CHANEL is a name we’ve all heard, lusted over, and coveted. We dream of carrying the le boy bag and spritzing No. 5 before a night out. But what made Chanel what it is today? Who is the woman behind the powerhouse of a brand?

Gabrielle Chanel was born into poverty; becoming an orphan at an early age, she was raised by nuns and various family members. Her childhood will become something she attempts to hide for the rest of her life.

She quickly grew the empire we all know today as the fashion house Chanel. She invented the Little Black Dress, “athleisure”, and broke all formal dress restraints placed on women. She played with fabrics no other designers would tempt to alter and by doing so created a billion dollar industry, headlining VOGUE articles and being one of the first couturiers (designers) to be seen with the rich, the aristocrats, and the famous.

Her “Chanel No. 5” perfume was the first for women that wasn’t a floral scent, making it the most famous perfume debut in history. She was the first designer to take imitation jewelry – fake pearls, fake diamonds, etc – and make it art, causing individuals to even wear it on the beach.

The name “Coco” came from her humble beginning singing and dancing for bar rooms. She never married nor had children, only fell in love once, and iconically claimed “There are a lot of Duchesses but only one Coco Chanel” when a Duke wanted to marry her. She bought million dollar homes for her and her lovers in her own name, never wanting to be dependent on anyone.

Chanel was never an acclaimed feminist, making many antifeminist remarks. I think she just didn’t realize that she herself was one. She paved the way for female artists and designers, as well as allowing women to be more creative with the way they dress and express themselves, prioritizing comfort and marrying it with innovation. Who knows, we may not even be wearing leggings yet if it weren’t for her.

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