Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was the influencer of her day, with instantaneously popular fashion designs and beloved costume jewelry that offered style freedom to generations of women. Chanel is credited with the elevation of costume jewelry from a stage prop to the star of the show. Faux gemstones and pearls were never so desired during the pre-Chanel era.
Let’s dive into the little known stories from Coco’s life that ultimately contributed to the creation of Chanel costume jewelry.
Russian Influences and the Birth of Costume Jewelry
In the early 1920s, Chanel found herself in a relationship with the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, a Russian aristocrat who fled from Russia just before the Bolshevik’s violent seizure of power. Dmitri’s noble background and refined taste inspired Chanel’s designs at the time, which came to be known as her “slavic period” (Russians are an East slavic ethnic group).
At the same time, Coco popularized the faux pearl necklace, designed to be worn several at a time. She pioneered a style for wearing ornate accessories made of “jewels” of a humble origin, including imitation stones. These creations became what we know as “costume jewelry” today.
According to Coco Chanel and Chanel by David Bond, Gabrielle was “the first to bring this area of fashion into the couture business”.
One of the first fashion concepts introduced by Chanel was the buttonless jacket. Cut edge-to-edge, the jacket was meant to be worn open, or more fashionably, fastened by a brooch. This expanded the role of the brooch from a simple lapel or hat decoration to a functional wardrobe staple. Chanel's brooch-button method is still as fashionable now as it was almost a century ago.
Back to the “Real” Thing
The early 30s witnessed the greatest economic crash of the century, affecting all manner of life, including, of course, fashion. The styles at the time had softer colors and lines, longer skirts, and natural waistlines, and were moving in a simpler direction. Chanel, on the other hand, took the opportunity to introduce real jewels into her accessories line. Each piece produced at the time was what we call “transformers” today, and could be converted into another wearable accessory; such that a brooch becomes a clasp, or clasp becomes a button.
As Gabrielle increased her focus on “real” jewelry, she held private viewings for distinguished customers and dealers displaying her diamond designs. Broad and glittering cuffs mingled with sparkling pendants and sunbursts of necklaces, all behind glass cases defended by armed guards.
Challenges and Not Easy Decisions
Chanel blazed through the trends of the period by introducing her own bold styles that were flawless and accepted nearly as fast as they were introduced. Through the late 30s though, the iconic designer faced two major challenges: unfavorable reviews in Hollywood and protests exacerbated by union workers.
Gabrielle was not disheartened by a temporarily cold American market and stayed true to her style season after season until Hollywood fell in love with her feminine and glamorous designs all over again; and this time for good.
Chanel, like many of her workers, came from underprivileged beginnings, and worked her way up the social and financial ladder. She never asked for charity and believed in hard work. When fifty of her workers went on strike, according to her biographer David Bond, Coco did not meet their demands and took refuge in the Ritz Hotel. A delegation was sent to the hotel to negotiate, but were told that the Mademoiselle would meet them at her shop when she was ready. When the time came for Chanel to confront the protesters, she found herself blocked off from her own couture house by an angry picket line.
Chanel did not give in however, “firing three hundred rowdy workers in response to their excessive demands”. She did eventually make way for newer employment conditions as the timely release of her collection was at stake. Order in the world of stunning fashions and timeless costume jewelry had to be restored.
Take a Behind-the-Scenes Peek: Chanel’s Apartment
Coco’s Paris apartment over her salon in the rue Cambon gives a real insight into the mind of the designer. Filled with impressive antiques from both east and west, its overpowering air of ancient wisdom makes it easy to understand Chanel’s success.
Bronzes and woods strum an ancient chord while glittering gold catches the eye. Antiquated chandeliers and candelabras illuminate intricate wall pieces. Exquisitely framed wall mirrors add depth to both sides of an engraved polished marble fireplace. The walls are lined with half folded oriental dividers, glittering in shades of gold, brown, and red. Bronze statues compete with delicate chairs and furniture for attention, and a buddha statue, atop a book-filled shelf, with a divine asian painting behind him, gazes mercifully into the air while conferring a blessing.
Chanel was one of the most copied designers of her period. Surprisingly, she did not mind, and simply “marveled at the influence she was still exerting in her old age”. You can now bring home a timeless work of the legendary designer; DSF Antique Jewelry holds a wide array of authentic vintage and Chanel accessories and costume jewelry to suit your style.