The first lady of fashion

by RACHAEL SNOWDEN, femail.co.uk

Princess Diana and Jackie Kennedy were big fans of her trademark chic yet sexy suit and though Coco Chanel died 30 years ago she still has a massive influence on fashion today.

She was the first lady of fashion, the woman who invented wearable fashion for women.

Undoubtedly one of the biggest icons of 20th century fashion, her ground-breaking achievements in haute couture have shaped many of the looks seen on the catwalk and in the high street today.

Born out of wedlock, Coco was raised by nuns in an orphanage in France. At the age of 31 and with financial help from various male acquaintances, she opened up her own couture house in 1914.

Despite being a strong-willed career woman, the outbreak of the Second World War forced her to close the business in 1939 but she made a comeback aged 71 in 1954.

She has been hailed as an innovator of textiles and her attention to how fabrics moved on the body was legendary.

When she bought a job-lot of wool-jersey material at a knock-down price, the rough-textured cloth previously reserved for fishermen's clothes and sportsmen's underwear was reinvented as a fashion fabric.

Coco shortened hemlines to around the knee (shocking at the time) and even had an effect on hairstyles. The fashionable 'flapper' short bob was partly due to the look of Coco Chanel, her models and the way they complemented her outfits.

Chanel's hallmark style was the cardigan suit. With its box-shaped wool jackets, contrasting bias edging and brass buttons and slim fitted skirts, these classic suits were worn by the likes of Princess Diana and Jackie Kennedy.

An affair with the Duke of Westminster in the late 1920s, led to her suits taking on a distinctively British feel with the use of tweeds - they were even made in Carlisle. Public demand led to a haute couture shop opening in London soon after.

Another of Coco's key looks was the little black dress, it was deemed the essential attire for the cocktail hour. And in 1926, American Vogue predicted the little black dress would become a uniform for women all over the world. Rich women bought her haute couture black frocks and the less affluent snapped up the mass-produced copies.

Coco also placed high importance on the right accessories, with two-tones shoes, quilted handbags, scarves. hats, and costume jewellery being a large part of her fashion empire. She was also the first fashion designer to produce a perfume, Chanel No5, launched in 1921, helped make her a very wealthy woman.

Since 1983, the House of Chanel has been under the helm of fan-waving designer Karl Lagerfield.

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