In 1913 the thirty-year old Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel opened a boutique in Deauville where she sold clothes designed by herself. The idea of a woman owning and running her own couture house was revolutionary at the time and the Chanel design lines, a blend of the casual with the luxurious, would make her name synonymous with twentieth century glamour and fashion. Chanel's success in business and her innovative design style—not just in couture but also in jewellery and fragrance—made her one of the twentieth century's most influential figures and her ambitious energy reflected a social transformation in the status of women. Her concept of what was chic and fashionable overlapped with the artistic 'modernism' which was bringing an experimental edge and zest to European cultural prosperity in the immediate pre-war years.

In her lecture, Justine Picardie—also Coco's most recent biographer—discussed the designer's journey from poverty and obscurity to business success and cultural renown, representing one of the twentieth century's most compelling cultural stories. She had an entrepreneurial energy which led her to establish her own business in 1913, and the fashion house that bears her name remains one of the great brands in the fashion industry.

In her talk, Picardie conveyed not only her own personal admiration for her subject but also the cultural and social context which explains the rise to acclaim of the House of Chanel. Success did not come overnight to Coco and like any true entrepreneur she had to overcome obstacles, learn from failures, re-adjust- and then move on to the next stage with  energy renewed and ambition intact. The cultural prosperity represented in the life of Coco and her eye for design was the result of a mind that responded eagerly to the developments in music, painting and literature that came together to miraculous effect in the movement known as Modernism right on the eve of the outbreak of war in 1914.

The discussion was hosted by Hywel Williams, Senior Adviser at the Legatum Institute.



A Century of Chanel - by Justine Picardie [Download PDF]

About the Speaker
Justine Picardie is the recently appointed Editor-in-Chief of Harper's Bazaar UK, a magazine which has been setting the agenda for the fashion industry ever since its first publication in 1867. She is the author of a memoir, If the Spirit Moves You, as well as a novel, DaphneCoco Chanel: The Legend and the Life was published in 2010 to great acclaim and has established itself as the definitive biography.

About the 'Prosperity on the Edge: 1913-14 The Last Year of Peace' Series
An extraordinary period in human history came to a sudden and cataclysmic end in the summer of 1914. Nineteenth century Europe was an expansionist and prosperous civilisation. Its economy boomed, the arts and humanities flourished, scientific progress accelerated, personal liberty became the birthright of increasing numbers of people. And from 1871 onwards, Western Europe was at peace.

The Autumn lecture series relives the last year of peace as experienced in the lives of key individuals. Their achievements and pre-occupations in the year 1913-14 illustrate the multi-faceted nature of a brilliant culture - one whose legacy helped to shape the world we live in today. International in their perspective and multi-disciplinary in approach, these lectures will make an original contribution to the understanding of human prosperity and liberty.

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