GABRIELLE CHANEL ET BIARRITZ
The relationship between Gabrielle Chanel and the Basque coast dates back to 1915. It was Arthur “Boy” Capel who introduced her to Biarritz while on leave from his military duties. The war that raged on relentlessly seemed far off while at this famous seaside resort: many wealthy women had fled Paris to seek refuge there and spent quiet, peaceful days at the seaside. Gabrielle Chanel was captivated by the smart and stylish atmosphere of Biarritz. It was here that she decided to open her first couture house in 1915 in a villa facing the casino.
She experienced instant success: neighboring Spain was neutral during the war, and orders poured in from Spanish royalty and very wealthy clients, as well as from French clients who were won over by the innovative luxury of Chanel. Biarritz had also served as a resort destination for Russian aristocrats since the 19th century, who purchased and built numerous villas there. After the fall of the czar, many of them sought refuge in Biarritz. It was here in 1920 that Gabrielle Chanel met Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovitch, cousin of the czar, with whom she had an affair until 1922. She spent much time with him at various villas along the Basque coast. In 1920, Gabrielle Chanel became the symbol of elegance, introducing the world to a modern sense of style that she embodied ever so perfectly. It was reflected in her streamlined silhouettes, ankles revealed by shortened skirts and dresses, simple garments with clean lines, and soft materials such as jersey knit, fabrics so comfortable that she made swimsuits from them, in addition to the jacket and skirt suits that she was the first to wear.
While enjoying freedom, an outdoor lifestyle and the modern winds that were blowing around her, Gabrielle Chanel cut her hair short and exposed herself to the sun. Women quickly followed suit, mimicking the look that would foreshadow the profound changes yet to come of a society heading full steam into the 20th century.
Françoise Claire Prodhon
Photo © CHANEL - Collection Bernstein-Grüber