Paris Between the Wars – “C” is for Coco Chanel

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Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.

Coco Chanel
Coco Chanel

Born in 1883 as Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, Coco Chanel popularized a casual chic style of fashion for women in post-World War I Paris. Her mother was a laundrywoman and her father, an street vendor. Raised in poverty, Gabrielle was sent to a convent orphanage at the age of 12, following the death of her mother. At the convent, she learned to sew, and was able to work as a seamstress. By 23, she was the mistress to a wealthy textile heir, Étienne Balsan, who lavished her with diamonds, dresses, and pearls. An affair with one of Balsan’s friends resulted in the financing of her first shops.

Her first designs were hats only, but in 1913, Chanel opened a boutique in the resort town of Deauville, France, where she introduced deluxe, casual clothes suitable for leisure and sport.


By 1919, Chanel was registered as a couturière and established her maison de couture at 31 rue Cambon, Paris. Eight years later, she owned five buildings on the street. Her No. 5 fragrance was available in department stores, and by 1930, she was a very wealthy woman.

One of her friends at this time was Misia Sert, a member of the “bohemian elite” in Paris, and with whom she shared drug use. By 1935, Coco Chanel was injecting herself with morphine on a daily basis (a habit she maintained until the end of her life in 1971). According to gossip and legend, she was called Coco because of her elaborate cocaine parties.

In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Chanel closed her shops but maintained her apartment situated above the couture house at 31 Rue de Cambon. She claimed that it was not a time for fashion, and as a result of her action, 3,000 female employees lost their jobs.

“A girl should be two things – classy and fabulous.” ~ Coco Chanel

17 thoughts on “Paris Between the Wars – “C” is for Coco Chanel

  1. Wow. Such fascinating stuff. I never knew she had a drug habit. Morphine? Yikes. I imagine that was tough on the body. I hear we have Coco Channel to thank for costume jewelry. She created replicas of her actual jewelry to wear when she traveled. The idea caught on.

    I’m loving this theme, Martha. So interesting!

    Fascinating post about a fascinating (and unfortunate) situation. My very best wishes to you, Laura. Hope the A to Z Challenge is lifting your spirits and bringing you to many engaging posts. Thank you so very much for visiting mine. 🙂

    Julie #1613 (this week) on the ever-changing A to Z Challenge list


    1. What the heck?! What is that paragraph to Laura doing in my comment to you, Martha? I dunno . . . and I’m so sorry! I must have picked it up when I last copied the Julie #1613 information . . . This A to Z Challenge visiting is starting to feel like a (wonderful) frenzy. 🙂


  2. Wow, and to think I knew so little about this woman, or maybe I suppressed some of the knowledge, given her history. So much turbulence in someone’s life, misunderstanding. Talent and lack of empathy coexist, unfortunately. The bottom picture reveals more of her personality.


  3. Martha,
    Add me to the list of others; before I read this, I was thinking what a cool name Coco is. Knowing the truth is sad. The best part of your blog today; I am inclined to do more research on this woman……thanks. Zulu Delta


  4. She lived quite a life! At first I was glad to read of an orphan story with a positive outcome – then I was crushed to learn her nickname was a result of drug use.

    I used to wear Chanel Cristalle for years… reminded me of my first trip to Paris.


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