Chanel, Gabrielle Bonheur ("Coco")

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French fashion designer

Chanel was illegitimate, one of probably six children, although her parents married in 1885. She later surrounded her early life in romantic inventions, but the facts seem to be that her father was a wastrel and a vagabond, her mother died in 1895, and Gabrielle and a sister were then abandoned in an orphanage until adulthood, while two of the brothers were sent as foster children to a peasant farmer as Hospice Children, similar to the Verdingkinder of Switzerland.

She opened her first dress shop in Beauville in 1913. Her simple, comfortable designs were taken up quickly by rich society women, tired of the over-elaborate and restricting fashions of the day. She soon rose to be the queen of Paris haute couture and remained the most powerful figure there for six decades, at one time employing 3,500 staff. She has been credited with the "invention" in the 1920s of the suntan as a fashionable look for the idle rich (advertising their ample leisure time); previously it was the mark of the outdoor laboring classes.


Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, 1993-97
Madsen, Axel. Chanel: A Woman of Her Own. (New York: Henry Holt, 1990)
Leymarie, Jean. Chanel. (New York: Skira/Rizzoli, 1987)
"Michael Moffa's Tribute to the Legendary House of Chanel: Coco Chanel Biography." [Includes portrait]. Formerly available at:
Wallach, Janet. Chanel: Her Style and Her Life. (New York: N. Talese, 1998)
Charles-Roux, Edmonde. Chanel: Her Life, Her World - and the Woman behind the Legend She Herself Created. (London: Jonathan Cape, 1976)


19th Century
20th Century
Fashion, Hairdressing and Modeling; Beauty Queens
Self-made Men and Women
School-age Years, Adolescence
Child Abandoned or Rejected by Birth Parent(s)
Institutional Care
Later Married Birth Father
Parent(s) Died, Disappeared or Became Incapacitated
Birth Siblings Placed Together
Birth Sibling(s) Separated
Always in Contact or Knew Identities
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