Not-so-secret life of Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel

"Those on whom legends are built are their legends," declared Coco Chanel to her friend Paul Morand, one of several writers to whom she tried, and failed, to tell the story of her life.

Gabrielle Chanel, later known as Coco Chanel, was a renowned French fashion designer who became imortalized for her suits, her perfumes, and her little black dresses. Her bestselling perfume, Chanel No. 5, became an iconic scent.

But before becoming famous...

She was abandoned at a very young age by her father - after the death of her mother - and lived in an orphanage (with her sisters) until she was 18. Having little to do in the orphanage, she taught herself how to sew - a talent that would later define her life.

After leaving the orphanage, Gabrielle worked as a shop assistant and seamstress in a draper's store. During this time she began attending concerts held at a pavilion in a park in Moulins, and aspired to be a singer herself. She persevered and eventually became a regular, but had only two songs in her repertoire: 'Ko Ko Ri Ko' (its refrain was the French version of 'cock-a-doodle-doo') and 'Qui qu'a vu Coco? ', a song about a girl who had lost her dog. Soon the audience greeted her with rooster calls, and christened her with the name of the lost dog. Thus Gabrielle became Coco.

(Shown in picture: Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster with Coco Chanel)

As noted in memoirs and biographies, Coco Chanel was the mistress of some of the most influential men of her time, but she never married. And the the rest of Coco Chanel's story? It's no secret... her shadow looms large in fashion.

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