My Three Favorite Lessons from One of the
Great Branding Geniuses of Our Time
Typically behind any iconic brand there is an epic life, and when it comes to Chanel that is undeniably the case. Here is a woman who lived a full life entirely of her own making, according to her own rules, and built something grand in the process.
To inspire my own branding and business development, I wanted to take a closer look at what drove Coco Chanel and what she believed about life. Below I’m sharing my favorite Chanel quotes along with snippets from her career history, which I think illuminate three major lessons in finding your own greatness.
boutique at 31 Rue
Cambon in Paris
do nothing to prevent them from growing.”
I love this quote because it speaks so eloquently to the power of opening yourself up to the flow of the Universe and being supported in fulfilling your potential.
Coco Chanel was clearly a woman who did not see limitations for herself. She was born Gabrielle Chanel in 1883, in a poor village in France. Her parents were unmarried; her mother passed away when she was still a child, and her father left her and her sisters to be raised in a convent.
However she never allowed any of that to define who she was or what she could achieve. Instead, she followed her instincts, took action, and was met with abundant opportunities to create the life she desired.
Her career in fashion was initiated when as a teen, she worked as a seamstress in her tiny village. Seeking a bigger life and greater excitement, at 17 she moved to a nearby town where she became a cabaret singer. After some time, she fell in love with a wealthy young man named Etienne Balsan who moved her to his chateau outside of Paris to be his mistress.
While the leap from penniless orphan to elite mistress was already a big jump in life, Chanel was a woman with the drive for independence. She began making hats while still living with Balsan, and they quickly became popular among her influential social circle. She then fell in love with Balsan’s friend Arthur “Boy” Capel, an Englishman who invested in Chanel’s first shop in Paris. Needless to say it was a great investment. Opened in 1910, “Chanel Modes” at 21 Rue de Cambon was the platform on which she built her empire.
to think for yourself. Aloud.”
Chanel was a life-long rebel, and one way she always expressed her individuality was through her clothes. Even when she was expected to look and act a certain way, she followed her own rules and developed her signature sense of style. She tossed aside the extravagant gowns worn by women in her circles and opted instead for the classic silhouettes and muted color schemes we associate with her to this day.
Many have said it was because of Chanel’s unshakable faith in her own voice and vision that she was able to birth such an iconic, revolutionary brand. She had the strength and conviction to stand in her power and lead others to build her dreams.
Famously, Chanel drew her inspiration from menswear and professional clothing, creating for women a liberating new wardrobe of chic tweed suits, collarless cardigans, little black dresses and loose jersey tops. She introduced a way of dressing that was primarily comfortable and undeniably stylish. Her point-of-view was so alluring and so timely that it caught on almost instantly.
Along with being unapologetically true to herself, I believe what lifted up Chanel’s success was her core desire to help women feel more empowered, confident, and comfortable in their own skin.
rendering of the
late Coco Chanel
by Karl Lagerfeld
We all have something irreplaceable inside of us, that thing that only we can bring to the world. And the story of Chanel No. 5 is the perfect example of ignoring conventions and communicating your uniqueness through brand.
From the beginning, the Chanel brand found success with its distinct product offerings, however it wasn’t until the release of No. 5 that it became truly iconic.
First debuted in 1921, Chanel No. 5 is the best-selling perfume in the world. It was the first perfume in history launched by a fashion label—a visionary move that has birthed quite the lucrative product category.
At the time, women’s perfume fell into two distinct schools: restrained, one-note florals for “respectable” women, and more complicated, musky concoctions worn by courtesans and the like.
Always one to challenge stereotypes, Chanel wanted to create a new kind of scent for an empowered new era. So she went to a perfumer with her vision, and he created samples. Famously, she chose number 5 and the name stuck. Not only did she like it best, the number also held great meaning for her personally, as a recurring figure in her life that brought fortune and embodied spirit.
When it came to the packaging and positioning, Chanel put her branding savvy to work. No. 5 would stand out from the elaborate, fussy containers on the market with a clean rectangular bottle imagined to be “invisible.”
Chanel launched the fragrance on the 5th of May with an elegant party for her fashionable, elite friends. She created even more buzz by infusing the fragrance into her shop dressing rooms and gifting a select few bottles to influencers and it girls. The perfume was was an instant sensation that quickly took her business into the major leagues and allowed her to grow a massive luxury empire.