The Chanel brand is ubiquitous in the world of fashion, beauty and luxury, with much credit due to its founder, Coco Chanel, who was born 132 years ago.
Love her or hate her, Coco's contributions are undeniable.
In recognition of her Aug. 19 birthday, we take a look at her lasting legacy.
Chanel’s birthdate was a closely guarded secret. And, at one time, Chanel herself suggested she was born a decade later than records indicate.
She was actually born in 1883. But she tried to keep it private for years.prevnext
Chanel, according to those in her inner circle, was a staunch anti-Semite.
Born in Saumur, France, into an impoverished single parent family, she was orphaned at an early age and then raised in a convent.
Her upbringing there, along with other mitigating factors in her life, contributed to her supposed racist leanings.prevnext
It’s believed she was a Nazi spy.
That’s right, many historians believe that Chanel was a Nazi spy during Germany’s occupation of France in World War II.
Not only did Chanel allegedly carry on a long-standing romantic relationship with a high-ranking German SS officer in Paris, but the head of the German SS in Berlin asked her to convince certain British aristocrats of maintaining neutrality prior to committing to war on the continent.
Following the Berlin SS officer’s trial at Nuremberg at the close of war, and after he served a six-year prison sentence, Chanel paid for all of his future medical bills, for his family’s living expenses, and even, eventually, for his funeral.prevnext
Chanel’s influence extended well beyond the fashion industry.
She was close to some of the most well-known and influential people of her time.
The famed musician Igor Stravinsky lived at Chanel’s home for about nine months (they are thought to have had an affair).
She was courted by the Duke of Westminster and the Prince of Wales.
She even knew Winston Churchill.
Her influence crossed the Atlantic, too.
The father of American film, Samuel Goldwyn, convinced Chanel, after meeting her in Monaco, to visit Hollywood and design dresses for his films, paying her an outrageous sum for a year’s work (roughly $75-million in today’s money).
Ironically, Goldwyn was Jewish, which apparently didn’t matter much to Chanel when it came to money.
The nickname “Coco” has many alleged originations.
But one of the origination theories speaks to a darker side of Chanel. The historian believes it came from her penchant for throwing “cocaine” parties.
At any rate, it is thought that Chanel was addicted to morphine for much of her adult life. Some say she took at least a shot of morphine a day.prevnext
Chanel is considered the mother of the little black dress and the matriarch of tweed.
And, of course, there are her signature perfume and cosmetics lines.
But even the famous Chanel No. 5 perfume has a controversy that surrounds it.
Chanel originally licensed her name to Jewish businessman Pierre Wertheimer for the perfume in the 1930s.
But during World War II, Chanel sought outright ownership of the brand citing the rule that Jews could no longer own businesses.
However, she was unable to get control of the operation because of Wertheimer’s agile moves.
After the war, the two parties settled on a new, more lucrative, agreement for Chanel, in part, because Wertheimer thought if they went to trial the world would find out just what an anti-Semite and possible spy that Chanel allegedly was.prevnext
A pink Chanel suit was worn by Jacqueline Kennedy on November 22, 1963 when her husband, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
Made of wool boucle', the double-breasted, pink and navy trim collared suit was accompanied by a trademark matching pink pillbox hat.
After President Kennedy was assassinated, Kennedy insisted on wearing the suit, stained with his blood, during the swearing-in of Lyndon B. Johnson and for the flight back to Washington, D.C. with her husbands body.prevnext
One of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the 20th century and the only designer on the list, Chanel died in 1971 at the age of 87.0comments
According to Edmonde Charles-Roux, Chanel had become tyrannic and extremely lonely later in life.
Front row seats at her funeral were, perhaps appropriately, occupied by fashion models.prev