Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel (1883-1971) was a French modernist fashion designer. She was born into an impoverished family in the Loire valley. At the age of twelve, hardship forced her into a convent school, where she learned sewing. Affairs with wealthy men introduced her into the world of the decorative arts, as well as provided the financial backing necessary to launch her own line. By 1913, her hatmaking had brought her to the attention of the Paris fashion world. Her voice was a dominant one during the Art Deco period, ended only when she closed up her businesses at the onset of World War II. She returned from retirement in 1954, although her later works were not as popular in Europe as they were in the United States.
Chanel broke with the fin-de-siecle norms of elaborate dress for a more reductionist approach that emphasized simplicity and comfort. She was instrumental in the development of the vertical-lined flapper dress, which was modeled men's on work clothes and military uniforms. This creation eventually morphed into the proverbial "little black dress." Chanel thus redefined femininity for a generation.
Jacqueline Kennedy's pink suit, stained with blood on the day that her husband was assassinated, is often attributed to Coco Chanel. This is not entirely accurate -- it was an American-made knock-off of a Chanel work. The infamous pink suit does, however, reflect Chanel's invention of the women's suit -- a simple work of straight lines and forms.