Chanel: More Than a Century of Classic Design

1909 was the year that French designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel first opened a millinery shop. The shop, fronted by her lover, entrepreneur Etienne Balsan, also served as a salon frequented by elite French clientele. 

Chanel’s hats became so popular that Chanel could support herself from the money she made. In 1910, she could open her own Paris shop, Chanel Modes, at 21 Rue Cambon. In 1913, she began producing her clothing, handbag, and jewelry designs that used fabrics and materials that were far more natural in fit to a woman’s body than the over-embellished and restrictive styles of La Belle Époque.

By 1921, Coco Chanel had successful shops in not only Paris but also Biarritz and Deauville. During this time, she decided she wanted to create a scent for her wealthy clients that epitomized the modern woman. Hiring professional perfumer Ernest Beaux, the pair came up with 10 different perfume samples. Chanel chose No. 5, which features tones of sandalwood, vanilla, jasmine, and rose. 

It was also during the 1920s that Coco Chanel decided women needed to have a handbag that could free up their hands. Having observed the bags that soldiers carried during World War I, Chanel added straps to her handbag creations. 

With this single design change, Coco Chanel changed how handbags were designed across the entire industry. By the late 1920s and early 1930s, every other design house would adopt Chanel’s idea that continues to this day. Later, she would incorporate the use of double chains in place of straps for some of her purse designs.

Chanel’s 2.55 Handbag

In February 1955, Coco Chanel created the iconic 2.55 shoulder bag, which allowed women to have straps that rested on the shoulder rather than on her arm. The name of the 2.55 refers to the month and the year that this bag made its formal debut.

No matter what color the exterior of a Chanel 2.55 handbag is, the bag's interior is burgundy. Though it cannot be verified, some believe this color represents the convent school uniforms that Coco Chanel attended as a girl. 

The bag's front flap features a zippered compartment, while the backside of the handbag has a flap designed to hold cash and credit cards. The exterior stitching on the 2.55 and other Chanel designs features stitching in the shape of a diamond or herringbone pattern.

The introduction of the front lock wasn’t introduced to the 2.55 bag until the 1980s. Chanel named it the “Mademoiselle Lock” because Coco Chanel never married.

Contrary to popular belief, Chanel’s Classic Flap Bag contains many of the same design elements as the 2.55, but it’s not exactly the same. A Chanel Classic Flap Bag will always feature an interlocking CC lock on the flap and a woven leather “chain.” In 2005, on the 50th birthday of the 2.55 handbag, designer Karl Lagerfeld created the 2.55 Reissue. 

Each 2.55 handbag is rectangular and features either one or two inside flaps and a varying number of pockets, depending on when the purse was issued. The largest interior flap also features the Chanel Double C logo embossed on the leather.

Still the Choice of Celebrities

It’s no secret that Chanel has remained a favorite among A-List celebrities. Jennifer Aniston, Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry, Nicky Hilton, and scores of others are long-time fans of Chanel fashions and handbags. 

Do you have a well-loved Chanel bag you would like to give new life to? Please schedule an appointment with one of our design experts here at New Vintage Handbags to discuss how we can make your Chanel bag, shoes, or any other piece into something that represents your sense of personality and style.

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