HISTORY OF CHANEL SYMBOLS
The house of Chanel is not only one of the most prestigious fashion houses today. It is also steeped in history and has had an undeniable influence on modern fashion throughout the past decades, especially when it comes to womenswear and jewellery. From paving the way for how modern women now dress, to creating timeless classics that are still very much coveted across generations, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was a true trailblazer and innovator of her time whose legacy continues to influence women today.
Chanel is synonymous with luxury, exclusivity, high quality, and high fashion. Consequently, the French fashion house has a number of symbols that convey these qualities and which shoppers and fans of the brand immediately associate with it. These symbols aren’t just arbitrarily chosen. They have special significance not only to the fashion house but often to Mademoiselle Chanel herself.
See a Camellia in any piece of jewellery, accessory or garment and one can immediately identify the house of Chanel. The Camellia flower is undoubtedly one of the most popular symbols of the fashion house, so much so that it’s even included in the brand’s packaging.
The Camellia was said to be Mademoiselle Chanel’s favourite flower. Legend has it that her love for the flower can be traced back all the way to her teenage years when she watched a performance of The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas. As the years went by, her love for the flower only grew. (Pun intended.) There are a number of stories that describe her love for the Camellia. One of them portrays how Mademoiselle Chanel’s then boyfriend, Arthur “Boy” Chapel, gifted her with her first bouquet of flowers, which were, of course, Camellias. Another story depicts how Mademoiselle plucked a Camellia straight from a dandy’s jacket and attached it to her skirt. From then on, not only did she admire the flower, but she began wearing silk versions of it herself.
The Camellia was first used by Chanel in 1913 and since then, it has appeared in Chanel jewellery, clothing, bags, shoes, and brand packaging. A ubiquitous design element for the fashion house, the Camellia has appeared in almost every single Chanel collection since the 1920s. The Chanel Camellia has twenty-five petals with geometric curves that are said to represent the signature of a woman who cultivates the art of the unexpected. Today, the Camellia is endlessly interpreted to signify the house of Chanel.
Another one of the fashion house’s well-known symbols is the ribbon. An ode to the feminine, and a frequent symbol for love and marriage (literally tying the knot), the ribbon has been a constant icon used by the house of Chanel.
It is said that ribbons were often used by Mademoiselle Chanel to decorate her boaters at the races. Since then, the simple ribbon has been transformed by the house of Chanel into a signature element of its designs. When it comes to fine jewellery, in particular, both tied and untied forms of a ribbon have been set in stone. They are said to be a nod to couture, and both a graphic and ethereal art. Whether it be a coiled ribbon, a laced style, an asymmetric tie or a ribbon in fluid motion, Chanel’s elevated version of a simple motif echoes the fashion house’s couture design and superior aesthetic.
One of the five original motifs of Mademoiselle’s fine jewellery collection in 1932, the feather is another popular icon of the house of Chanel. The soft, light, fluid, and supple nature of a feather are often artistically contrasted by Chanel with its interpretation in fine jewellery, set in hard metal, diamonds and precious stones.
It is said that Mademoiselle Chanel often loved to pin a feather on her own straw hats, which she frequently donned. She associated a feather with the expression of movement and freedom within. As we all know, through her designs, she wanted women to enjoy freedom from the constricts that society impose on them. This clearly extended to all the things she would create for women to wear. To quote Mademoiselle herself, “If you’re born without wings, don’t do anything to stop them growing.” With Chanel’s popular feather symbol, it’s as though Mademoiselle has been giving women her very own wings. While delicate in nature, the feather represents a woman’s bold spirit to perhaps, not only spread her wings but to take flight, while dressed in Chanel, of course.
The Comet and The Sun
The comet and the sun are symbols that are said to be particularly significant to Mademoiselle Chanel and go all the way back to her childhood. Chanel enthusiasts will know that symbols, design details, and even product names often have important ties to Gabrielle Chanel herself and her personal history. When it comes to the comet and the sun iconography, it is said that the floor of the orphanage where Mademoiselle Chanel grew up had a constellation mosaic. This served as a particular inspiration for her fine jewellery collection with the International Diamond Corporation in 1932. Since Chanel relaunched its fine jewellery collection in 1993, it has become one of the most famous symbols identified with the luxury house.
Beyond its personal significance to Mademoiselle Chanel, during the presentation of her high jewellery collection, she was quoted saying “I wanted to cover women in constellations”. She wanted to use the brilliance of the celestial bodies to highlight and compliment a woman’s own beauty. Every element has its own meaning and significance – her love for the sun as it kissed her skin while tanning, stars that she believed to belong to women who choose their own destiny, and the brilliance of the comet, sun and entire constellation which mirror the luminous radiance of women. These symbols still clearly represent the Chanel women today.
Next to the Camellia, the Lion is arguably the most popular symbol of Chanel. Gabrielle Chanel was born on the 19th of August, making her astrological sign a lion. She is said to have often stated that she was “born under the sign of the Leo”, making the symbol particularly powerful and meaningful for her. A proud Leo, it is therefore unsurprising that the image of a lion’s head has been a frequent and dominant icon for the house of Chanel.
Not only a symbol of Mademoiselle’s birth sign, the lion represents a majestic, indomitable and wild spirit, which personifies Gabrielle Chanel’s very own brilliant personality. As the house she built attests, “Mademoiselle was majestic, instinctive, radiant, powerful, and fiercely protective of the things that were hers.”
Another facet of the lion’s significance to Mademoiselle Chanel is the time she spent in Venice, known as the city of the lion. It was in Venice where she ensconced herself after the painful death of her love, Boy Chapel. It was in the city of the lion where she recovered, recouped, and mustered the courage and strength to push forward in her life and with the house of Chanel.
A symbol of both protection and empowerment, the lion’s head icon was present throughout Mademoiselle’s life. However, beyond a mere symbol, the lion is an inspiration for those who wear it. Today, the Chanel woman is adorned in the lion’s head design that is ever-present in the buttons of Chanel jackets, in its jewellery design, and in the fashion house’s many seasonal collections. The ubiquitous symbol is reinterpreted in a multitude of ways, ensuring that every Chanel woman is empowered with the strength, magnificence and endurance of not only the lion but of Chanel itself.
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