Very few women in fashion—or in general—have contributed so swiftly and innovatively to everyday culture. Coco Chanel (born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel) was one of those rare women. Born into poverty, she was all too familiar with making the most of what she had. Her father, Albert, was a street vendor who sold work clothes. It was perhaps this functional aesthetic that subconsciously influenced Chanel from the get-go. Schooled in the art of sewing by the age of six, Chanel easily found work as a seamstress. Her dreams of being a singer were supported in the interim hours when she wasn’t working. Chanel’s destiny in the world of haute couture, however, could not be shirked. And so, in honor of the icon's 130th birthday, below are Chanel’s top ten contributions to modern fashion/modern life as a woman.
10) Know the right people: No matter how great you are, Chanel proved that finding favor with a wealthy heir to a textile company, Etienne Balsan, was what ultimately led her to begin cultivating the resources she needed for success (chiefly, access to tastemakers).
9) The man may have the finances, but the woman has the talent: After Chanel fell for a former officer of the cavalry, Arthur Edward Capel a.k.a. Boy Capel, he was able to seduce Chanel away from Balsan, but Chanel was able to seduce him into putting up the money for her first shop.
8) Androgyny is key—in fashion and in life: Chanel saw the comfortable, effortless look of men’s style and said, essentially, “I want that for myself.” The streamlined, androgynous style of her initial designs, were, in fact, largely inspired by Boy Capel’s own personal style.
7) Chanel No. 5: The most classic, timeless fragrance we will ever know.
6) Casual wear doesn't have to be grotesque: Though, in our current déclassé epoch, we think of casual wear as jeans or (shudder) sweatpants, Chanel created clothes that did not sacrifice aesthetic brilliance for comfort. This line was first presented in 1913 at her boutique in Deauville.
5) One must be multi-faceted in her enterprise: Chanel expanded to hats, accessories, jewelry and fragrances—knowing full well her moneymaking potential beyond clothing.
4) Dating another famous person makes you more famous: In 1920, Chanel began an illicit dalliance with married composer Igor Stravinsky. The 2009 film, Coco & Igor, documents this romance.
3) Never prostrate yourself to a department store: Theophile Bader, the founder of Parisian department store Galeries Lafayette, convinced Chanel to sell her signature fragrance to the Wertheimer brothers, under the corporate moniker Parfums Chanel. She would spend decades trying to regain total control.
2) If you must take drugs, at least choose something elegant: Chanel injected herself with a healthy dose of morphine most every day beginning in 1935 and ending when her life did.
1) Use your beyond the grave powers to your advantage: I’m convinced Chanel had a hand in instituting Karl Lagerfeld as creative director of her empire.
Chanel may be known chiefly for transforming the face of high fashion, but it was undeniably her feminist spirit that gave her the strength to do so.