~ TLW ~ Conversation Questions and Biography ~

Procedures:                                                                                                                Print Questions: .docx / .doc


1) Watch and Listen to the biographical video and read the text overview

2) Clarify meaning as a class. Student/Teacher reads a paragraph. Student summarizes

3) In pairs or in groups, discuss the biographical content and quotations

4) In pairs or in groups, discuss the conversation questions (include your own questions)

5) As a class, take turns using the conversation questions to expand your ideas

Bio 101 ~ Coco Chanel ~ Fashion Icon ~ Courtesy of  Biography.com

Famed fashion designer Coco Chanel was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France. She became a much revered style icon known for her simple yet sophisticated outfits paired with great accessories, such as several strands of pearls. As Chanel once said, ¡°Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.¡±

Her early years, however, were anything but glamorous. After her mother¡¯s death, Chanel was put in an orphanage by her father,  who worked as a peddler. She was raised by nuns who taught her how to sew—a skill that would lead to her life¡¯s work. Her nickname came from another occupation entirely. During her brief career as a singer, Chanel performed in clubs in Vichy and Moulins where she was called ¡°Coco.¡± Some say that the name comes from one of the songs she used to sing, and Chanel herself said that it was a ¡°shortened version of cocotte, the French word for 'kept woman,'¡± according to an article in The Atlantic.                                                        

Around the age of 20, Chanel became involved with Etienne Balsan, who offered to help her start a millinery business in Paris. She soon left him for one of his even wealthier friends, Arthur ¡°Boy¡± Capel. Both men were instrumental in Chanel¡¯s first fashion venture.

Opening her first shop on Paris¡¯s Rue Cambon in 1910, Chanel started out selling hats. She later added stores in Deauville and Biarritz and began making clothes. Her first taste of clothing success came from a dress she fashioned out of an old jersey on a chilly day. In response to the many people who asked about where she got the dress, she offered to make one for them. ¡°My fortune is built on that old jersey that I¡¯d put on because it was cold in Deauville,¡± she once told author Paul Morand.

In the 1920s, Chanel took her thriving business to new heights. She launched her first perfume, Chanel No. 5, which was the first to feature a designer¡¯s name. Perfume ¡°is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion. . . . that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure,¡± Chanel once explained. In 1925, she introduced the now legendary Chanel suit with collarless jacket and well-fitted skirt. Her designs were revolutionary for the time—borrowing elements of men¡¯s wear and emphasizing comfort over the constraints of then-popular fashions. She helped women say goodbye to the days of corsets and other confining garments.

Another 1920s revolutionary design was Chanel¡¯s little black dress. She took a color once associated with mourning and showed just how chic it could be for evening wear. In addition to fashion, Chanel was a popular figure in Parisian literary and artistic worlds. For a time, Chanel had a relationship with composer Igor Stravinsky.

Another important romance for Chanel began in the 1920s. She met the wealthy duke of Westminster aboard his yacht around 1923, and the two started a decades-long relationship. In response to his marriage proposal, she reportedly said ¡°There have been several Duchesses of Westminster—but there is only one Chanel!¡±

The international economic depression of the 1930s had a negative impact on her company, but it was the outbreak of World War II that led Chanel to close her business. She fired her workers and shut down her shops. During the German occupation of France, Chanel got involved with a German military officer, Hans Gunther von Dincklage. She got special permission to stay in her apartment at the Hotel Ritz. After the war ended, Chanel was interrogated by her relationship with von Dincklage, but she was not charged as a collaborator. Some have wondered whether friend Winston Churchill worked behind the scenes on Chanel¡¯s behalf.

While not officially charged, Chanel suffered in the court of public opinion. Some still viewed her relationship with a Nazi officer as a betrayal of her country. Chanel left Paris, spending some years in Switzerland in a sort of exile. She also lived at her country house in Roquebrune for a time.

At the age of 70, Chanel made a triumphant return to the fashion world. She first received scathing reviews from critics, but her feminine and easy-fitting designs soon won over shoppers around the world.

Coco Chanel died on January 10, 1971, at her apartment in the Hotel Ritz. She never married, having once said ¡°I never wanted to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.¡± Hundreds crowded together at the Church of the Madeleine to bid farewell to the fashion icon. In tribute, many of the mourners wore Chanel suits.

~ Selected Quotes by Coco Chanel ~ Adapted from GoodReads.com


1) The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.


2) It¡¯s probably not just by chance that I¡¯m alone. It would be very hard for a man to live with me, unless he¡¯s terribly strong. And if he¡¯s stronger than I, I¡¯m the one who can¡¯t live with him. 


3) A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.


4) Don't spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door. 


5) Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.


6) My life didn't please me, so I created my life.


7) Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.


8) You can be gorgeous at thirty, charming at forty, and irresistible for the rest of your life.


9) Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.


10) How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone.


~ General Conversation Questions ~


Group A


1) Chanel's mother died when she was a child. What impact do you think this had on her? Discuss.

2) She grew up in a convent. Are there convents in your country? What is their function?

3) Her father put her in an orphanage. Do you think this influenced her view of men? Explain.

4) Chanel's father was a "peddler". What is a peddler? Are there peddlers in your community? Tell.

5) Do you think Chanel's experience in the convent was positive? How or why not?


Group B


1) What is a millinery? How did Chanel become employed? Are women's hats popular these days?

2) Chanel had affairs with married men. Was this common in your country in the past? Is it now?

3) Does a difficult childhood often produce ambition and success in people, or is it rare? Explain.

4) Do you think women resent the personal behavior of Chanel in her relations with men? Discuss.

5) During WWII, Chanel had an affair with a Nazi officer. Do you consider her a traitor? Explain.


Group C


1) Is thinking for yourself  "Aloud" a reasonable idea? How could this become a problem?

2) To what degree was Chanel an influence on women's rights? Any negative influences? Discuss.

3) How important is fashion in your life? Do you keep up with the latest trends? Why or why not?

4) Why are "brand names" so popular? Why are people so willing to pay high prices for such items?

5) Do you think Chanel's life was a success? How? In the end, do you think she was content?


Challenge: Make your own follow-up questions and discuss them.



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