In the first part of the 20th century any woman who would have an affair with a Nazi and dress like a man would instantly cause waves and be looked down upon by high society. Born in the later part of the 1800′s in a poor house raised in an orphanage and singing in a cabaret, Coco Chanel rose from these proletarian beginnings to revolutionize fashion for the very bourgeois society she was once rejected from. Chanel stood strong against accepted society and made changes in society that last to this day.
Coco Chanel is known today as a name of high couture fashion and is associated with the capitalism and the bourgeois. If you know anything about fashion or culture you most likely know the name Chanel. Coco Chanel was more to the world than just a name brand, but a woman artist whose craft changed the world and lent to the liberation of women.
Chanel was born in the late 1800′s in a world where woman’s fashion was made to appeal to men. Men were the dominant designers of woman’s clothes. Chanel showed up dressed like a man breaking the restrictions of culture and fashion. Chanels’ boutique in Paris began to sell clothing for women that were less restrictive and less binding than conventional fashion. She began to introduce comfortable material such as Jersey to women fashion which was unheard of at the time and many saw as completely unacceptable.
Chanel pushed up against the fashion of women being bound up to be presentable by a man’s standard and moved towards a woman’s fashion striving for comfort and function. Chanel first introduced Jersey to fashion as the working woman’s uniform. Little black jersey dresses were introduced, the LBD (little black dress). Chanel was a woman designing clothes that were practical and comfortable for other women. This may not sound that amazing in the 21st century to many, but at the beginning of the 20th century this was unheard of.
Not only was there the love affair with a Nazi officer but now there are claims that Chanel was a Nazi spy. Is this true? It is possible. Is this a reaction out of fear to a strong woman who pushed up against patriarchy? This is also possible.
It would be easy to point to Chanel’s outspoken voice of woman’s liberation and paint her only as a feminist and one who fought for woman’s liberation through her art and craft. It would be just as easy to point to her associations during WWII and paint her as a Nazi sympathizer and demonize her. In the same regard we could take Chanel and point to either the capitalist enterprise that was born of her name, or even the poverty stricken orphan who rose to greatness. The most accurate way to take all of these aspects of Chanel would be to say she was a complete person with great achievements as well as foibles and flaws.