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Chanel-A Machiavellian?

February 1, 2011

While it may seem like a stretch to connect the world of politics with that of fashion, it certainly did happen in the case of Gabrielle Chanel. She has become the biggest name in couture because of the Machiavellian-like standards she incorporated in building her House of Chanel.

From humble beginnings, Coco Chanel first learned how to sew by the nun’s in the orphanage she grew up in. Her mother had died, and her father was too poor and too uninterested to be bothered providing for Coco or her sisters. This caused her from an early age to be insecure of her upbringing, and strive to have money and glory.

Chanel was able to climb so high because of her ability to look at the world around her and be able to perceive and adapt her ways to cause people make her such an icon due to their desire to want to dress and “look like Coco.” Her success first began to skyrocket during World War I. While before that people had been wearing a lot of corsets and elaborate dresses, Chanel’s clothes were more than fashionable, they were functional. Since most of the men in France were away at wore, the women were needed to run the factories and businesses while they were away. Coco was able to identify this need, and create a line of Sportswear for women, where the material was looser fitting and easier to move around and work in.

Another factor, if not the key factor, that led to Chanel’s success was that she solely relied on herself. Just as Machiavelli discusses the risks that come along with siding with other powers or putting yourself in a situation where are relying on them, causing yourself to be vulnerable and threatening your power. In the same way, Coco made sure she was never in anyone’s debt. Even the first loan she had received from the love of her life, Boy Capel, was paid back as soon as she had the resources to do it so there could be no question that the Chanel enterprise was entirely her own.

Once Coco Chanel had achieved great credibility and influence, she was constantly denying and lying about her life. She wanted to ensure that no one would question whether or not she deserved to be among the upper class, so she refused to acknowledge any of her history, and even the people who helped her out in the beginning. More than that, she made no attempts to treat her workers with respect or any understanding because she knew what it was like to struggle to be a part of the working class. Instead, she allowed them to work long hours for very little money. Not only did she think that they needed to be able to work their way to the top, but she also didn’t want to be viewed as weak by appearing to be an equal to her employees.

Coco Chanel is still a name known and respected throughout the world. Ultimately, her success was a result of sheer intuition and a natural understanding of how to get ahead in the world. Consequently, it appears that after examining her choices, they appear to greatly coincide with Machiavellian views that arise in his text, The Prince.

It’s apparent by Chanel’s success that her ends did in fact justify her means.

  1. timothyhall permalink
    February 1, 2011 6:02 PM

    Interesting post. She truly was an innovator, someone who considered her craft and the ideas she had about it to be important not only to her, mais toutes les femmes de la France. What I like about this connection between Chanel and Machiavelli is that it demonstrates the wide applicability of Machiavellian ideals. The strategies he considers requisite for a prince’s success have been used by so many, from governmental leaders to fashionistas. This, I think, solidifies their importance and worth, at least in the sense of another perspective to entertain.

  2. Nicholas Steiner permalink
    February 2, 2011 7:02 PM

    I agree with Timothy. This is a very interesting post. Sometimes it can be hard for me to apply the Machiavellain ideas to something that does not involve ruling an empire. This connection takes some of Machiavelli’s most valued ideas, shrinks them down, and applies them to something that one would not consider at first. When one is thinking to one’s self, “Why does what Machiavelli thinks matter to me?” your post makes it apparent that what he believes can be applied to the business world as well. Your post also shows that, even if you do not agree with what he thought, Machiavelli’s ideals are still around today and are visible in some of the most prominent people of time.

  3. Josh Platko permalink
    February 5, 2011 1:31 PM

    It truly is remarkable, that we can relate these very old texts to that of the famous today. I am sure that most of us can infact relate Machiavellian ideas to our own lives. We all have our own story, and have gone through different events. Times where we had to fight alone, and infact act like those described in Machiavelli. Some of the ideas may seem to be harsh, but in a less severe way we have all been there too.

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