Top 10 Chanelisms: Coco’s Wise Words to Mark Her Birthday

Today the French fashion designer’s observations seem wise, clever or amusingly dated

Coco Chanel demonstrates the sleeve construction and how the high armhole permits freedom of movement without lifting the hem of the jacket.

Yesterday would have been the 129th birthday of Coco Chanel, one of the most stylish Leos in history (if fashion were, for some reason, arranged by the Zodiac). Born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883, to very humble beginnings, Coco, as she became known in her 20s—either because she was 1) a poseur, or performer, who danced to a similarly named song or 2) because of her cocaine-related proclivities—was determined to change her destiny. Not only did she succeed in pulling herself up from her well-designed, perfectly tailored bootstraps (or preferably, low-heeled pumps), but her contributions forever influenced the way we think about fashion even down to this summer’s Olympics.

Think Chanel and a few things come to mind immediately: The classic wool jersey suit with its boxy jacket and gold buttons. The quilted bag. Pearls. The little black dress.  No. 5 fragrance. Steamy love affairs. (And a few more obscure details I didn’t know: She popularized the suntan. Marilyn Monroe, who loved No. 5, became the perfume’s first spokeswoman. And, by the way, it seems likely that Chanel was a Nazi spy. We know she was a person of strong convictions, and her beliefs became more radicalized throughout her relationship with German aristocrat Baron von Dincklage during World War II.) With her bluntness and polarizing views, she had a way of telling it like it is.  Those maxims have become known as Chanelisms.

Coco Chanel, 1920.

In honor of her birth, here are ten favorite Chanelisms. Some I appreciate because decades later, they still resonate.  Others sounds strangely similar to my mother’s own opining. And then there are those that are amusingly dated, but full of timeless melodrama.

“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”

“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.”

Coco Chanel, 1936.

“I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t think about you at all.”

“There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony. There is time for work. And time for love. That leaves no other time.”

Coco Chanel, 1937.

“I wanted to give a woman comfortable clothes that would flow with her body. A woman is closest to being naked when she is well-dressed.”

“Fashion is architecture: It is a matter of proportions.”

“There are people who have money and people who are rich.”

Coco Chanel, undated.

“Fashion has become a joke. The designers have forgotten that there are women inside the dresses. Most women dress for men and want to be admired. But they must also be able to move, to get into a car without bursting their seams! Clothes must have a natural shape.”

“Great loves too must be endured.”

“A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.”

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