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Many of today’s classics can be traced back to Chanel

October 23, 2009

In school we study famous and infamous figures throughout world history - King Tut, Julius Caesar, George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt. Although lessons about fashion and clothing are rarely, if ever, taught in the classroom, they should be, particularly the woman whose vision changed the way we dress (and smell) for the better.

It's astounding the number of people who don't know about Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, despite being the founder and namesake of one of the most famous fashion houses in the world. At 31 rue Cambon in Paris stands the flagship store of Chanel; but the designs created by the fashion house have gone far beyond the label and its styles and have easily transitioned into the 21st century.

Coco Chanel's more than 50-year career turned out some of the most simple but elegant and luxurious clothing and accessories that have ever been created and duplicated. The little black dress hanging in your closet, thank Coco for making it popular. Pants dominating women's wardrobes, yes, we can link that trend to Mademoiselle Chanel, too. Costume jewelry, Chanel. Cardigans, Chanel. Bronzed skin, Chanel.

Although it's likely Chanel's take on women's style would have eventually been part of another visionary's collection, instead she was at the right place at the right time. During the 1930s she brought black, white and other neural colors to the forefront and a more masculine look, which included pants and the lack of tight corsets. The style was perfect for the women of those years -they were finally getting out of the kitchens and attaining their independence just like Coco.

Even in her 80s she was still altering clothing on models while dressed to the nines in her strands of pearls and famous suits - and her clothing was more popular than ever.

More than 10 years after her death in 1971, at 87 years old, the house that Coco built was taken over by head designer Karl Lagerfeld in 1983. The man behind the dark sunglasses and under the long white ponytail continues to sketch collection after collection - he even creates sets for runway shows.

According to Lagerfeld, a critic said his first collection likely caused Coco Chanel to roll over in her grave. His thoughts about the critic's remark: Any reaction is better than none at all.

We'll never know if Coco loathes or loves what Lagerfeld has done with the house that bears her name, but there's no debate he's kept the brand going strong.

Reportedly Coco Chanel believed in the saying imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. She didn't mind that others were copying her designs. However, today people are doing more than creating clothing similar to the fashion house's couture. Those who aren't part of the house of Chanel are profiting from the famous interlocking Cs because we're a society obsessed with labels.

An authentic piece of Chanel's line isn't cheap. A tulle floral brooch will set you back around $250 and a wristlet more than $1,200. But with the popularity of its famous logo, no wonder there's a market saturated with fake, cheap handbags and jewelry for the masses to buy. The idea behind Chanel is luxury, but knock-offs don't fit that bill.

Why buy a purse, which sometimes isn't even a design created by Chanel, just for the logo that's been hastily glued on imitation leather?

Those of us who cannot afford a handbag without blowing nearly a month's salary should find inspiration from Chanel. Admire the real thing and put together your look based on the classics and those the fashion house is still cranking out instead of relying on the fake brand name handbags to dress up your clothes.

"Fashion passes, style remains," she once said. Nothing could be more true, which is why the styles made popular by Coco Chanel remain as relevant today than in 1930.

The next time you venture into your favorite store, look around and consider integrating the style made popular by one of the most influential designers of all time because you'll still be reaching for the black dress and those Chanel inspired suits for years to come.



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