Tombe de Gabrielle Chanel au cimetière du Bois-de-Vaux, My Big Geneva

The cemetery has put on its summer dress. Her universe was made of black and white. A contrast around so many colors. In a small courtyard bounded by a hedge of shrubs, the immaculate white of her tomb defies time.


Adorned with 5 lion heads, 5 being her magic number and the lion, her astrological sign, the burial is discreet while being majestic. The details symbolize her universe, her little peculiarities that allowed her fashion house to conquer the world. The paws of a lion decorate the feet of the bench next to her tomb; the color white represents the color of her favorite flower – the camellia – and the famous number 5.


Details make all the difference


Luxury according to Chanel is invisible and simple. Coco rejected all the values ​​of the 19th century that preceded her and revealed to Paul Morand that luxury is to spend a lot of money without being seen.

Her last home in Lausanne, in the Bois-de-Vaux cemetery, is faithful to Her. We feel wealth but we do not feel threatened by it. And only an expert would recognize her codes; once the codes are combined, we have the total Chanel look made up of details that all have a purpose: the golden chain to straighten a jacket, the famous topstitching of the 2-55, the choice of fabric like Jersey – a fabric that she discovered quite by chance during the First World War in the midst of a shortage – the buttonholes, never fictitious, are sometimes in the shape of a lion’s head, a camellia or marked with the double C.

Gabrielle Chanel’s world is made up of very personal details, even where she now eternally rests. And while admiring this place, soaking up its magic, it takes us through the fabulous destiny of Mademoiselle Coco Chanel, which began on August 9th, 1883.


Creating her own myth


Gabrielle Chanel was born an orphan and will throughout her life manipulate the truth about her story and thus participate in the creation of her own myth. She will even go as far as to have Louise de Vilmorin write her memoirs which make her a child of a bourgeois peasant, surrounded by luxury. According to Guillaume Ermer, at the source of creation, there would be a desire for revenge, and Gabrielle’s childhood was an unhappy childhood, without love which arouses this revenge that she will take through creation.

She confessed to Paul Morand that her childhood was “the childhood of an orphan, taken in, of one without a home, one without love, one without father or mother.” So she made a romance out of her solitary life: when she sings the song in 1906 Qui qu’a vu Coco dans l’Trocadéro, the officers and garrison men demand an encore, shouting “Coco, coco!”. She adopted the nickname saying that her father gave it to her. Within the audience of the music hall, a man will participate in the creation of the Chanel empire.


Men who have helped her grow


Etienne Balsan opened the doors of a new world,  dramatized by Dumas in his play and Coco discovered equestrian art at Royallieu. Gabrielle was 26 when she attended the training of Balsan’s horses at the Midi racetrack and developed her style described in the book, L’Irrégulière, by Edmonde Charles-Roux, adapted to the cinema by Anne Fontaine: “white collar, tie, and boater. »


She wanted to differentiate herself and above all not to look like a cocotte.


The second man who will participate financially in Coco’s empire this time is an Englishman whom she met during a horseback ride. Arthur Capel, nicknamed Boy, financed her first shop in Deauville, a hat shop alongside the famous boards that very quickly find itself full of blouses, jackets, and marinières.


Mademoiselle Chanel in 1914 witnessed according to Paul Morand “the death of luxury, the death of the nineteenth century, the end of an era.” The Chanel style will participate in this upheaval and will invent what Danièle Bott calls “the poverty of billionaires (while dining in gold dishes), ruinous simplicity, the search for what does not catch the eye.” The luxury of Chanel manifests itself in the perfection of the invisible; she herself describes it as contrary to vulgarity and not to poverty. The war broke out, the fabrics ran out and the supplier Rodier had no choice but to offer a vulgar jersey to Gabrielle.


To her great surprise, this constraint will allow Gabrielle to revolutionize clothing.


Through Etienne Balsan and then Arthur Capel, Gabrielle entered the closed circle of the upper middle class. These two encounters are essential to her success: the clothes she created were not made for her own social category but for the one, she discovered through these two men. The entourage of Chanel will therefore be a preponderant element in the construction of her empire: not only because her clients came from this environment but also because this environment will influence her style.

Picasso, Cocteau, the Duke Bend’or of Westminster will inspire her with the tweed suits.


Coco Chanel & her entourage


Diaghilev, Misia Sert, Henri Bernstein, and Jean Marais summarize the entourage of Coco Chanel and participated in the emancipation of the total Chanel look.

Since 1911, this total look came with a fragrance, a real revolution at the time since it concentrates 85 ingredients, too much jasmine by mistake, and a bottle simply designed with a label written in black on a white background and which she named: No5. But in addition to her talents as a fashion designer, Mademoiselle Coco also turned out to be a fine strategist.

Indeed, the launch of the perfume is celebrated in one of the best restaurants in Cannes, under which Coco Chanel hid an atomizer that sprayed the perfume No5.


The fragrance was a BIG challenge. Back in Paris, Mademoiselle offered a few bottles to her loyal clientele, who kept ordering more. However, the creator of the Ford signed by Chanel did not give in; she limited the production and thus created the rarity of her perfume, an essential ingredient in luxury. And luck smiled at her across the Atlantic when Marilyn Monroe declared that she only wore a few drops of Chanel No5 at night. The fragrance thus became a legend, with brand ambassadresses such as Vanessa Paradis, Anna Mouglalis, Nicole Kidman, and Audrey Toutou.


Today, Chanel No5 is still the best-selling perfume in the world. The Chanel empire, therefore, had a style, henceforth a perfume, she now wanted to conquer the accessory business in order to adorn the woman ultimately.

And again, Coco Chanel surprised with contradictions: in 1924, she opened a costume jewelry workshop, mixing semi-precious stones and rhinestones, but 8 years later, the day after the crash of 1929, Mademoiselle Chanel showed extravagance by presenting “Diamond Jewelry” her first High Jewelry collection where diamonds mounted on platinum were placed on wax models.


The exterminating angel of the 19th-century style


At the top of her glory, in September 1939, “the exterminating angel of the 19th-century style”, as Paul Morand called Mademoiselle Coco, closed her sewing workshops at the age of 55.

The reasons for this are multiple: the competition called Schiaparelli, or Madeleine Vionnet was growing. Her personal life was strewn with bereavements of love and friendship, and French political and social tension was at its peak.

She confided to Paul Morand that, that period was no good for dresses and she took a long exile, filled with bitterness. She found refuge in Lausanne and for 15 years, Switzerland allowed her to grieve, to calm her anxiety, and finally, she made the Lausanne region her main home. In August 1953, the name Chanel “no longer evokes much more than a famous perfume“. according to Henry Gidel.

The popular name was Dior. On February 12th, 1947, a former model maker from Lelong, financed by Marcel Boussac, a major textile industrialist, presented his first collection after the Second World War at 30 Avenue Montaigne, in a private mansion.

And so the French Haute Couture was reborn after the war.


Her renaissance


Is it the new look favoring a return to the corsets that Gabrielle Chanel fought so hard against that pushed her to return to the front of the stage? Is it the promising sales of the famous No5 which, with a triumphant return of her fashion house, would increase publicity around the brand and boost sales? Is it boredom? The need to fulfill her destiny, to take revenge again on her love tragedy?

In the end, it does not matter the reasons which lead Mademoiselle, on February 5th, 1954, to make the headlines again by presenting her new collection after a long absence. The Parisian press was very harsh with her while Bettina Ballard, editor of Vogue magazine in the United States, dressed in one of the famous suits from the collection, praised a style that flattered American pragmatism.


Admiration & Love


At the twilight of her death, the famous tailor was an integral part of the wardrobe of the elite. Her success came to a point where unauthorized copies appeared. But Chanel’s position on counterfeiting was unequivocal and she confided to Paul Morand:


“Racine and Molière never had to suffer from teachers. On the page of plagiarism, there is admiration and love.”



Adorned with 5 lion’s heads, the immaculate white color of the camellia, the sober inscription of Gabrielle Chanel, the burial of the one whose Malraux will say that she is a figure as important as De Gaulle and Picasso of her time, symbolizing the fabulous destiny of a woman who revolutionized fashion and left an indelible mark.

Mademoiselle Coco Chanel, who healed her heart by working like a despot, died on Sunday, January 10th, 1971, ironically the day her fashion house closed.