Speaking of Icons

Coco Chanel. Luxury. Leonard Joel Auctions

“Fashion passes, style remains.”
– Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel

Chain lined hems, quilted lambskin, camellia flowers; when we think of Chanel, the list could go on with iconic motifs that mark this luxury fashion house with eternal iconic status. The pioneering Chanel brand began as a quaint millinery in 1910, at the tobacco-stained fingers of a young Viche club singer, born into poverty and orphaned at the age of 11. One of the founding mothers of modern dress, the self-invented Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel opposed suffocating social conventions and went on to become the monarch of Parisian Haute Couture, enduring criticism, recession, and a turbulent reopening after the second world war. Even now, long after her death in 1971, with a net worth of approximately $9 billion U.S. dollars, the spirit of Chanel is still ever present in the fabric of what we wear today, personified by the famous
CC logo.

Coco Chanel. Luxury. Leonard Joel Auctions
French fashion designer Coco Chanel (1883-1971) at work in 1937 / Alamy

Designed by Coco in 1921, it was Karl Lagerfeld who transformed the CC signature from a trademark to one of the most internationally recognised logos in history. This wasn’t a first for Lagerfeld, a master of transforming fashion houses into globally renowned luxury brands, as he was also responsible for the Fendi Zucca logo in 1965. Lagerfeld’s tenure at Chanel began in 1983, when he revived the Chanel brand, which was starting to disintegrate after the death of Coco Chanel. Lagerfeld turned the mirrored letters into a central feature of Chanel’s marketing and outputs, adorning, embroidering, and stamping it onto their products.

The Chanel logo origin is shrouded in mystery and debate. First used on the stopper of a CHANEL N°5 perfume bottle, the interlinked Cs have many meanings beyond the initials of the trailblazer. Gabrielle revered women of the renaissance, “Her taste for lace ruffs and the aesthetic of certain pieces of her jewellery come from there. Deep down, this place is a part of Chanel’s history”, explained Chanel’s creative director Virginie Viard at the 2020/21 Chanel Métiers D’art, set in the halls of the Château de Chenonceau. 

Gabrielle had an affinity with the 16th Century queen consort Catherine de’ Medici. Against all odds, Catherine became one of the most powerful political forces in Europe, so it would make sense if Gabrielle’s emblem had been modelled on the intertwined CCs of her monogram. The CC emblem has also been said to have been inspired by the romanesque knots bordering the stained-glass windows of the Cistercian Aubazine Abbey in which Gabrielle lived during the late Belle Époque. 

Chanel Bag. Luxury. Leonard Joel Auctions
A Single Flap Handbag
by Chanel
$3,000 – 5,000

In 1909, Gabrielle met the man frequently described as the love of her life, English aristocrat Arthur “Boy” Capel. Capel was said to have inspired Chanel’s love of jersey, introduced her to the fashion industry, and lent her the finances needed to open her first boutique on the Rue Cambon. In 1919, amidst the throes of the nine-year love affair, Capel was tragically killed in a car accident on his way to meet Coco for a Christmas gathering. Grief stricken, Chanel said that in losing Capel, she lost everything. The CC has been reported to be a homage to Chanel and Capel.

Often described as an unreliable narrator, Chanel’s inspiration for the iconic CC could be any, all, or none of these legends. Nevertheless, through the endless incarnations of her life, and tales of fact and fiction surrounding the infamous CC, what we know for sure is that this logo and the house it represents have stood the test of time; an ever expanding symbol of Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel’s revolutionary contributions to modern dress, effortless style, and empowering women the world over.

INDIGO KEANE / Jewellery & Luxury Assistant

Banner Image: French fashion designer Coco Chanel (1883-1971) at work in 1937 / Alamy

March 2022