How Coco Chanel’s British Lovers Shaped Her Style And Legacy

By Maria Bregman

Coco Chanel is one of the most influential and iconic fashion designers of the 20th century. Her creations revolutionized the way women dressed and expressed themselves, freeing them from the constraints of corsets and frills. Her signature style of simplicity, elegance, and sophistication is still admired and emulated today.

But what inspired Chanel’s style? How did she develop her vision and taste? And what role did her British lovers play in her creative process?

Chanel had a long and complex relationship with Britain, both personally and professionally. She visited the country several times, opened a boutique in London, and collaborated with British artists and craftsmen. She also had several romantic affairs with British aristocrats, who introduced her to different aspects of British culture and lifestyle.

The first of these men was Arthur “Boy” Capel, a wealthy polo player and businessman, who was Chanel’s lover and patron for almost a decade. He helped her open her first shops in Paris and Deauville, and supported her financially and emotionally. He also influenced her style by lending her his clothes, such as tweed jackets, shirts, and hats, which she adapted to suit her own needs and preferences. Capel died in a car accident in 1919, leaving Chanel heartbroken and devastated.

The second of these men was Edward “Bendor” Westminster, the second Duke of Westminster, one of the richest and most powerful men in Britain. He was Chanel’s lover for six years, from 1923 to 1929, and showered her with lavish gifts, such as pearls, diamonds, and a house in Mayfair. He also introduced her to the British aristocracy, the countryside, and the sport of hunting. He influenced her style by giving her access to the finest fabrics and materials, such as Scottish cashmere, Irish linen, and English tweed. He also inspired her to create some of her most iconic designs, such as the little black dress, the quilted handbag, and the two-tone shoes.

The third of these men was Hugh Grosvenor, the second Duke of Westminster’s son and heir, who was 20 years younger than Chanel. He was Chanel’s lover for a brief period in 1939, before the outbreak of World War II. He influenced her style by sharing his passion for horses and racing, which led her to create some of her equestrian-themed accessories, such as the horsebit belt, the riding crop, and the jockey cap.

These three men not only shaped Chanel’s style, but also her legacy. They helped her expand her business, her network, and her reputation. They also helped her bridge the gap between the French and the British, the old and the new, the traditional and the modern. They helped her create a style that was timeless, universal, and influential.

But Chanel was not only influenced by her British lovers, she also influenced them. She taught them how to appreciate simplicity, elegance, and sophistication. She taught them how to dress and behave with confidence, grace, and charm. She taught them how to be themselves.

Chanel’s relationship with Britain is the subject of a new exhibition at the V&A in London, called Coco Chanel: A New Portrait by Marion Pike, Paris 1967-71. The exhibition, which runs until April 2024, explores the friendship between Chanel and the American artist Marion Pike, who painted several portraits of the designer. The exhibition also showcases some of Chanel’s personal belongings, such as letters, photographs, and jewellery, as well as some of her iconic creations, such as the tweed suit, the camellia brooch, and the Chanel No. 5 perfume.

The exhibition invites us to discover a new and intimate portrait of Chanel, and to appreciate her as a woman, a friend, and a visionary. It also invites us to celebrate her as a style icon, a fashion legend, and a cultural influencer.