Gabrielle Chanel wearing embellished boater hat at the race tracks 1910
Gabrielle Doziat in Bel Ami wearing Chanel hat
Antoinette and Adrienne Chanel wearing clothes from Gabrielle's Boutique
March 1917 Les Elegances Parisiennes announcement of hats and dresses by Gabrielle Chanel
While living with Balsan, Gabrielle began her millinery efforts, making hats for her and her friends to wear to the fashion conscious race tracks. In 1910 she opened a hat shop in Balsan's first floor Parisian apartment. Chanel hats were worn by actress Gabrielle Dorziat in the play Bel Ami, presented by Theatre du Vaudeville in 1912.
Gabrielle opened her first boutique in Deauville in 1913 (with funds advanced from Arthur "Boy" Capel). When WWI broke out in 1914, the wealthy sought refuge in Deauville. Women needed to be mobile and this made Chanel's comfortable, corsetless clothing ideal. Affluent women who had lost everything (but still retained the means to replace their wardrobes) flocked to the only boutique that had not closed: chez Chanel. Business flourished.
Gabrielle understood the importance of advertising early on. Almost daily her aunt Adrienne and sister Antoinette would borrow clothes from her store and walk around town in them, acting as Chanel Mannequins.
In 1915 Boy Capel advanced Gabrielle the funds to open another boutique in Biarritz- close to neutral Spain to ensure material and wealthy clients. Orders came in immediately and Gabrielle was soon working at full capacity.
By the end of the year she was back in Paris busy overseeing the beginning of her fashion empire. By early 1916 Gabrielle had over 300 employees and was able to reimburse Boy Capel. The House of Chanel continued to thrive throughout the 1920s and 30s.
November 1927 Vogue stated, "Mademoiselle Chanel's dresses are peculiarly free from mistakes, either in taste or execution."