King’s Somborne WI began 2024 in style with a talk entitled Coco Chanel, her Life, Loves and Lies.
On 10th January, 18 members and 2 guests were entertained by our excellent speaker Steve Herra. Chanel was born Gabrielle Chanel on 19th August 1883 in Saumur, France. Her parents lived an itinerant lifestyle because her father worked as a peddler. After her mother’s death in 1885, Chanel aged 12 was sent to an orphanage for 7 years and afterwards to a religious institution where she learnt about fabrics, making and repairing garments which would be the foundation of her business empire.
Her nickname of Coco came from her time at La Rotunde where she sang ‘Who’s seen Coco at the Crocadero?’ During curtain calls the audience would demand ‘Cooo Coco and the name stuck. Another explanation came from Chanel herself who said it was a shortened version of cocotte, French for ‘kept woman’.
Despite being romantically linked with Etienne Balsan and later Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel, both of whom were instrumental in her first fashion venture of hat making, she never married.
On meeting perfumier Ernest Beaux, the now iconic Chanel No.5 perfume was born. The scent is said to represent the smell of cold/frozen France on the 5th day of the 5th month. It contains 80 ingredients and the bottle shape was inspired by bottles in ‘Boy’ Capel’s travelling case. Unfortunately, the business deal she had struck with American department store owner Pierre Wertheimer left Chanel with just a 10% share of the business.
Chanel was a ruthless operator and during the 1936 textile workers strikes she immediately fired 300 staff. With the onset of war in 1939 she closed the business and sacked the remaining 4,000 staff.
At the age of 70 in the early 1950s, Chanel made a triumphant return to fashion with Jackie Kennedy famously wearing one of Coco’s suits when her husband was killed. Coco Chanel died aged 88. The business was kept going by Karl Largerfeld and continues to be owned by the Wertheimer family to this day.
After Steve’s fascinating talk, members discussed ideas for future WI events. These include supporting Drop In at the Epworth Hall and visiting the gardens at Crawley or Bramdean to view spring bulbs.
Next month's meeting is on 14th February when we will learn Who was Jane Austen's best friend? Visitors always most welcome.