Out of complete outsidergrew up in an orphanage, too extraordinarily successful entrepreneur. With radical innovations, she managed to revolutionize a world that the high fashionimmersed in a mature socio-economic context, male-dominated and reluctant to change. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was the first designer to have a global effect and one of the most influential women of the 20th century. But how did she manage start overto assert oneself in such a conservative and male-dominated world and in the end to turn it upside down?
Based on this question, a new study shows which ones the key conditions that can make the difference to an outsider, leads them to success. The study was published in the journal Company & Society (Cambridge University Press) by Mariachiara Colucci and Simone FerrianiProfessors of the Faculty of Business Administration, University of Bolognaalong with Gino Cattani from the NYU Stern School of Business.
“There is three crucial factors behind the entrepreneurial success of Coco Chanel: she unique perspective in the fashion world to find and cultivate their ability a niche of like-minded supportersand their ability to do so Use the “Turning Points” of the historical period in which she lived,” Professor explains Colucci. “This model, in which these three factors fit together perfectly, gives a clear picture of the seemingly inexplicable path some outsiders have taken manage to drive radical innovations.”
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was born in 1883 in a small village in rural France. in extreme poverty, and grown up in the orphanage of the Abbey of Aubazine. There she received basic training, but also learned to sew. This ability helped her to find her first job in an underwear and hosiery shop in the town of Moulins.
This was the beginning of her career in the fashion world. In 1909 she opened her first shop as a hat designerand in 1916 it was already running a successful business with three clothing stores and hundreds of employees. By 1931 it had 26 studios and more than 2000 employees with a turnover of 120 million francs (today over 60 million euros). It was the highest number in the Paris fashion world at the time, and it kept growing. Until 1935 turnover had almost doubled.
“Coco Chanel started with a modest cultural baggage and lacked any social, economic and symbolic background. As she began her entrepreneurial journey, she was the outsider par excellencebut she managed to walk an unprecedented sign on the development of the fashion industry,” explains Professor Ferriani. “She is also credited with playing a crucial role in creating the image and new social mores of the modern woman.”
According to the researchers, the first critical element behind Chanel’s entrepreneurial success lies in her education and early experiences outside of the fashion world. A position that shaped her aesthetic vision in a unique waywhich allows her to challenge the pressure exerted by the dominant canons of Parisian haute couture.
The environments she grew up in and the unconventional suggestions she received gave her the creative freedom she needed to experiment with the radical ideas that would become a cornerstone of elegance around the world. For example, the researchers suspect her sense of severity, her preference for black and white, and the idea of ”functional” and “natural” clothing, which was completely foreign to her until then high fashion, may have been inspired by the Romanesque austerity of the Abbey of Aubazine, where she grew up. It is also thanks to the world of horses and racing at the Chateau de Royallieu, where Chanel lived with her first lover, that the corset disappeared and men’s trousers and shirts made their way into women’s wardrobes.
But a radical vision is not enough, she had to find a way to implement it. Here comes the second element that explains Chanel’s success: their extraordinary ability to cultivate strategic connections with sponsors and influential members of Parisian high society.
“Coco Chanel was a seductive personality and an extraordinary networker. Because of her social skills, she quickly found access to members of high society and celebrity clients whose aesthetic orientations matched her stylistic vision,” she explains Colucci. “Our study shows that Chanel’s social network was not just limited to the business world. it spanned multiple domainsparticularly the French artistic avant-garde, who willingly endorsed the modernist ideals behind their sober aesthetic vision.
Over the years, Chanel forged relationships and actively collaborated with artists such as Picasso, Cocteau, Reverdy and Diaghilev. It is also thanks to their support that their innovative style in plays, ballets and films became public knowledge, thus enabling the fame and success of their creations. So was she an active participant in the Art Deco movementresulting in their most revolutionary design: the little black dress, the famous one The “little black dress” that US Vogue dubbed “Chanel’s Ford dress” in 1936.
Last but not least, the context. The third key ingredient in Chanel’s rise was indeed hhe ability to read and cope with dramatic changes in social needs and customs caused by the First World War. The post-war period was no longer a time for extravagance, and the hardships of war had made women more receptive to simplicity and functionality.
“The truth is that Chanel, like all great innovators, was the first to read and foresee a shift in women’s needsthat the Great War only accelerated and paved the way for the birth of the so-called ‘modern woman’,” explains Colucci. “Chanel was ready to make her creations perfectly coherent with the new image of women in society. What was considered a radical expression of the female silhouette a few years earlier became the dominant fashion in the wild 1920s.”
For this in-depth look at the extraordinary life of Coco Chanel, researcher identified the essential elements which can allow an outsider not only to enter a closed context, but also to revolutionize it and achieve extraordinary results. A radical vision from the fringes of society, the ability to skillfully build a network of like-minded supporters, and the arrival of an exogenous shock that hastens the process of acceptance.
The study was published in the journal Company & Society entitled “From the Margins to the Core of Haute Couture: The Entrepreneurial Journey of Coco Chanel”. The authors are Gino Cattani NYU Stern School of Business (USA), Mariachiara Colucci and Simon Ferriani of the Faculty of Management, University of Bologna.
From the Edges to the Core of Haute Couture: The Entrepreneurial Journey of Coco Chanel