Vintage: Coco Chanel

TEXT by Celine MacKay | PHOTOGRAPHS by Coco Chanel: a new series about vintage haute couture in anticipation of a special feature in our upcoming issue.


In anticipation of a feature on vintage haute couture we'll be running in our print debut (available at the end of November), I wanted to run a speicial series here on the PGM blog that investigates the roots of some of the world's most iconic couture names - people who have sculpted and shaped the world of fashion even today, whose name has become the brand itself, even years after their deaths. It's truly remarkable, when you think about it, that one person can have such influence on our perception of luxury and style. What does this have to do with green, you may ask? The clothes that were part of these designers' original collections were mostly handmade and most often produced locally in their city of origin, be it Paris, New York or London, etc. It was before the days of monoculture, rampant pesticide use and GMO crops, so producing fabric was less damaging. And it hearkens a day when incredible time, energy and consideration went into each piece, each detail. There's a certain romanticism behind that process that we'll be diving into. Our feature of course will focus on the many ways that wearing vintage reuses, repurposes and diverts. It will also explore how clothing was made THEN and NOW, finding your own vintage style and the accessibility of wearing vintage. And of course, there'll be the clothes - pieces from numbered collections that will have had the actual designers hands working on them that are still perfectly wearable today. It's fabulous, and I can't wait for you to see it in our very first print edition.

To kick off I wanted to start with Coco Chanel, possibly the most iconic of all female designers. Coco was largely responsible in the early 20's for ridding women of the corset and restrictive clothing. Her designs largely inspired by menswear and introducing a new casual elegance sparked a huge trend throughout Europe and North America around her "little boy" look. She was a guarded person that fought for her own destiny, carving a world for herself that was at odds with her humble beginnings. Often accused of arrogance, her demeanor was born out of a fierce fighting spirit, and well, perhaps a little arrogance over her many successes! One of 6 children, her mother died when Coco was 12, after which her father abandoned the family and the children were forced to live in an orphanage until Coco was 18. A brief career as a cabaret singer (from which the moniker Coco was born) led to her meeting the rich, young French textile heir Étienne Balsan. It was during that time that Coco's interest in designing clothing officially began (though Coco did learn to sew from the nuns in the orphanage), leading her on a whirlwind of discovery and increasing notoriety for her designs, first with hats, then with perfume and finally with clothing. Coco knew how to keep only the best company, including the British Royal Family, grand dukes and hollywood celebrities (during her years of designing costumes for MGM Studios). During WWII Coco shut down her shops, claiming that these black years were "no time for fashion" and took up residence in an apartment in the Paris Ritz Carlton (where she lived for over 30 years despite having her own lavish residence above her shop), during which time she was even rumored to have worked as a secret intelligence officer. Chanel died in 1971 at the age of 87 - despite her age she died while still deligently overseeing the Chanel Spring collection.


“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.” 
- Coco Chanel


“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” 
- Coco Chanel



“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” 
 - Coco Chanel



“You live but once; you might as well be amusing.” 
- Coco Chanel



“Fashion changes, but style endures.” 
- Coco Chanel





“Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.” 
- Coco Chanel