Coco Chanel was a exceptional woman who became one of the most influential designers in the fashion world. When I think of her, I imagine her to be this driven, independent, slightly withdrawn and cranky woman.
Abandoned by her father when she was a girl, and raised in a convent probably emphasized her need for self-sufficiency. Being born in an era where most women weren’t on their own financially, set her apart. She never wanted to be with a man out of financial need, although she was accepting of the help she received along the way from the male suitors in her life. I find some parts of her story to be a little vague, but one doesn’t have to look too hard to see that Coco Chanel was a successful woman. And here’s why:
- “I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t think about you at all”.
She didn’t really care what people thought. Period.
- “A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.”
She wanted to be who she wanted to be, and she wanted to do what she wanted to do. She did not waste her time or energy being concerned about other people’s opinions of her (see #1).
- “Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.”
She understood her worth. She believed in herself beyond belief. She knew she was talented and had every bit of opportunity as the next person. She didn’t let negative self-talk dictate her life.
- “My life didn’t please me, so I created my life.”
She didn’t let her past create her future. Although she grew up in an orphanage, she knew her life story was waiting to be written. She never let her humble beginnings be her obstacle, but a driving force to create the life she wanted.
- “I wanted to give a woman comfortable clothes that would flow with her body. A woman is closest to being naked when she is well-dressed.”
She wasn’t afraid of taking risks, nor did she let people intimidate her or sway her creative direction. Coco created clothes she wanted to wear, she created clothing that she knew women wanted. Her ideas were radical for the times and there were many people who didn’t understand the way she did things, but she remained true to her visions and stuck with it. (And it paid off!)
- “I don’t do fashion, I AM fashion.”
She believed in her craft, she embodied her work heart and soul. Quality and personal creativity was one of her top priorities. She wasn’t going to sell her soul just for the sake of higher profits. Her name was attached to every piece she made, and she was known for a relentless drive for perfection, whether in construction, design or fit. She had a strong opinion in all matters of style and taste, and backed her clothing with authority.
- “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.” She knew when to let go. When her life wasn’t taking the shape she wanted, she knew how to recognize it, let go and move on-even if it meant letting go of a cushy life. She wasn’t one to waste time and energy beating a wall and waiting for it to turn into a window.
- “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
Speak up. She was not afraid to speak her mind. There was probably never a question of Coco’s position or opinion on something.
- “It’s probably not just by chance that I’m alone. It would be very hard for a man to live with me, unless he’s terribly strong.”
Independence was very important to her, and she knew her emotional limitations. She knew that living a life where she had to compromise what she wanted meant she wouldn’t have her freedom. For Coco, being with a man out of need was not an option. She was hellbent to make it on her own, or not at all. Once her business became financially successful without the help of Boy Capel, she stated, “I was my own master, and I depended on myself alone”.
- She believed in magic. If you visit Coco’s apartment in Paris, it is as it was when she lived there: lucky symbols are everywhere, such as a frog with its mouth open and a crystal placed inside (a symbol of love, luck, money and health), pairs of Japanese deer and wheat motifs (a sign of prosperity) are scattered across the apartment.She believed in the healing power of crystals, so there are crystal chandeliers in every room. Lions are also scattered throughout, a reference to her sign, the Leo. Mirrors placed on the walls are octagonal in shape, which was also significant. The shape of the stopper for the Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle was also octagon, and even the number “5” of her perfume has special meaning in Numerology. The number 5 is the most dynamic and energetic of all the single-digit numbers. It is unpredictable, always in motion and constantly in need of change. Sometimes believing in the magic that we possess will get us over humps when we feel like quitting.
- “There is nothing worse than solitude. Solitude can help a man realize himself; but it destroys a woman.”
She believed in surrounding herself with inspirational and like-minded friends. She befriended artists such as Dali, Picasso, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, Cocteau, Jean Renoir, Visconti – all of whom she collaborated with. It’s well-known that Coco didn’t like to be alone. Find your “tribe”, and you will watch wonders unfold creatively.
- “There is a time for work, and a time for love. That leaves no other time.”
She knew how to manage her time and energy. She knew what was most important to her and she neither deviated from that or tried to combine them all. As a business woman, Coco wasn’t one to waste valuable resources with endeavors that did not serve her higher purpose. Her only focus in life was her vision, her brand, her company (and occasionally love). What are your priorities?
- “Luxury for yourself” Chanel believed in pampering herself. Don’t be afraid to be a little selfish sometimes. When we feel spent, and our venture feels like it’s failing, we have to look at our life and see where our daily energies are going. Chances are, you probably aren’t devoting enough of your time to yourself, or to what YOU want to do, because you’re too busy trying to do too many things, or you’re too busy cleaning up everyone else’s mess. Focus on taking care of yourself, and on the things you want to accomplish, and don’t be afraid to tell others “I’m sorry, I just don’t have the bandwidth”.
- “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”
Simplicity without “decision fatigue”. Coco was known for her simple, but elegant design aesthetic. She didn’t overcomplicate her designs because that wasn’t who she was. Most days, Coco wore black, because it was simple, elegant and easy. She was, what we’d now call the “Capsule Movement Wardrobe”. It’s the trait of highly successful people like Mark Zuckerberg and Barak Obama, for example. In an interview, President Obama stated, “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”In a 1969 interview with Micheline Sandrel, Chanel was asked, “You have this suit, this Chanel on you, what else do you have nowadays in your own wardrobe?” Coco Chanel: Two suits I’ve had for three years, a beige one and the one I wore yesterday, with a small pattern, three is good.
- “In order to be irreplaceable one must be different” Don’t spend so much time trying to do what’s working for others, or do what you think will sell. Follow your passion, explore your own talents and ideas, no matter how different they may seem from mainstream. Carve your own path. After all, there was only one Coco and there is only one YOU.