Inside Chanel: Chapter 22 ‘Deauville’

Like the stars that would form a constellation, certain cities made a lasting impression on Gabrielle Chanel. Deauville, Biarritz and Venice are part of Chanel’s own astral chart. These destinations were linked to encounters, journeys, love or friendship stories, with some of the most important people in Gabrielle Chanel’s life. Each of these cities inspired the designer in its own way, helping to shape the Chanel allure: horseracing, architecture and artistic movements down a sunny street, the presentiment of lifestyles to come, on the bridge of a boat or a beach, an instinct for future desires gleaned from simply walking and watching other women on holiday.

Gabrielle Chanel always observed the world around her, she nourished herself with it and drew from it like a living creative force.

In Deauville, at the turn of the century, she could already sense the primordial role awaiting her. History would prove her right: it was here she found success. It was here that the nascent century would witness the first triumph of a female entrepreneur. Deauville witnessed the birth of the talent of an extraordinary woman. This new episode of Inside Chanel follows the footsteps of young Gabrielle.

Like the stars that would form a constellation, certain cities made a lasting impression on Gabrielle Chanel, such as Deauville, France. 

The era is one of rediscovered happiness. The 1900 Exposition Universelle highlights the latest technical feats while announcing the pursuit of the 19th century industrial revolution. With technical progress comes social and cultural advances. Suddenly the carefree and economic splendour of the new Europe could be enjoyed. The French Belle Epoque marks the advent of seaside resorts and outdoor sports. Deauville charms with its Anglo-Norman architecture, its beachside promenade and its wealthy population. Gabrielle Chanel makes her grand entrance in 1912 on the arm of Boy Capel, the English polo player who had become her lover and who she is madly in love with. Two years earlier, with his support, she had opened a hat shop in Paris and is now dreaming of establishing another. Deauville would become her showcase from 1913.

Quickly, with her sharp eye and eagerness for freedom, she realises that the constraints of sophisticated, corseted narrow dresses with their trains and complex headwear, must be revolutionized. It is here in Deauville that she imagines her first silhouettes in jersey. Here too, that she develops a taste for the elegance and practicality of menswear. Her inspirations? She draws them from Capel’s wardrobe, from the stable lads and the polo players at the racetracks, from the fishermen and even from the sea breezes that could blow fabrics away. By the water’s edge, this sun lover observes bathing ladies swathed in improbable swimming attire. Soon she would offer them fluid beach pyjamas and functional swimsuits, drop-front trousers and striped sailor tops, all comfortable and incredibly stylish. The beige of the sand would become one of her favourite colours.

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