Fashion Inspiration

10 Things you can Learn From Coco Chanel and Use Them to Grow your Fashion Brand Today

I recently read the book ‘Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene’ and it left an indelible impact on my mind. In the book, Green describes human nature in great detail and puts it into perspective. He outlines the need for humans to be sociable and how our lives depend upon relationships with other people.

He further goes on to claim the need for us to disengage ourselves from our own emotions and master the art of self-control. He draws examples of people like Queen Elizabeth and Martin Luther King Jr and explains the need for developing the empathy that leads to insights which in turn teach you how to look behind people’s masks. 

Another such personality he describes is Coco Chanel: How she single-handedly inspired a whole generation. The woman was a visionary who had emerged from nothing. A self-taught designer, thinker, and innovator, her burning desire was what fuelled her passion for clothes. I was intrigued to find out more about her life. Through Greene’s Laws, I got the opportunity to understand her powerful mindset, indomitable drive, and how she channeled her passion into building one of the most iconic fashion houses of all time.

The Law of Covetousness 

The Law of Covetousness’  describes how Coco Chanel made her brand an ‘elusive’ object of desire by mastering the true art of focussing on the repressed desires of others rather than focussing on her own.

Below is a synopsis of chapter 5 from the book. The wisdom in this chapter is timeless as brands can use the same principles to make their brand a desirable object. 

1. Power of dreaming big/ The Limitless Power of your mindset–  Coco Chanel was born as Gabrielle Bonheur. She grew up in poverty and her mother passed away at the young age of 12. Her father had her and her sisters sent to the convent of Aubazine where she led a frugal life and luxuries were forbidden. She only had 2 pieces of clothing to her name.

During her 6 years at  Aubazine, Gabrielle learned very important skills that would later prove to be essential in building an iconic brand: She learned how to sew and became a seamstress. But soon, she realized a new passion -Theatre. Coco was her stage name and she began singing in a cabaret frequented by cavalry officers in a Moulin pavilion. From the makeup to the costumes and sets, she enjoyed every bit of it but she promptly became aware of the fact that she did not have the talent to become an actress. 

Coco soon met an ex-cavalry officer Étienne Balsan and became his mistress at his château. She began to analyze her future in her free time and started experimenting with Balsan’s clothes, creating new styles and silhouettes for women.

Dreaming was in Coco’s blood, and she wanted to do something great. A visionary, she was ahead of her time and her ideas were unheard of. She had a limitless mindset and that’s what set her apart from the rest of the designers at that time. 

Even though she had an eccentric personality and was captivating for many, she was also ridiculed by some. With perseverance and self-belief, Coco stayed true to herself and never gave way to doubt. She kept creating clothes that appealed to her. These clothes would later become the desire of millions.

2. Experimenting is key and originality is creativity – Coco’s time spent with Balsan at his Chateau would turn into experimenting sessions with his clothes.

She would pair his open-collared shirts and a tweed jacket with her own clothes and top it all with a men’s straw hat. 

These sessions made her realize two very important things: 

  1. An incredible sense of freedom as she left behind tight and restraining corsets.
  2.  The astounding positive feedback she received from other women for her original designs. 

Her experiments gave her the confidence to go ahead and create her unique pieces for women and make them feel empowered as well as free them from the traditional constrictive clothing.

Key takeaway: She took the time to develop a product that was relatable to her audience, as well as solved many problems for women.

3. She took a problem and Solved it: Coco started wearing her own original designs which later developed into her personal style statement. She wore her creations every day and was the subject of envy among the courtesans and other women who wanted to dress just like her. They were all captivated by her enthralling design sense and the boldness by which she pulled it off.

The clothes suited her figure and she became the only woman who was dressed in men’s clothes during those times. 

The idea behind her creations was to give women the power and freedom that men possessed. This reflected in her androgynous style: loose yet fitting, and practical.-. the women around her started to identify with her as they were going through the same problem she had addressed. They wanted to feel free and empowered and that’s exactly how Coco’s clothes made them feel.  She was tapping into the repressed desires of these women, and it was working to her advantage as a businesswoman.  

Key takeaway: She found an impending problem and wanted to solve it. She was personally affected by these problems, so it gave her that extra drive to create products that resonated with the wants and desires of women.

Courtesans started coming to her room to try on the straw hats that she decorated with ribbons. Compared to the elaborate hats that women had to wear, Coco’s straw hats were a breath of fresh air. The courtesans started sporting her hats around town and in no time, everyone wanted her straw hats. 

4. The Power of being authentic and unapologetic- Balsan saw the potential in Coco’s hats and offered her to take his apartment and turn it into a studio. She happily took the offer but soon met another man named Arthur who was attracted by her looks and ambitions. Her previous relationship with Balsan did not stop her from engaging with another man. Arthur and Coco fell in love. She was bold, never thought twice and always followed her heart.

Arthur started sending his aristocratic female friends to Coco’s studio and her hats became a craze. Along with the hats, she started selling some clothes with the same androgynous style made out of a cheap jersey material.  The clothes gave these women the power of freedom and comfort which was not easily available at that time. 

Coco was blatantly unapologetic and did not care what the world was saying about her. She always followed her heart and remained true to her own self.

5. Find a niche in the existing market and fill the market gap

Arthur, her new lover encouraged her to open a shop in Deauville after her hats became a craze among women. Along with the hats, she started selling some clothes with the same androgynous style made out of a cheap jersey material. 

In her shop in Deauville, she offered luxury clothing for leisure and sport. Swimsuits for women were non-existent at the time but Coco would go swimming in the ocean in her little swimsuit. This invention of women’s swimsuits created a huge demand in women. This was another gap that she fulfilled. Coco was always in tune with the modern times, and every time she saw an opportunity, she took it and made it her own. 

Coco created her own unisex, easy-going yet slight provocative style. Her experiments with Arthur’s clothes turned into contemporary clothes for women. 

When Coco decided to cut her hair super short, it became the new trend. Everyone started cutting their hair in order to be more like her. 

Coco saw an opportunity and made it her own. She identified the gap in the market for swimwear and worked her way around it. She was a master at identifying the desires women and her style still resonated with millions of women across the globe. 

Key takeaway: You need to find a niche in an existing market where unsolved problems are related to your own strengths. 

6. Building a curiosity around your brand. The most irresistible charm your customers: Coco Chanel became a star. She was attending the most sought after parties. She even started giving away her clothes for free to induce a sense of desire in people. All women wanted to look like her and started dressing the same way. They would look like her clones and before she knew her clothes were wanted by women all over Paris.

1920 proved to be Coco’s lucky year. She became one of the most popular and leading designers of the world. 

She was a trendsetter and her brand represented the qualities of the new-age women: confident, independent, provocative and slightly rebellious. She even started selling her clothes made from cheap jersey material for exorbitant prices and women with the money were still ready to buy those clothes. It wasn’t just her clothes, but the aura she built around her brand led her to become one of the most iconic designers in the world.

Key Takeaway: Maintain the mystery of your brand, always give people something new to learn from your brand. 

7. Fortune favors the Bold- One of the major reasons for her success was how she was fiercely in pursuit of what she believed in. Her upbringing, lack of funds or formal design education did not hinder her from creating one of the most recognized, wanted and popular brands of that time.

She was successful in creating a demand for something that was new and never seen before. Even though the fabric of her initial clothes wasn’t great, she still managed to create a want for it by giving women what they most desired: The freedom to be who they wanted. 

Her bold steps made her what she was- a Legend.

Key Takeaway: Build demand and attraction around what you sell.  Influencer Marketing and Blogger outreach in today’s social media generation. 

8. Set your sights high and reach for the stars- Coco Chanel was a ‘wanter’. She always wanted more from life and was never satisfied with the ordinary. Her curiosity led her to do another thing that was unheard of: She wanted to make perfumes, but not just any ordinary perfume. She wanted her perfume to smell like a bouquet of flowers. She wanted it to be as distinctive as her clothes but ethereal and something that excited men and women with the desire to possess it. She did not want her perfume to have an identifiable scent, it had to be abstract and would smell differently on every woman. And so she created a scent that proved to be a raging success. Coco being a revolutionary that she was named her perfume Chanel No.5. The name was unusual and sounded like a scientific concoction rather than a perfume. 

Even the shape of the bottle was sleek, modern and different. It was again something that was never seen before. The simplicity of the name, No. 5, was seemingly basic and uninspiring compared to the fragrance names at the time. But it was part of its immediate global appeal which led to a long road as the number one best-selling fragrance. The name was so easy to remember and required no translation from country to country. Even today, almost 100 years later. Chanel no.5 is the most iconic perfume in the world. According to NPR, one bottle is sold every 30 seconds

The perfume was worn by celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Catherine Deneuve and made sensations all over the world.

Key Takeaway: Never be satisfied with yourself. There is always room for improvement: Constant Growth. Desire more and chase it.

9. Create a burning desire around your brand and know your target audience: She launched her perfume by spraying it in her store and created a mystery around it. It wasn’t something you could buy off the shelf initially, it was only available to a few selected women. She would even slip tiny bottles into bags of wealthy ladies without the name on it. Women started begging her to let them buy her perfume. Chanel no.5 became one of the most bought perfumes in the world.

Coco Chanel reigned supreme for 2 decades. But, with her involvement with the Nazis during World War 2 brought her nothing but disgrace by the French. She fled to Switzerland and remained in a self-imposed exile for years. 

In 1953, when she was 70 years old, she decided to make a comeback. By that time she was out of the business for 14 years and had to start all over. She made her comeback in 1954, with a fashion show that was closely watched by hundreds of people. People were disappointed with her same 1030’s style which lacked newness. By this time other fashion houses had gained popularity in France. The model’s looked like her clones. But, Coco was still unfazed by all the hatred she was receiving. 

Coco had a vision. She decided to target the women of the United States of America. She felt like her style resonated with the American women more These Women were athletic, easy, practical and of course, had more money. Her new line created a huge sensation in America and she re-established herself as the most important, trendsetting designer within a year of her arrival. 

She kept her clothing style classic and simple. After Jacqueline Kennedy wore her suits, Chanel was reclaimed and came back as strong as ever. 

Key Takeaway: Tell a story- people buy the ‘Why’ not the ‘What’. Ideas can change lives. Know your Target audience, inside out. Intensive Market Research is what sets a powerful brand apart from the rest.

10. Elegance is refusal– Coco Chanel definitely refined fashion. From her little black dresses to her tweed suits, she introduced comfort and practicality and these pieces that are still worn by women all over the world. Chanel proclaimed “I imposed black; it’s still going strong today, for black wipes out everything else around.”

In conclusion, Coco Chanel was the epitome of innovation, in terms of both design and marketing. She was aware of the fact that people love to explore the unknown and used it to her full advantage. She used the momentum of her popularity to create a mysterious aura around her. She used strategic absence to create a desire for her creations. Coco Chanel associated her brand with something illicit and controversial. Her transgressive clothing caught everyone’s attention. She did something that was beyond socially acceptable and yet, in the end, she became the object that everyone’s desired. 

These takeaways can also be applied to modern retail today, as the principles remain the same. You can build an empire from scratch, only if you have undying devotion, persistence, and grit. One single idea has the power to change lives and inspire million, only if executed well, and with a burning passion. 


‘‘In order to be irreplaceable one must be different’’- Coco Chanel.

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