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Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel (19 August 1883 – 10 January 1971) was a French fashion designer. Coco went with the nuns and she never got adopted, so she left the orphanage when she was 18 to work at a local tailor shop. The nuns taught Coco everything she knew about sewing and making clothes. She was a founder of the House of Chanel. She was the only fashion designer to be named on TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people of the 20th century. She broke free of conventions and became a role model for some. Her behaviour during the German occupation of France in World War II led to criticism.
In 1910, she opened a hat shop. In 1919, she opened a house of fashion in Paris, and introduced her perfume, Chanel No. 5, in 1921. She retired in 1939, but returned to fashion with great success in 1954.
Chanel became one of the first women fashion designers to create simple and practical clothes for the sporty women of the era. She took the color black, which was not used in fashion at the time and showed "chic" it could be by wearing it. The material jersey was usually used to make men's underwear, but Chanel started to work with it to make women's fashion. Short hair, tans, and casual styles were the new trends. She banned corsets and other uncomfortable garments.
Chanel was the mistress of several rich men. During her relationship with the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia in 1920, she added a Russian touch to her dresses by embroidering Russian patterns on them.
Chanel was with Hugh Grosvenor, the 2nd Duke of Westminster from 1924 to 1931. During this time, she discovered the English tweed sweater, English men's suits, and English coats. She added these to her collections.
Chanel lived at the Hotel Ritz in Paris for over thirty years. During World War II, the Nazis occupied Paris, and her shops were closed. She had an affair with a Nazi officer, and was accused of being a collaborator. She moved to Switzerland, and gave up fashion.
After a 15-year gap, Chanel returned to fashion in 1954. She was shocked to see the new fashion trends, especially those by Christian Dior. She understood better than anyone the requirements and needs of an active woman’s lifestyle. Her 'comeback' collection was in 1954.
Her life was depicted in the Broadway musical Coco in 1969. Movies based on her life include: Chanel Solitaire (1981), Coco Chanel (2008), Coco before Coco (2009), and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009).
Chanel died in 1971. She is still influencing women’s lifestyles and clothing. The House of Chanel remains in business. It is a member of the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture, the top fashion clique in Paris. The House of Chanel produces modern versions of her best ideas.
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