1910, Gabrielle Chanel opened her first hat shop at 21 rue Cambon in Paris. Her simple and elegant wide-brimed hats contrasted with the complicated structures of her competitors. When in 1915 Guillaume Apollinaire dedicated the calligram poem "Reconnais-toi" to Louise de Coligny-Châtillon, it represented the woman he was enamoured with, and who was one of his muses, wearing a wide-brimmed hat. It is worth nothing that the invention of the calligram is a movement towards abstraction: with the letters of the alphabet, Apollinaire drew the calligram featuring what the outspread words were referring to. Was it a sign of the times that only a few years later Gabrielle Chanel would call her first perfume N°5, replacing the name by a number…?
It is thanks to the rich and constant dialogue with her artist, poet, writer and musician friends that Gabrielle Chanel was able to become a legend in her own right. Just like several of her friends, including Pablo Picasso, Mademoiselle Chanel invented a language that would very soon become that of modernity. While Picasso, with Cubism deconstructed the pictorial space inherited from the Renaissance, Chanel redesigned the female silhouette and freed the body from all constraints, liberating movement, defining the line, creating an allure.
On 18 May 1917, the “Parade” ballet premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. This one-act ballet whose musical score was composed by Erik Satie surprised the public with its deliberately avant-garde tone. Serge Diaghilev who founded and directed the famous Ballets Russes asked the dancer Léonide Massine to choreograph the ballet and Jean Cocteau to pen the libretto, who was given carte blanche to decide who would work with him. Cocteau chose Erik Satie to be in charge of music and Picasso to be in charge of the stage curtain, sets and costumes. In the preface of the programme, Guillaume Apollinaire mentioned the “alliance between painting and dance, between plastic art and body expression which is a sign of the advent of a more comprehensive art”.
Close to avant-garde figures, Gabrielle Chanel frequented the main protagonists of the Dada movement in Paris, Tristan Tzara and Francis Picabia. Breaking with convention and blowing the minds of the petit bourgeois, Dada was a genuine laboratory from which new forms of poetic writing and fine arts would emerge and a precursor to Surrealism.