Name at birth: Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel
Designer Coco Chanel gave the world the little black dress, Chanel No. 5 perfume, and the revolutionary notion that style could be both classic and casual. Coco -- a nickname meaning "little pet" -- was raised in an orphanage, where she learned to sew. In 1910 she began selling hats from her own shop, and by the 1920s her fashion business had expanded to include a couture house, her own textile factory and a line of perfumes that included the famous No. 5. Chanel took women's fashions away from stiff corsets and introduced casual, practical clothing that borrowed fabrics and attitudes from men's fashion. She was the first to introduce black as a fashion color; her versatile, semi-formal "little black dress" became a Chanel trademark and an enduring fashion standard. During and after World War II Chanel's popularity waned, and her love affair with a Nazi officer sent her into a form of self-imposed exile in Switzerland for nearly 15 years. She made a comeback in 1954 and her designs became some of the most popular in the western world, especially in the United States. After her death the Coco Chanel Company was directed by designer Karl Lagerfeld.
Katharine Hepburn portrayed Chanel on Broadway in the musical Coco (1969, also with Rene Auberjonois)… Chanel was also played by Shirley MacLaine in a 2008 movie on the Lifetime Channel, and by Audrey Tautou in the 2009 French feature Coco avant Chanel (“Coco Before Chanel”).
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