How Coco Chanel Altered the Constraints of Women’s Fashion

April 1, 2016

Known for her timeless ‘Little Black Dress’ and simple, sophisticated designs, Coco Chanel made fashion effortless and comfortable for women, dispelling the fashion ‘norms’ of the time, and introduced the concept of ‘unisex’ dressing.

Yet Coco Chanel was far from born into luxury. She began life as an orphan, raised by nuns who taught her how to sew, a skill that turned out to be crucial to the success of her career. This lack of convention has followed her throughout her career, setting the tone for her rags to riches story.

She’s always made the best of the tools she had

Chanel began by selling hats in Paris, later adding stores in Deauville and Biarritz, where she started to create clothes.

Her first big success came from a dress she made out of an old jersey on a cold day! Several people asked where she got the dress, and she offered to make one for them.

She made a short term profit sacrifice, to build a long standing brand name

In the 1920s Chanel developed the first fragrance that featured her own name, Chanel no.5.

She secured funding to develop the product, from a department store owner, Theophile Bader, and businessmen Pierre and Paul Wertheimer. However, the deal was initially split 70% to Wertheimer who produced the perfume, 20% to Bader and only 10% to Chanel, so long as the brand name was hers. She then repeatedly contested to get these terms re-negotiated.

She designed iconic pieces that made practical sense

Chanel knew that the role of women had changed since the first world war and with this change, the corset had become a hindrance, due to the constraints that it caused women. So she ‘dispensed’ of the corset and replaced it with more casual attire, that women could move in with ease.

In 1925 Chanel introduced the legendary ‘Chanel suit’ – comprising a collarless jacket and well-fitted skirt. It was the epitome of style, yet described by French Vogue as ‘Chanel’s Ford’ because it was suitable for the masses, just like Ford’s car!

She challenged and changed the perception of what made ‘fashion’

Her most iconic design was perhaps the simplest – the ‘little black dress’. She proved that a colour once associated with mourning could provide glamour and be used for sophisticated evening wear.

The ‘LBD’ is Chanel’s legacy and remains a key player in western women’s wardrobes.

Chanel’s success was the result of close observation and consideration of her audience’s needs; she challenged convention with simplicity and elegance, taking fashion to new heights.

As a challenger law firm, we have an enormous amount of respect for other challengers, innovators and those people who are brave enough to take industries forward. In this series, we will celebrate these people and their achievements.