The Writer’s Almanac told me that yesterday was Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s birthday (1883). She’s always fascinated me, because she essentially started out in business as a kept woman and ended up with an empire:
Her parents were poor, she was an illegitimate child, and when her mother died, she was sent to an orphanage. When she turned 18, she went to work for a tailor, and she also sang in cafés and concert halls. She was a mistress to one wealthy man and then another, and with the money they gave her, she set up her own millinery shop, which she opened in 1910. Soon her clothes became popular among the elite of Paris. She took men’s styles and made them feminine—loose clothes made from jersey, short skirts, suits—and women were relieved to have comfortable clothes suddenly be stylish, and to get rid of the corsets that had been popular for many years….She said, “Fashion fades, only style remains the same.”
She also single-handedly made the suntan popular, after an outing on someone’s yacht, launching 130 years of a tan equalling health and leisure instead of time spent being an outdoor laborer.