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A true queen of French fashion, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and her eponymous haute couture house, were born out of an equestrian love triangle– an affair between the mademoiselle and two separate polo players that would help her ultimately set up shop in Paris.

The designer took inspiration from her horseback days, dressing women in men’s polo uniforms with a few feminine tweaks. In doing so, she forever changed the history of women’s fashion, putting them into proper breeches.

Read on to discover the true role that polo played in launching the career of Coco Channel in this article from PoloWeekly.

Coco Chanel’s introduction to polo was unlikely as women and horses never quite crossed paths other than on the sidelines a century ago. Women wearing pants was even rarer, but Chanel was photographed wearing polo pants as early as 1909 entirely breaking with common rules.

Coco Chanel In Polo Outfit
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel pictured with Étienne Balsan (center)

A woman of many affairs, Chanel had been living at Château de Royallieu owned by a nobleman, and her part-time lover, Étienne Balsan (pictured above at her side).

Balsan was a rich playboy who took the orphaned seamstress into his enchanting manor where he had a private stable house and where he practiced polo.

It was through this connection that Chanel eventually made it to Paris. Meanwhile, at the manor, Chanel would ride alongside Balsan often opting for men’s attire rather than a women’s dress for comfort reasons.

In the movie “Coco Before Chanel” (2009), Audrey Tautou even portrays the fashion girl learning to play polo and contemplating life over her love for horses.

Audrey Tautou in 2009 movie “Coco Chanel” playing polo
Audrey Tautou in 2009 movie “Coco Chanel” playing polo

Balsan helped the young designer open a hat boutique on the first floor of his house on Boulevard Malesherbes.

Chanel’s first hats mimicked the form of helmets and clothes often parallel polo uniform she saw Balsan wear.  

It was then that she made a new friend, Arthur “Boy” Capel. The British-man was an accomplished polo player and also the first to invest in Chanel’s own store on Rue Cambon 21. Chanel’s flagship store is now down the street at Rue Cambon 31.

Coco Chanel’s first designs were primarily riding pieces, made as elegant and feminine as possible. Defying old traditions of lace, corsets, underclothes, padding, etc, Chanel dressed her women in pants.

“Coco” breeches would become the talk of the town and the lady herself would be photographed at polo events wearing them.

Chanel was practically the first proponent of athleisure, she wanted women to feel comfortable during active sports without the chances of getting lost in their skirts.

During World War II, women started wearing pants even more for practical reasons, further solidifying the new fashion statement.

While she never wed, Chanel continued her relationship with Capel and his influence on her work is traced throughout. From rhombus stitching on her iconic bags resembling saddles, to the male button-down shirt she made for women, and even riding boots, Chanel always stuck to her original influences.

Her pieces can see seen shot for magazines like Vogue with an equestrian theme, and the designer herself would continue to attend polo games to watch Capel.

Ladies and their horses with riding gear

How did Chanel’s example really affect fashion?

Following her lead, designers continued to gather inspiration from the well-fitted, yet comfortable, polo uniform. Alberta Ferretti would reinterpret the “Coco” breeches, French-Argentine brand Acheval Pampa would offer a Latino take on gaucho pants with an extra bit of sparkle, and Ami would interpret polo hats too (and all these just in 2019.)

In the past years, Dior has staged an entire polo-themed Cruise show and brands would design full polo uniforms. And just like that, as polo changed her life, one woman changed the course of history all for her love of playing polo in comfortable attire.

If you have a story or a topic that you would like to see us cover just email editor@poloweekly.com.


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