Even the biggest Chanel fans among us might not know all there is know about the fashion house. What really put Coco Chanel on the map when she started out? How many hours does it actually take to construct a haute couture jacket? Why are camellia flowers spotted everywhere from the runway to shopping bags at boutiques? All of these questions and more are answered in a series of short films, called Inside Chanel, which, as the name suggests, provide an inside look at all things Chanel.
The latest film, Gabrielle Goes West, details Coco Chanel’s first visit to the United States. I dove into the new film—plus the videos that were released earlier—and walked away learning so many interesting secrets about the French fashion house. Ahead, find out 10 things you didn’t know about Chanel—from where the iconic Chanel N°5 perfume got its name to why black became a hallmark color. Scroll to the end of the story to watch the latest installment of the Inside Chanel video series.
1. What first put Coco Chanel on the map
Coco Chanel began her career in fashion by designing hats. In 1912, Chanel's first products to become popular were customized hats for the glamorous women of Deauville, France. What made them stand apart from other designs were that, "Chanel's hats rejected over-the-top ornamentation in favor of simpler, minimal details such as a singular feather or camellia," according to Chapter 22: Deauville.
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2. Where the iconic Chanel N°5 perfume got its name
Coco Chanel's favorite number was five, which played a part in the name of Chanel N°5 perfume. Another factor? The men she admired like the fifth sample of perfume that was presented to them best.
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3. Why Coco Chanel designed a two-tone shoe
Chanel's signature two-tone slingback shoes were originally designed with black and beige because Chanel believed that beige lengthened her leg while black hides spots from wear.
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4. Why Chanel's signature tweed jackets have chains
There's a chain sewn into the lining of Chanel signature tweed jackets that creates a unique fit by ensursing the jacket to maintain a military-style shape at all times.
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5. Why Coco Chanel wasn't embraced by America at first
Coco Chanel first visited Hollywood in 1931 but "her simple, monochromatic style was rejected as America wasn't ready for Chanel's modernistic look," as Chapter 25: Gabrielle Chanel Goes West explained. All of that changed a few decades later when the Neiman Marcus fashion award dubbed her 'the most influential designer of the century" and with Marilyn Monroe's famous endorsement of Chanel N°5.
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6. Why black became a hallmark color
While you may now know that black is a signature color of the Chanel brand, you might not know that the color goes back to her childhood. Coco Chanel loved the color black because it recalls the monastic rigor of the uniforms of the Aubazine orphanage she grew up in.
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7. Why you'll see lion motifs on and off the runway
During her travels to Venice in the 1920s, Coco Chanel was inspired by the lion, which is an emblem of the city. Since that trip, the lion became a signature symbol in Chanel that you can still spot today in everything from the runway show to Chanel makeup.
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8. Why she advanced a masculine-inspired fit
While corsets may have been a huge part of womenswear when Coco Chanel started her brand, she rejected the idea of them and instead created pieces inspired from menswear like loose-fitting shirts.
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9. How many hours it takes to create a couture jacket
Chapter 13: Haute Couture Chanel dives into all secrets of the Chanel Atelier in Paris. Did you know the average Chanel Haute Couture jacket takes 130 hours to create?
10. Why you'll see the camellia flower everywhere
Chanel first used the camellia flower by adding one to the belt of a striped shirt while on vacation. It went on to both be her favorite flower and a classic motif used on everything from the runway to jewelry to shopping bags at Chanel boutiques.
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Watch the latest installment of Inside Chanel
Kristen Nichols is the Associate Director, Special Projects at Who What Wear where she oversees luxury content and Who What Wear Weddings, and covers fashion content including the designer market, runway reporting, and seasonal trends. She also writes columns including The Luxury List, Investment Portfolio, and What’s Good. Prior to Who What Wear, Kristen held positions at Allure and Rodarte. She studied Art History and Business at the University of Southern California and currently resides in New York.
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