What Coco Chanel Was Doing In The Final Days Before Her Death

Anyone who is interested in fashion will immediately recognize the logo with interlocking Cs as belonging to the luxurious French fashion house Chanel. The brand was the brainchild of French fashion designer and entrepreneur, Coco Chanel, who opened her first store in the streets of Paris in 1910. From there, Chanel built an empire that remains significant in the world of fashion to this day.

The fashion designer didn't only create stylish pieces of clothing, but she also revolutionized women's fashion. She elevated the use of the jersey fabric, created what is now known as the LBD or Little Black Dress, and popularized pants as womenswear at a time when women typically wore skirts and dresses (via The Eye of Jewelry). Chanel was known for her ambition and work ethic, and she was working on designs for her business up until her death at 87 years old.

Coco Chanel's background

Coco Chanel was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883, in a poorhouse located in the town of Saumur. As reported by The Telegraph, Chanel's mother died when she was just a child, and her father Albert, a street vendor, was left to care for her and four other siblings. It wasn't long before Albert abandoned his children, and Chanel was left in an orphanage managed by nuns.

The orphanage had strict rules. The girls were made to wear black skirts paired with white blouses, they attended mass early in the morning and prayed before going to bed, and they had classes six days of the week (via Time). At night, the orphans were taught useful skills, and that was when Chanel learned how to sew and gained an interest in the fashion industry. Chanel spent the majority of her adolescent years in the orphanage, and she eventually ventured out on her own when she reached 18 years old.

Chanel's early career

After leaving the orphanage, Coco Chanel found work as a seamstress in a haberdashery. She also worked odd jobs to supplement her income. Chanel met a rich cavalry officer named Etienne Balsan when she was 20 years old, and she became his mistress, as reported by Biography. Balsan recognized Chanel's skills as a designer and seamstress, and he decided to finance her first business in 1910, a millinery named Chanel Modes located in rue Cambon. The hats she sold were bought by wealthy and well-known individuals, which helped boost her reputation in the fashion business (via Chanel).

Chanel also had a relationship with polo player Arthur Capel, who was Balsan's friend. With his help, the young designer was able to open more shops in other locations, and she eventually started making women's clothing just a few years after the establishment of her millinery. The House of Chanel was born in 1913, and Chanel became a renowned fashion designer in Paris.

The House of Chanel's growth

Coco Chanel had the ambition to break the boundaries of her time. During World War I, many women worked in factories, filling in for men who were fighting in the war. For fashion, this meant that women's clothing had to be practical and comfortable for the work environment. According to Luxe Digital, Chanel created a line of blazers, jackets, skirts, pullover sweaters, and pants that were inspired by military uniforms. Furthermore, she used darker colors, which were then seen as masculine. She created fashionable and functional clothing that was easy to wear and stated that she never designed anything that she wouldn't wear herself.

In the 1920s, the House of Chanel expanded its business to include perfumes and cosmetics (via Chanel). Chanel No. 5, the brand's signature scent, was released in 1921 and remains iconic to this day. Throughout the years, the fashion house added more products to its line including bags, shoes, and costume jewelry. As reported by L'Officiel, Chanel took a brief break from fashion during World War II. She came back in 1954 with a new line that consisted of knitted suits, a style that remains a staple in the fashion house to this day.

Coco Chanel's death

On January 10, 1971, The New York Times published an article about the death of Coco Chanel at 87 years old. The publication indicated that the renowned high fashion designer peacefully died at the Ritz Hotel in Paris where she resided. Those closest to Chanel said that her death was sudden and that there were no signs that she was not in good health. In fact, she was busy meticulously finishing her collection for a spring fashion show just before she died.

On the day before Chanel died, staff at the House of Chanel said that the fashion designer was working hard to make her collection perfect. She inspected the details of each dress, checked buttons, and chose fabrics, according to the Times of India. Her staff was shocked to learn about Chanel's sudden death, as she had been hands-on in the creation of the collection in the days before her passing despite her old age. One employee said that her haste to complete the collection was like a premotion. "She wanted to get everything ready before dying," the staff member said. Before she died, she went on a walk with her friend before retiring to bed for the night. As reported by The Guardian, her last words were, "You see, this is how you die," which she directed to her maid.

The House of Chanel today

Coco Chanel did what she loved — creating fashionable clothing — up until the final day of her life. The collection she was working on was shown in public two weeks after her death. Her funeral was held on January 13, 1971, at the Church of Madeline in Paris where the biggest names in fashion were in attendance. Models and the designer's fans paid their respects by donning Chanel clothing. Chanel's casket was surrounded by camelia flowers, which were said to be her favorite (via Times of India). She is buried at Bois-de-Vaux Cemetery in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The House of Chanel focused on selling jewelry and fragrances after Chanel's death. In 1983, the fashion house's owner, Alain Wertheimer, hired legendary creative director and fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld, to serve as the brand's artistic director, as reported by Vinvoy. Lagerfeld was able to restore the brand to its former glory, and the brand remains one of the top luxury brands sought after to this day. The business is still owned by the Wertheimer brothers, who are the grandsons of one of Chanel's earliest business partners.