Coco Chanel’s Childhood Was Spent in an Orphanage

Topics: Orphanage

One influential entrepreneur that I admire is Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel the founder of fashion’s luxury brand Chanel. Gabrielle was born on August, 19th 1883 in Saumur, France (Western France). Gabrielle Bonheur was a nun at the hospice hospital that Coco was born, she was made Coco’s godmother and Coco was named, Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel. Coco is a nickname that she later on develops. Coco’s mother Jeanne Devolle was a laundry woman for a charity house in Saumur, France, and was born into poverty.

Her father Albert Chanel was a street vendor (pedlar) and sold clothes and undergarments, he married Jeanne after their second child Coco was born. At the age of 12 Coco’s mother passes away from tuberculosis. Albert sent both of his sons to work as farm laborers and sent his three daughters to a Catholic monastery orphanage in Central France.

Coco lived at the orphanage in Correze, France for 6 years until she was 18 and within those six years Coco began to sew.

I think Chanel’s early tragedies were the catalyst of her success for becoming the world’s most influential fashion brands.    Coco’s older sister Julia also lived with her at the orphanage. Julia became pregnant under mysterious circumstances and birthed a baby boy. Six years later Julia committed suicide and her son Andre Palasse became an orphan. Coco later cared for her six year old nephew Andre and sent him to live at an English boarding school. When Coco turned 18 she left the orphanage and began working as a local tailor.

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At the age of 20 Coco began working as the assistant for a shop selling trousseaux and layettes (wedding outfits and baby wear).

Coco sang at a club, La Rotunde and sang “Ko Ko Ri Ko” from then on she became known as “Coco”.    In 1906, age 23 Coco moves to Vinchy, France to pursue a career in singing. Her husky voice didn’t get her much success so she began sewing dresses for the other artists. In 1910 Coco is now age 26 and she receives a loan from Captain Arthur “Boy” Edward Chapel, and she buys a fashion house that features Chanel clothing, hats, and accessories. Arthur Chapel is an important key person to the legacy of Chanel, he was a successful businessman and the muse and lover to Coco Chanel. His own clothing style, notably inspired her creation of the Chanel look. Arthur married into the English aristocracy, however he’d often times visit Coco in Paris. In December 1919 Arthur was involved in a fatal car accident, Coco drove to the scene of his accident to pay her respects.

Throughout the 1920s, Chanel’s success continues and she grows into the status as a fashion legend. The little black dress gets trademarked and her fame flourishes, Coco befriended Stravinsky, Picasso and other members of Paris’ exclusive art clique. After the death of “Boy” Chapel, Coco then became the mistress of Russian Grand Duke Dmitri. Through him, she met Ernest Beaux a perfumer who developed a French perfume. According to the legend, after sampling the scent, Coco made a few suggestions, then convinced Beaux to give it to her. In 1924, Chanel releases Chanel No. 5, it was the first a perfume to have a designer’s name.

The economic depression of the 1930s had a negative impact on her company and when the Nazis invaded Paris during World War I, Coco closed her business and became involved with Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a Nazi officer. Coco was absent from the public eye for about 15 years and it caused controversy in France. In 1954 at the age of 71, Coco announces a comeback and the European fashion critics were not impressed with her new collection and deemed it to be failure. However in the United States, Chanel’s designs couldn’t have sold fast enough and like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Coco returned with the title as fashion’s best designer.

Coco Chanel’s brand was inspired by menswear and she pioneered an elegant and simple design for women. Coco freed women from the suffering of tight corsets and provoked a fashion revolution that influenced every designer that came after her. In 1969, Coco’s rags to riches story became a Broadway musical “Coco”, starring Katharine Hepburn (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. as Coco. On Sunday, January 10th 1971, at the age of 87 years old Coco Chanel died. Most of her estate was inherited by her nephew Andre Palasse, who now lives in Switzerland. Today under the guidance of German designer Karl Otto Largerfeld, Chanel remains the world’s oldest prestigious fashion brands. Largerfeld also is the creative director for Fendi as well as his own brand “Karl Largerfeld”.

Coco Chanel is a true entrepreneur and the success of the Chanel brand is proof of value, that she’s contributes to the fashion world. French fashion in the 20th century focused on women’s cleavage and showed lots of skin. In my opinion, Coco Chanel influenced and undoubtedly strengthened the liberation of women by refining elegance. Her designs are simplistic and timeless and are still prominent among modern stylish women, even 40 years after her death. In May 2017 Forbes Magazine named Chanel #87 World’s Most Valuable brands with a face value of $7.43 Billion.

I admire Coco because despite the early life struggles she founded a legendary company. Coco Chanel is an inspiration to all entrepreneurs, she reminds us that no matter how small of a beginning you can successfully build a Billion Dollar industry from scratch.

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Coco Chanel’s Childhood Was Spent in an Orphanage. (2021, Dec 31). Retrieved from

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