Coco Chanel — Life-Changing Lessons That Perfume The Whole Room
I guess you are aware of the iconic channel bag and interlocking C that has become a fashion statement, signifying opulence, elegance, class and luxury. But how many of us are aware of the life of the woman behind the brand? Indeed, this fragile little woman managed almost alone to invent what is now called modern fashion. Today I’m discussing some of her life-changing lessons from Coco Chanel and that, when applied, shall perfume the whole room.
Coco Chanel showed the world that fashion transcends the beauty and looks department.
Think what you may of her her politics, her obfuscation of her chequered past, or the sometimes questionable actions she took to secure her gargantuan success, but we know we can agree that there’s plenty we can learn from this iconic lady of the hour. Not only did she change the way people saw fashion, she also changed the way people saw women as leaders.
There is no denying the impact that Coco Chanel had on the fashion world. A true rags-to-riches story, Coco Chanel’s life left us with some powerful entrepreneurial lessons.
She’s credited with inventing the little black dress, the concept of sportswear and the most iconic scent in the world. Coco Chanel was a pioneer for thousands of women, turning her humble beginnings into an empire that remains to be one of the most iconic fashion houses.
Inspired and inspiring, Gabrielle Chanel, affectionately nicknamed “Coco“, made her mark on history with her aura and personality.
From the little black dress to the tweed suit and the quilted it bag, 50 years after her death, fashion still owes her so much and always will. The woman was a visionary who had emerged from nothing. A self-taught designer, thinker, and innovator, her burning desire was what fuelled her passion for clothes.
Coco Chanel redefined womanhood in the 20th century, and through her building of a fashion empire, we can all learn lessons on life and entrepreneurship.
I became intrigued by Coco Chanel and the life she led and I was pleasantly surprised and inspired by most of what I found. Here are five business and life lessons you can learn from the woman of style herself.
Lesson #1: Be Unfashionable
Had Chanel chosen to conform to the societal rules of the 20th century, she would have remained unknown and Chanel No. 5 would not exist. Instead, she believed that in order to be irreplaceable one must always be different. People laughed at the way she dressed, but that was the secret of her success: She didn’t look like anyone.
It is unthinkable that unfashionable and Coco channel could be used in the same sentence but Coco’s first best selling apparel was anything but in fashion.
Although she initially stated out selling hats in her Paris store, Her first taste of clothing success came from a dress she fashioned out of an old jersey on a chilly day. This was in complete contrast to the stiff corseted look that was fashionable at the time. Chanel’s relaxed alternative soon became very popular with clients, making the previous corseted look seem old-fashioned and impractical. Moral of the story — never try to fit in.
She didn’t try to avoid judgment like the plague, please the masses or be the good girl. She owned who she was, without apology.
At a time when women were bound in corsets and adorned with feathers and jewels, Chanel created her own flavor and a fashion revolution that focused on style AND comfort. She was a natural rebel and that showed in her designs. There just wasn’t anything like it. You can make it work if your product is similar to someone else’s, but you can make it easier on yourself if you offer unique value to a specific market.
Coco Chanel was blatantly unapologetic and did not care what the world was saying about her.
She always followed her heart and remained true to her own self. Along with her famous hats, she started selling some clothes with the same androgynous style made out of a cheap jersey material. Women had the legal right to work, vote and more. Coco came out with the “little black dress” and changed the game. She created an evolution for women who now wore something so similar to men — so simple and so basic. The “little black dress” would create a name for Coco that would stick with her forever and set herself apart.
When it comes to producing raving fans and creating long-term success in your business, my biggest and best advice is to dance to the beat of your own drummer.
It’s about understanding who you are and letting that completely shine through. Becoming an unapologetic entrepreneur is all about understanding who you are and really allowing yourself to own it so that it can shine through. It doesn’t matter if you love or hate cats or if you swear… THAT doesn’t bother us. What bothers us is feeling a lack of authenticity. What matters is that you show up as your real self.
Lesson #2: Own Your Life
In an era when women wore skirts with bustles and hats with plumes, the rebellious Chanel rejected a lot of the feminine style of her time. In fact, she was the first woman to wear trousers in public. All of the styles that have made her a revered icon — the classic black and white palette, menswear-inspired design and the little black dress — are what made Coco Chanel a rebel during the 1920s and 30s.
Persistence, tenacity and pure grit displayed Chanel’s commitment to living life on her terms.
While it’s easy to follow the conventional path, I applaud Coco Chanel for ignoring the nay-sayers and critics. She once said, “I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t think about you at all.” Truer words were never spoken, and Coco Chanel knew what she was talking about, turning her humble beginnings into a multi-million dollar fortune — simply because she didn’t let the doubt of others turn into doubt in herself. Instead, she focused on her vision and formed her entire life around it.
Coco Chanel was thrown into the deep end when her mother passed away when she was just 12 years old.
Her father, a peddler at the time, was financially strapped and with no way to look after his daughter, put her into an orphanage. The orphanage was where Coco Chanel’s love for fashion and clothes started. It was also where she realized she could be who she wanted, despite society telling her otherwise. All she needed to do was grab life by the horns and make the best out of every situation.
You, and you alone, determine your future.
The foundation of Coco Chanel’s success was her relentless, fixated ambition. Coco believed that the only necessity she lacked to start her fashion legacy was a strong, pre-requisite financial beginning. She satisfied this pre-requisite by collecting business loans from her male socialite friends and acquaintances. It didn’t matter to Chanel that her lenders did not share her vision. She sensed that she was on to something big so she remained steadfast in her aspirations no matter the discouragement or lack of confidence from others.
If you’re born without wings, don’t do anything to stop them from growing.
This either means that nature is not destiny, or that Coco Chanel secretly had dreams of completing Da Vinci’s gliding wings and liberating women from the ground. It could be both. You decide. Given her background one may have expected Coco Chanel to remain timid and unsure, yet she remains a beacon reminding women everywhere not only of the elegant details of fashion but that we have the ability to create your own path regardless of circumstances.
Lesson #3: Less Is More
We can thank Coco for making the little black dress (aka LBD) a world-wide necessity in every woman’s closet. Coco Chanel published a simple, short black dress in Vogue in 1926. It was referred to as “Chanel’s Ford,” because it was accessible to women of all social classes, like the Model T.
Coco Chanel changed the way women looked and dressed through her simple and elegant designs.
Her experiments gave her the confidence to go ahead and create her unique pieces for women and make them feel empowered as well as free them from the traditional constrictive clothing. She took the time to develop a product that was relatable to her audience, as well as solved many problems for women. You, too, can change someone’s life with a simple product or service that adds tons of value. We tend to think big and ambitious, but what practical things can you offer your target market?
Running a business throughout WWI carried its own challenges. Coco was able to turn a profit on every item she sold by virtue of her innovative approach combined with the economy and abundance of jersey cotton.
Today, she might have struggled to select the perfect fabric out of many options. But in 1914, Coco Chanel was forced to be creative due to the scarcity of materials. General materials manufacturing strictly supported the war efforts so, in the world of clothing manufacturing, this made a particular fabric very abundant and economic: jersey cotton. The stretch and flexibility of jersey cotton allowed women to move more freely compared to the rigid, structured bodices that were predominant in fashion at the time.
Great entrepreneurs have a unique ability to focus on what’s important, rather than constantly diverting to what’s urgent.
They understand that simplicity, not complexity, is essential to success. Focusing on the big picture helps them keep their eye on the prize rather than sweating the small stuff. Entrepreneurs are innovators who recognize a need and strive to fill it. They’re changing the world for the better, contributing to the economy, making mundane tasks more simple, and connecting society in ways we never thought possible.
Let’s be clear: Simplification is not about the elimination of facts or possibilities, and it is not about being a “big picture” person or ignoring details.
Simplification is the ability to run facts, assumptions and desires against competitive realities and our capabilities to drive clarity. Simplicity requires clarity of thought. This clarity will define, as entrepreneurs, who you are and who you are not, what you believe or don’t have faith in, what you do or avoid, and ultimately, how you shape your future.
Lesson #4: Your Name is Everything
Coco Chanel became a star. She was attending the most sought after parties. She even started giving away her clothes for free to induce a sense of desire in people. All women wanted to look like her and started dressing the same way. They would look like her clones and before she knew her clothes were wanted by women all over Paris.
It wasn’t just her clothes, but the aura she built around her brand led her to become one of the most iconic designers in the world.
Coco Chanel knew what she was selling and what people were buying. She was a trendsetter and her brand represented the qualities of the new-age women: confident, independent, provocative and slightly rebellious. Maintain the mystery of your brand, always give people something new to learn from your brand.
Chanel’s brand for women clothing was simple, liberating, and chic.
She did not make formal dress wear for women and certainly did not design men’s clothing. She knew the market she was appealing to and that is where she worked for success. Figure out who your brand appeals to and who it does not. You can’t water down your brand by trying to appeal to everyone. Trying to be all things to everyone leads being nothing to anyone.
Coco Chanel made sure that every woman to encounter her brand knew that her clothing was the most opulent, sensible and effortlessly elegant in France.
Chanel’s brand personality overtook affluent social circles when French actor, Gabrielle Dorziat, was seen proudly wearing a Chanel hat as a fashion accessory in 1912. The influence offered by celebrity endorsement grew Chanel’s cultural relevance, and Chanel apparel began selling itself simply because it adorned the Chanel name. This is exactly vintage influencer marketing!
Your name is what you make of yourself and when you put in all the effort you possibly can, things will fall into place.
Unlike what Shakespeare said, a lot goes into your name! When people see the Chanel brand, they think of the woman behind the brand first and then the group. The reason this happened was because Coco Chanel put in so much effort into creating her brand, she made herself be known first. Focus on creating something unique and focus on why your product stands out.
Lesson #5: Build an Empire
After founding a fashion house, Chanel released Chanel No. 5 (the first perfume to bear the name of the designer) in 1924. The profits enabled her to survive through the war after closing her design business.
Diversification is one of the best ways to ensure financial security as an entrepreneur.
If one revenue stream or business line falls through, you can still stay afloat. While some brands become famous because they stick to one particular kind of trend, others become great because they know there is power in branching out. Coco Chanel falls in the second category. She taught us, diversification is not only the best way to expand your product range, it is also the best way to ensure financial stability. If one of the multiple things you are working on falls through, you always have a backup.
Coco Chanel taught us diversification is not only the best way to expand your product range, it ensures financial stability.
If one of the multiple things you are working on falls through you will always have a backup. Diversification doesn’t necessarily mean success at every product line, but as long as you take quality control the chances of success gets higher. Unlike many designers of today who dilute their brands either by not getting involved into the last detail or by licensing to people who don’t understand the essence of the brand.
The very first place to start building your empire is to make a commitment.
This isn’t something to be taken lightly or go half-in on. Building something really big like an empire is life-changing and requires 100%. You have to be honest with yourself and know what you’re getting into, that there will be hard times, tons of work and people who think you’re crazy. Having the “Do whatever it takes” mentality is what you must have. Never be satisfied with yourself. There is always room for improvement: Constant Growth. Desire more and chase it.
Make an empire, not a business.
Don’t limit to one product or service. Amazon can sell books as well as farm produce. No one questions it when it tries to go into electric cars or anything else. Elon Musk can do space exploration, electric cars, and online payment processing. Why should you not have the same freedom?
The iconic name of Coco Chanel is often affiliated with the brand name that is financially unachievable for the majority of us. However, when we see the glamour behind her remarkable designs, we hardly ever think about the woman who stands strong behind the name of the legendary brand.
Coco Chanel’s life story shows us that things are not always what you expect them to be, and that’s okay.
Though we associate Coco Chanel with everything glamorous, there was a time when her life was anything but that. She went from a poor, orphaned child in France to the head of one of the most successful fashion empires in the world.
These takeaways can also be applied to modern retail today, as the principles remain the same.
You can build an empire from scratch, only if you have undying devotion, persistence, and grit. One single idea has the power to change lives and inspire million, only if executed well, and with a burning passion. Her transgressive clothing caught everyone’s attention. She did something that was beyond socially acceptable and yet, in the end, she became the object that everyone’s desired.
Although Coco Chanel made some decisions without the greatest morals in mind, she knew what she wanted and she went for it.
She was confident, independent and smart. Coco was about vision. She was always focused on the win. And was all about business and building her empire. She made friends with those that could help her build her empire.
Despite her critics, Coco Chanel remained and still is a hit. She is proof that you can start late and still succeed.
Everything Coco Chanel did was aimed at making things better for women. If you think we missed out on any other life lessons from the woman behind the Chanel group, comment and let us know! What were your useful life lessons learned from life? Please share your life tips as well with us.
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