Coco Chanel ca. 1927 Vintage silver print, 3 x 2 1/4 in. Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Gabrielle Chanel’s early history remains somewhat obscure. She was raised in a convent before going to Paris, where she made a living as a cabaret singer – a short-lived career – that nonetheless earned her the nickname “Coco.” Chanel (1883-1971), became one of the most successful fashion designers of her time, revolutionizing women’s fashion by designing comfortable yet elegant clothes inspired by men’s sportswear. Known for her independent spirit, Chanel used to say “in fashion one knows when one has succeeded when one has shocked people a little.”

Throughout her career, Chanel also designed stage costumes, most notably for Jean Cocteau’s Antigone (1923) and Oedipus Rex (1937) as well as Sergey Diaghilev’s Le Train Bleu (1924). In this portrait, Chanel is wearing one of her costume designs -an all jersey outfit she created for the character of Eurydice- played by actress Ludmilla Pitoëff in the 1926 Cocteau tragedy Orpheus.

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