Coco ‘Gabrielle’ Chanel is undeniably one of the greatest prolific, and talented couturiers of the 20th century. Double C logos, pleated handbags and tweed blazers aside, Coco Chanel lived at the right time to revolutionize the way women dressed. Her atelier specialized in modest clothing, inspired by menswear and an active lifestyle. In this style revolution women would start to wear trousers, and clothing made of jersey (a fabric often reserved for the making of mens underwear). The French atelier’s masculine touches, and modest demeanour appealed to aristocratic woman who now wanted to wear tailor made suits. Corsets were out, and comfort was in. But, what is more intriguing is that Coco mania had these women trading in their diamonds in favour of Chanel’s covetable fake pearls. Today many of us see the luxury label as French. Excuse my Russian, but Chanel wouldn’t be the same as we know it today without the Russian influences in Coco’s early life.
Chanel’s Russian Romances
Like Christian Dior who had his ‘own amorous affair with Russia’. Chanel wasn’t the only French designer to be inspired by Russia, in her case it also involved Russian men. One of Coco’s famed romances was with the exiled Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, grandson of Russia’s Tsar Alexander II. In the early collections of Chanel, beading and embroidery were carried out by the embroidery house Kitmir. Kitmir was a business owned by the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, the sister of Chanel’s Russian lover, Duke Dmitri. Their romance began in the summer of 1921, the two spent their time together discreetly in Monte Carlo. Chanel’s early collections from the years 1922 to 1923, is where Coco took advantage of the Russian influences in her life. The use of kitmir’s folk motifs were used, and the collections included garments modelled after the Russian fashion. To add a detailed visual, the collections included loose shift dresses, waistcoats, and blouses alluding to the Russian peasant attire known as the roubachka. Oh and that headscarf from Chanel was inspired by the fashion of babushkas, matching dress included.
“During Coco Chanel’s lifetime, her growing wealth and social status allowed her to flit around the globe, immersing herself in myriad aspects of foreign culture later to be distilled in future collections. Mademoiselle’s affinity for the Ballets Russe and the opulence of Byzantine jewelry resulted in a Russian influence that emerged in her designs. The historical link between Chanel and Russia provided the catalyst for Paris-Moscou, the house’s 2008 Métiers d’Arts collection which lies at the center of Karl Lagerfeld: Chanel’s Russian Connection book.” – Planet Mag
Coco’s Russian liaisons did not end with Dmitri. There was a rumour that she had an affair with the composer, Igor Stravisnky. The romance may have lasted only a few months and has been in the center of criticism. I will only leave you with a small tid-bit about this romance. It’s a quote by author Chris Greenhalgh on his interpretation of Coco and Igor’s romance. (But first, excuse my Russian) “The way, for instance, that Chanel liberated Stravinsky sexually and the way he liberated her socially and culturally.” Coco and Igor” – Vogue
Every Woman Alive Loves Chanel No.5
Not many perfumes can come close to rivalling Chanel No5’s infamy. The perfume which still remains a classic today was originally made to be given to clients as Christmas gifts. At first only 100 flacons had been made, but the perfume proved to be a success and was in demand after it’s creation in 1921.The perfume was one of the many strategic business moves Coco Chanel would make (She was one of the first to put her own name on a perfume label). She was a successful business woman, and even managed to achieve social prominence due to the connections she made. The Russian connections in her life lead to much of her success. In fact No5 has Russian roots, and was developed by Ernest Beux the French and Russian perfumer who knew Chanel’s lover, the Grand Duke.
“At the time, Joseph Robert was the chief perfumer at Chiris. With little prospect of being promoted under him, Ernest Beaux tried to use his contacts to the emigrated Russian nobility to get new projects. In 1920, with the help of the Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlocich of Russia (1891–1941), a companion of Coco Chanel (1883–1971), he arranged a meeting in Cannes late in the summer of 1920, where he presented his current and former works to Mlle Chanel. Chanel chose the No. 5 as a Christmas present for her best clients. When Ernest Beaux asked her how she wanted to name that scent, she replied: “I always launch my collection on the 5th day of the 5th months, so the number 5 seems to bring me luck – therefore, I will name it Nº 5“- Gabrielle Coco Chanel.- Wikipedia
Karl Lagerfeld & Chanel’s Paris-Moscow Connection
The last thing I will mention to wrap this all up about the Russian connection in the case of Chanel’s atelier: In 2009 Karl Lagerfeld celebrated Chanel’s famous Paris-Moscow(Moscou) ties, releasing a pre-fall collection with military inspired menswear, glittering matryoshka doll appliqués, and towering jewelled headdresses. The models who dominated the Moscow runway were of course Russian!! And the tribute was an obvious nod to the slavic influences in Coco’s life and in her designs (ahem, Dmitri).
Fashion is not simply a matter of clothes.
Fashion is in the air, born upon the wind.
One intuits it. It is in the sky and on the road.”- Coco Chanel
Thanks for Reading 🙂
& Don’t forget to check out Chanel’s Russian Doll Purses