfortable and chic" was her motto and she created the "little black" which will never be out of style..revolutionary.

Things That Inspire March 5, 2013 - 3:22 pm

I never knew this story – how incredibly inspirational. It is fascinating to me how history shapes things – the fact that she opened up the seaside shop, and aristocracy escaping the war ended up in the same place, needing exactly what she was providing based on necessity and circumstance – fascinating.

I am reading book 1 of the new Ken Follett Century series, and WWI is just brewing. It's so much more interesting to learn about history when reading the stories (whether fact or fiction) of people who were going through it.

– Holly

Anonymous March 5, 2013 - 3:37 pm

Of course Chanel's story would be inspirational and fairy tale like if it wasn't for the real life fact that she was fiercely anti-Semitic. In fact, because of her anti-Semitism Coco Chanel was an ardent Nazi sympathizer during WWII. She even had a romantic liaison with Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a German officer. Her relationship with him facilitated her residency at the Ritz. I am sure your readers want to ignore this fact (and probably don't even know it) and will be upset to learn this tidbit. You need to tell the whole story when recounting history, not just the romantic parts.

French Girl in Seattle March 5, 2013 - 3:39 pm

Bonjour Sharon. What a fitting tribute to the great "Mademoiselle Chanel." I have six big books dedicated to her life and career on a small piece of furniture in the lobby of my house, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to read this post this morning. Yes, Chanel dared to dream and was strong enough to make her dreams happen. She was not an easy person to live or work with, they say, and that I can believe. But isn't it a well-known fact that well-behaved women never make history? 🙂 Bonne semaine, Sharon. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle) PS: I featured another strong woman on my blog this week. Stop by if you have a minute…

hopflower March 5, 2013 - 3:58 pm

I don't know that she was fiercely anti-Semitic. I have never heard that but did know that she had a liaison with a German officer; whose mother was English, by the way. He was rather tender toward the French and perhaps not as steeped in Anti Semitism as many German officers were back then. Coco Chanel was however ambitious, and she did not let the fact that the Germans, who invaded her country, stop her. To call her anti-Semitic is not quite fair. She may have just seen opportunity and not had much opinion either way. I have not read or historically discovered anything about her being an active anti-Semite. She did not want to marry, but she did have male help in this world; and of course an amazing amount of talent!

I would be interested to learn of anything that describes her as being pro-German at the time, or anti-Semitic.

Also, to conclude that "most of the readers ignore the facts or probably don't know them" is rather high-handed.

Sophia Home March 5, 2013 - 4:08 pm

The most inspirational woman! Never grow tired of her story……Thank you Sharon.


sharon santoni at my french country home March 5, 2013 - 4:16 pm

HI there, You are right that some people say she was anti-semitic, while others say that she was simply very egocentric and anti-most people!

And yes, I do just tend to tell the pleasant parts of life on this blog, because I know that my readers come here for a moment of relaxation and gentleness – I have no problem with this.

You are welcome to return and add to the discussion, but maybe with a signature?! thank you!


Kimberly VanDyke March 5, 2013 - 4:43 pm

I love her story. She knew no limits and that is amazing. As with most legends and visionaries, we don't know the complete story and I believe that is how it should be. We can take the good and leave the bad behind because we don't know, really know the hidden areas of her life. I am choosing to look at what she did do that was good through circumstances some couldn't have seen their way out of. Inspirational. Thank you for sharing with us.

PURA VIDA March 5, 2013 - 6:30 pm

such an inspiring post…I had no idea and can't wait to read more about this wonderful lady who just wanted to dance to her drum

Kameleon March 5, 2013 - 6:45 pm

Beautiful, optimistic story. I need it for today. Thank you:-).

[email protected] At Lydias House March 5, 2013 - 7:00 pm

What a great post! Thanks for giving us the story behind Chanel!

Lost in Provence March 5, 2013 - 7:11 pm

Totally and completely brilliant take on this theme. And completely inspiring to boot…

LaPouyette March 5, 2013 - 7:29 pm

Just saw a few days ago on ARTE the wonderful film about Coco….
And here you are – with a wonderful tribute to her!
Well done, Sharon.
Greetings from the Périgord,k

Delaine March 5, 2013 - 8:58 pm

Love this post today! I have always admired this woman and her brilliant sense of style!

vicki archer March 5, 2013 - 9:14 pm

Lovely take on the theme Sharon… despite whatever her political liaisons may have been her story is one of ingenuity, creativity and sheer determination… that's the kind of woman that interests me.. xv

Katherine March 5, 2013 - 11:52 pm

Sharon, I like that you wrote about of a woman of influence.
In 1913 the level of acceptance for women to work, let alone open their own business may have raised eyebrows, but it also influenced other women to step out of the comfort zone.
Coco's design brilliance is artistic. One hundred years after her opening her first shop we can all identify with the style and silhouette that is uniquely Chanel.

Jacqueline @ HOME March 6, 2013 - 12:28 am

Dear Sharon,
What a wonderful post for our BIO subject this month……… Coco Chanel was destined to be famous I think and such an inspiration.
I loved reading this and the sepia photographs are brilliant. XXXX

Karen Albert March 6, 2013 - 2:47 am

Sharon your post is an important one for many women.
Great encouragement by telling the story of such a successful woman against all odds.

Love and Hugs
Art by Karena

Ella Santoni March 6, 2013 - 9:35 am

Beautiful post mum <3

Lilablu at home / Tina March 6, 2013 - 1:31 pm

Coco still inspires us although she passed away so many years ago.
In my shop i have a corner which was inspired by Coco (the pictures i will post this week on my blog)
Thanks for this wonderful post.
Kind regards from Holland

Colleen Taylor March 6, 2013 - 3:48 pm

This was all entirely new to me Sharon since I had never heard about her past. What an incredible woman she was. I am as ever always impressed with your writing. Lovely photos of quite a woman. I viewed Spenderosa's blog and just joined. She has quite a gorgeous blog & I certainly could use a little glamour these days. Thank YOU!

Suz March 6, 2013 - 4:32 pm

That was a different time and even many families were divided over the events of the day. Take the Mitford Sisters for example. Socialites from England with famous and infamous friends, lovers and husbands. I don't know whether Coco was anti-Semitic or not but I do know that her legacy is large. Coming from such odds it is amazing that she even survived much less become an incredible figure in history. As Robert Frost wrote Two roads diverged in a wood and I, I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference. Your posts are the first things I read in the morning to see something beautiful. For that I am grateful to you.

Cindy Albert March 6, 2013 - 5:18 pm

I love, love, love this post about Coco Chanel. It is such a reminder that if we have the courage to follow the beat of our own drummer, we can accomplish great things.

peggy braswell March 6, 2013 - 7:16 pm

Just her initials CC and you know who I am speaking of + a beautiful story of a strong willed + stylish woman. xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

Schnookums March 7, 2013 - 1:22 am

Reminds me so of Edith Piaf and Lily (oh, what's her name?)… so poignant to hear of their lives, yet not so different after all are they?

Debbie March 7, 2013 - 4:34 am


I admire Chanel for her determination to get ahead and not worry about what people thought of her. Her designs were refreshing and ahead of their time.
I adore the Chanel perfumes and cosmetics and will always invest in these items, but unfortunately will never be able to afford the Chanel designed clothes or accessories. Even so I do agree with "Anonomous" that there is a dark side to the Coco Chanel we all admire so much. I'm glad I'm not the only one who acknowledges this. Even though we can dismiss her affairs with married men who lavished property, jewels and money, The most generous being the English Duke, as being the rewards of being the mistress of an extremely wealthy man. During WW2 it's a bit sad to think Chanel went out of her way to rip off the two Jewish brothers who made chanel no 5 in the first place.
Her affair with the Nazi was her foot in the door for rooms at the Ritz (only 2 other non Germans had this priveldge.) It's amazing how she escaped being tarred and feathered or shot at the end of the war while many other women were targetted. She was an extremely smart women and it was an incredibly smart move to hand out the bottles of Chanel no5 to as many GI's as possible as they liberated Paris. It's strange but although I despise some of the things she did I will always admire her. I suppose this must be part of the Coco Chanel allure that has always existed and will continue to regardless of her incredibly bad decisions and behaviour. It's like a spell. I try to read everything I can about her.


Karen (Back Road Journal) March 7, 2013 - 2:38 pm

Coco Chanel's story is as amazing as the clothes she created. I wear "Coco" perfume everyday.

Marsha Splenderosa May 9, 2013 - 9:44 pm

I am knocked out! Your blog is magnificent, as everyone says. We forget this story and, of course, some of the young ones have never heard it. Just brilliant, Sharon. I admire your style & elegance so much.

penelopebianchi July 1, 2013 - 7:04 am

excellent answer!

I do think that "anonymous posts" can be full of bullies and cowards! Best to avoid them!

(I have a very tiny blog. I have never had an anonymous post! If I get one….I won't publish it!)


penelopebianchi July 1, 2013 - 7:17 am

I will only say that "hindsight is '20-20'"!!

We are not in the middle of that era. Most people (the vast majority , in fact, had no idea whatsoever of the slaughter of the Jews) NONE!!
The "sophisticates" in Europe and England were quite "taken " with the "charming Hitler"!! (I learned this in History!!); and the horrendous things he was doing were not known by the vast majority! (no news; no communication…..one reason it went on so long and was so successful at exterminating human beings! These horrendous acts were completely "under the radar"!! Years went by before the world…..(even the people in Germany) knew!

Easy to criticize from our era of "all the news…all the time….from far corners of the earth."
This could not even happen for a day in our day! (just for example; the collapse of the building in Bangladesh!)

That would NEVER have been exposed even 10 years ago!

Things have to be put in perspective!

One cannot forget what a different (COMPLETELY) time it was!

penelopebianchi July 1, 2013 - 7:19 am

I agree with Marsha! I admire your blog so much! You are educating the young about the brilliant people in fashion!
And Coco; one of the BEST!!!

PamLuvsPink September 4, 2013 - 7:16 am

Hi Sharon!!!!

Yes as soon as I started to read your post, I knew that it was Coco Chanel's story.
The picture in 1985 is so beautiful. This is the time era that I truly love!! The dresses, purses, hats…Did I mention purses!!!!
It's so funny if we're watching an old movie made in the 1930's, right away I'm pointing to the gloves or hats or purses they are wearing. I JUST LOVE IT!!!
And living in France, I bet you see a lot of that era's fashion!! How exciting!!!

Have a great week Sharon!!


Debbie September 19, 2013 - 6:37 am

I've re-read the blog on Coco Chanel and truthfully I did not realise she was 56 in 1939. For some reason (I didn't do the math) I presumed she was younger during WW2 (the affair with the German officer and Churchill with his crush on her). I wonder how much younger the German officer was than Chanel. Was Chanel a bit of a cougar and ahead of her time or just being French? Not matter, I love it. It's made my day. It's made being 50 something more exciting.

ann pauley July 31, 2014 - 5:42 pm

I admit Coco Chanel was blessed with talent, but cannot respect her choice in her personal involvement with a soldier of the Third Reich! With her Catholic upbringing, I find it appalling and disgraceful that her romantic relationship with this man, knowing his affiliation, leaves me with little respect for her as a person, as well as a designer.
Where were her scruples?
Ann P.

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