Known for its sumptuous handbags, elegant dresses, and, of course, the interlocking "C" logo, Chanel has been one of the first names in fashion for nearly 100 years. Its latest honor is a nomination for a Luxist award in the Best Clothing Designer Category.
Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, who is one of the most recognized couturiers of the 20th century, started out in 1909 with a single store in Paris store. By 1913, she had opened boutiques in the resort towns of Deauville and Biarritz, France. With the onset of World War I, materials and finances were scarce; it was then that Chanel began to focus on using functional fabrics, especially jersey, in her designs.
In 1924, Chanel went into business with brothers Pierre and Paul Wertheimer. Though they funded the expansion of her company, tensions occasionally flared as Coco Chanel often felt that her efforts left here relatively unrewarded compared to the brothers. Still, she led a luxurious life, socializing with aristrocrats and political figures, and was the creative force behind Chanel until her death in 1971. Chanel's groundbreaking designs include a jersey dress and cardigan coat during the 1920's. She was a modernist who's designs was always ahead of the time in which she lived. The company is credited with creating many other fashion-firsts, from the quilted handbag and the two-tone pump shoe to the gilt chain belt.
In the wake of Coco's death, Chanel's fortunes fell briefly. Despite the staying power of classics like the perfume Chanel No. 5, Chanel was largely considered a moribund brand among Europe's elite fashionistas by the late 1970s. So in 1983, Pierre Wertheimer's son, Alain, brought in Karl Lagerfeld to revitalize the spirit and identity of Chanel. The flamboyant designer did exactly that, scrapping the brand's traditional restrain in favor of a flashy, splashy aesthetic that made Chanel a gaudy, bad-boy alternative to more demure designs of Prada.
Today, Lagerfeld remains the creative force behind Chanel and the Wertheimers are billionaires. After hiring Nicole Kidman to shill Chanel in the early 2000s, the company replaced her with French actress Audrey Tautou for latter end of the decade. In 2005, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art held an exhibition featuring many of Chanel's designs and accessories. Today, Chanel operates over 200 boutiques in posh enclaves throughout the world. Somewhere, Coco is smiling.