Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Celebrating Coco Chanel (1883-1971)

By Audrey Ingerson

“I, who love women, wanted to give her clothes in which she could drive a car, yet at the same time clothes that emphasized her femininity, clothes that flowed with her body. A woman is closest to being naked when she is well dressed.”

© Condé Nast Archive/Corbis
© Condé Nast Archive/Corbis

The 19th of August marks what would have been the 130th birthday of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (1883-1971), a woman who revolutionized fashion with her emphasis on simplicity and sophistication. From little black dresses to bold accessories to classic suits, her innovative designs have influenced style for decades and continue to inspire modern aesthetics. Such enduring success is indicative of the unparalleled quality and timelessness of her work. More than forty years after her death, Chanel’s distinctive fragrances and handbags remain mainstays in the world of fashion.

In celebration of Coco Chanel’s incredible legacy, the Berg Fashion Library is offering a free article detailing the notable moments of her life and career – including the source of her legendary nickname. Interestingly, the name does not have its origin in fashion. Before becoming a renowned designer, Chanel worked as an evening concert singer at the café La Rotonde in Paris, where her rendition of “Qui qu’a vu Coco dans le Trocadéro” purportedly earned her the distinction of “Coco.”

© Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Philadelphia Museum of Art

Soon afterward, her fashion career gained traction: Chanel released her first ready-to-wear collection in 1913, and introduced her first couture collection to the public in 1917. Her inspiration came largely from sportswear and utilitarian dress, and her fashion perspective was always one of functionality and comfort — a defining philosophy that established her as a relevant designer well into her 70s. With a strikingly confident demeanor and an impeccable sense of style, Chanel continually set standards for imitation.

Following her death, Karl Lagerfeld is credited with revitalizing the iconic label after being appointed chief designer in 1983. By modernizing the brand’s classic elegance, he ensures that Chanel continues to be synonymous with high fashion — a statement of both classic and contemporary tastes.

Native of Southern California, Audrey Ingerson is a marketing intern at Oxford University Press and a rising senior at Amherst College. In addition to swimming and pursuing a double English/Psychology major, she fills her time with an unhealthy addiction to crafting and desserts.

Informed by prestigious academic and library advisors, and anchored by the 10-volume Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, the Berg Fashion Library is the first online resource to provide access to interdisciplinary and integrated text, image, and journal content on world dress and fashion. The Berg Fashion Library offers users cross-searchable access to an expanding range of essential resources in this discipline of growing importance and relevance and will be of use to anyone working in, researching, or studying fashion, anthropology, art history, history, museum studies, and cultural studies.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only Art and Architecture articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Image credit: Both images courtesy of Berg Fashion Library. Do not reproduce without permission.

Recent Comments

  1. Stella

    Coco chanel is an inspiration to us ladies. I live by her this one quote. =)

    “In order to be irreplaceacle, one must always be different.” – Coco

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *