During the Belle Époque even the freshest mademoiselle lamb could look like madam mutton on a sparkling summer day in Deauville.
Knee length corsets, layers of petticoats, ruffles and folderols… before the unique fashion influence of Coco Chanel ladies used all manner of lacy excesses to covered up their youth and beauty.
Every day they were hobbled in cascades of silk, secured by a million tiny hooks, stuffed into the tightest Casaque jackets over high lace collars shaped with bones, all to ensure the correct elegant effect.
The fashionable older lady could add a veil and double ruffs to distract from softer jowls and unkind lines, whalebone creating the essential ‘S’ bend silhouette against all odds.
As the relentless summer sun beat down on Le Planches seaside promenade in Deauville, the ladies were ready for change.
Perhaps if those wealthy madams and mademoiselles had known their revolutionary was born into poverty, abandoned at 12 to be raised in the stark world of the Aubazine convent, they would not have followed her inspirational lead. Or perhaps some would recognize a little of themselves in Gabrielle Chanel’s steely ambition never to be poor again.
Gabrielle had not been impressed with the hand that life had dealt her. But she had charm and drive and these talents can, more than any family advantage, help a person become who they want to be.
On leaving her convent schooling, Gabrielle supplemented her seamstress income by singing in the cafes of Moulins. Here she won the heart of wealthy textile heir Étienne Balsan.
She became his mistress (demi-mondaine cannot become wives!) and lived with him for many years. Then one fateful day in his glittering world she met an Englishman, Boy Capel, and Etienne lost a vital part of Gabriella, her passion. She was truly in love.
All for love
Happily her love was mostly returned. She was so different from the English upper class ladies of his social circle, her energy and creativity excited him.
Impressed and in love, in the summer of 1913 while the couple stayed in Deauville, Boy rented a shop (of course Coco repaid him) between the casino and the Normandy Hotel for his creative lover.
Deauville offered the perfect environment to introduce Chanel’s innovative ideas for clothes. They proudly called the boutique ‘Gabrielle Chanel’.
The shock of the new
The overheated ladies of Deauville were startled then delighted by Chanel’s collection of simple and stylish designs.
She cleverly asked famous model Adrienne to wear her line of jersey garments around town and in that summer Coco’s clothes started a revolution, changing women’s relationships with their bodies and their way of life forever.
Boutique Gabrielle Chanel was an immediate success.
Chanel once said ‘nothing makes a woman look older than obvious expensiveness, ornateness, complication‘. The fluffy flustered and cosseted ladies of Deauville were gone for ever. Chanel, we thank you!
And now, told better than we ever could, a short film about the life of Chanel: