The Big Three from France: Part III

“Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury”
Coco Chanel

In the last two issues, we covered the remarkable histories of Louis Vuitton and Hermès. Now, let’s look at our third French genius of design, Chanel.  

Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel created her own empire in an industry dominated by men. She knew that she could not be their equal and so succeeded to trump her male counterparts, beating them at their own game. Like Louis Vuitton and Thierry Hermès, Chanel came from humble beginnings and was brought up in an orphanage. It is said that this is where she learnt the art of sewing. At the age of 18, Chanel started her climb to success firstly as a cabaret singer of all things, and this is where she began to be known by the name ‘Coco’. She then became a milliner and opened her first store ‘Chanel Models’ at 21 Rue Cambon in Paris.  

Luxury. Leonard Joel Auctions
A Boy Bag by Chanel
Sold for $5,625

With a series of lovers came a series of successes. Coco made the most of her opportunities and built her empire. By 1913, Chanel was selling avant-garde women’s clothing which eliminated the use of corsets. She designed and sported satin trousers which became very popular. With her reputation growing, in 1921, the Chanel No.5 perfume was launched. The famous two-piece suit with the raised hemline made its first appearance in the same year, and Chanel expanded her retail store further along the Rue Cambon. Two iconic events took place in the 1950s; the classic two-piece took its form inspired by men’s suits giving absolute freedom of movement with a sharp female profile. The first bags also saw a change in this decade with a new piece that could be worn on the shoulder, thus the classic 2.55 model was born. Chanel revolutionised women’s fashion and it is no wonder that her adaptable fashions are still successful today. 

Louis Vuitton, Hermès, and Chanel – the ‘Big Three’ – all gained dominance in the 20th century. In common they had vision, and created enduring, desirable products. Within all their ranges they have also given us many must-have classics that have stood the test of time. They continue to remain leaders for global luxury because of their foundations and the perseverance of their original creators. Whilst it seems that we are inundated with luxury brands, these three are certainly a hard act to follow.

John D’AGATA / Head of Luxury

Banner Image: Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel / Alamy

September 2022