The town of Biarritz in France is known mostly as the surf capital of France and one of the best beach towns in Basque country. But it also has an unexpected place in fashion history.
During the first World War, Biarritz was the vacation destination for Europe’s nobility and anyone who could afford to hang with France’s upper crust. Russian princes, British ladies, and most notably Empress Eugénie, France’s last Empress, made the resort town their not-so-secret getaway. But the seaside village was also home to one of Coco Chanel’s first house of couture, a massive project requiring one beachfront mansion, 60 seamstresses, and Chanel’s sister Antoinette. This workshop was monumental as it was the first time that Chanel started making enough money to fully support herself, independently of her lover, Boy Capel.
It was this Biarritz store that gave Coco Chanel the capital and the notoriety to build what is now one of the greatest fashion empires in France and the world. With stores in Paris, Deauville, and Biarritz, Chanel rose to prominence as the war ended and a new kind of independent, fashion-forward women began looking for a wardrobe to match the times.