17 June. Birth of Igor Stravinsky in Oranienbaum near St. Petersburg, where his father is a leading singer in the Imperial Opera House. The family lives on the fringes of court society.
19 August. Birth of Gabrielle Chanel at a hospice in Saumur. Her parents are unmarried. Her father, an itinerant peddler, is away at the time of her birth.
Chanel’s mother dies. With her sister, Gabrielle is taken by her father to an orphanage in Aubazine run by nuns.
Igor becomes a law student at the University of St. Petersburg.
Gabrielle is admitted to a religious institution in Moulins. The convent is both a fee-paying school for young ladies and a free school for impoverished and needy young women. Gabrielle makes occasional visits to Varennes-sur-Allier where, under her aunt’s tutelage, she learns how to sew and fashion pleats.
Igor becomes a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov.
Gabrielle distinguishes herself as a seamstress and, after taking a room independently, begins to keep the company of lieutenants in the Tenth Light Horse Brigade, among whom she enjoys her first lovers.
Gabrielle makes her debut as a poseuse (one of a number of young women enlivening the stage behind the main acts) at La Rotonde. She gains the nickname “Coco” from two songs: “Ko Ko Ri Ko” and “Qui qu’a vu Coco dans l’Trocadéro?” The sobriquet sticks.
Igor graduates successfully with a law degree.
Coco leaves for a season as a singer in Vichy. She begins to design and make her own hats and gowns. After failing auditions with her “voice like a crow,” she is employed as a water giver at the municipal baths. In the winter, she returns to Moulins.
Forbidden by a czarist decree to marry his first cousin, Catherine Nossenko, Igor finds a priest in a remote village outside St. Petersburg to perform the ceremony. No member of either family is present. Rimsky-Korsakov agrees to act as a witness. The couple set up home in Ustilug in southern Russia.
Coco’s friend and sometime lover, Étienne Balsan, inherits money and purchases an estate at Royallieu, where he breeds racing horses. Coco goes with him as an “apprentice.”
Igor’s Symphony in E Flat is performed by the court orchestra in St. Petersburg. His first son, Theodore, is born.
Coco lazes around, taking advantage of château life. She impresses all as a horsewoman and fraternizes with stars of the turf. She makes occasional sorties to Paris.
Coco meets Arthur Capel (“Boy”). Bored with leisure and equestrian life, she begins to make hats for friends.
The Stravinskys’ first daughter, Ludmilla, is born.
Set up by Étienne in an apartment in Paris, Coco begins business as a milliner and becomes an immediate success.
Premiere of Stravinsky’s Firebird—his first collaboration with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Igor sets two of Verlaine’s poems, “La Lune Blanche” and “Un Grand Sommeil Noir,” to music. A second son, Soulima, is born.
Coco begins an affair with Boy and moves premises to rue Cambon, number 21, where she is licensed as a milliner.
Igor completes Petrushka. A critic describes the score as “Russian vodka with French perfumes.” He meets Debussy and Ravel and dedicates his next piece, King of the Stars, to Debussy, who comments that it might receive performances on Aldebaran but “not on our modest Earth!”
Coco makes hats for leading theater productions and encounters a wide circle of artists.
The Rite of Spring is conducted by Pierre Monteux at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris on 29 May. The music, together with Nijinsky’s choreography for the Ballets Russes, causes a riot. Coco attends the opening performance. She opens her first shop in Deauville. On its white awning, her name is stenciled in black.
Igor’s Nightingale is premiered. Exempted from military service, he seeks refuge from the war, in Lausanne, Switzerland. Birth of his last child, Milène.
Baroness Rothschild patronizes Chanel’s shop. Coco enjoys her first success as a dress designer.
Aristocratic ladies fleeing an advancing German army repair to Deauville and to Chanel’s to restock their lost wardrobes. Chanel turns out nurses’ uniforms for those who volunteer help in hospitals and makes chaste bathing costumes for highborn ladies. She opens a shop in Biarritz across from the casino. Her total workforce now numbers sixty.
Coco gains complete financial independence. With most male designers co-opted into the war effort, she is left clear to mop up the fashion market. Her workforce expands rapidly to three hundred.
Following the Revolution, Igor is forced into permanent exile from Russia.
Igor’s Soldier’s Tale is premiered in Lausanne.
Boy dies in an automobile accident. Heartbroken, Coco has her bedroom decorated all in black, including black curtains and bedsheets. She goes to Venice with her friend Misia Sert to recover. There she meets Diaghilev.
Igor’s Five Easy Pieces is performed in Lausanne.
Igor rearranges the music of Pergolesi for his ballet Pulcinella and finishes his Symphonies of Wind Instruments. He also revises The Rite of Spring.
Coco moves from number 21 to number 31 rue Cambon, registering for the first time as a couturiere. Diaghilev—whose name W. H. Auden will use as a slant rhyme for “love”—introduces her to Stravinsky. Igor is invited to stay, along with his family, at her newly purchased villa in Garches. The two become lovers. Coco meets Grand Duke Dmitri, with whom she later has an affair. In the same year, Chanel No. 5 is born.
Following the death of her maid, Marie, from Spanish flu, Coco sells the villa in Garches and takes an apartment in the Faubourg. A piano is the first piece of furniture installed. Stravinsky and Diaghilev are among those who regularly visit and play. Chanel meets Picasso and the poet Pierre Reverdy, whom she takes as a lover. No. 5 is launched commercially.
Igor composes The Five Fingers and enjoys a successful revival of The Rite of Spring, sponsored by Coco Chanel. He meets Vera Sudeikina, who will eventually become his second wife.
Igor divides his time between the family home and Vera’s. Thanks to Catherine’s tact, his mother—who is reunited with the family in Biarritz—remains oblivious of her son’s affair, as she will until her death seventeen years later.
Coco designs costumes for Cocteau’s Antigone, so beginning a long professional association.
Igor’s Les Noces (The Village Wedding) is completed.
Igor comes to prominence as a virtuoso pianist and undertakes his first tour of the United States.
The year of the little black dress. Its funereal chic scandalizes and captivates Parisian society. Like the Model T Ford, it will become a design icon. Reverdy leaves Paris. Coco meets Winston Churchill and is courted by his best friend, the Duke of Westminster. The affair lasts for five years, and there is much speculation in the British press about marriage. During this time she tries desperately, but unsuccessfully, to have a child.
Coco designs the costumes for Cocteau’s Orphée. She begins a fashion for wearing mismatched earrings, sporting a black pearl in one ear and a white pearl in the other.
Igor collaborates with Cocteau on a production of Oedipe Roi. Coco designs and makes the costumes. Struggling to keep up with demand, she grants sole right to manufacture and sell Chanel No. 5 to the Wertheimer brothers. Over the years, she is to have many battles with the family, who regularly block her attempts to launch or promote new scents.
Igor writes the music for George Balanchine’s Apollon Musagète , calling it a “white” ballet—a ballet based, in other words, entirely upon abstract choreography, devoid of any narrative or expressive interest, and performed in monochrome. Again, Coco provides the costumes.
Both Igor and Coco visit Diaghilev on his deathbed. Coco organizes and pays for his funeral and burial on the mortuary island of San Michele near Venice.
Igor composes The Symphony of Psalms.
The Duke of Westminster, tired of Coco devoting so much time to couture in Paris, finally elects to marry a fellow aristocrat (Miss Loelia Ponsonby). Coco’s reaction is typically combative: “There have been several duchesses of Westminster. There is only one Gabrielle Chanel!”
Coco is inveigled to Hollywood by Samuel Goldwyn and contracted, for one million dollars, to costume the stars exclusively, both on-screen and off. She goes with Misia, and the studio supplies a special train from New York decked out in white. Though she is fêted like royalty, and supposed to visit twice a year, her stay is brief and she never returns. She is suspicious of Hollywood, which she sees as controlled by Jews. She designs costumes for three films only, including Tonight or Never with Gloria Swanson.
Coco has a liaison with designer and cartoonist Paul Iribarnegaray (“Paul Iribe”). She sponsors the ultranationalist and anti-Semitic newspaper Le Témoin, for which he is an illustrator. She allows her face to be used in drawings to represent the French republic against the threat of “aliens.” The Fascists, it is claimed, learn from Chanel the power of the color black. The same year, Coco hosts a private exhibition of diamonds designed by herself—an apparent volte-face for a woman who, until now, has done much to democratize costume jewelry and ennoble fake gems.
Coco moves to the Paris Ritz and leaves the Faubourg for La Pausa. As a result, Joseph, her butler, is dismissed. The two part on bad terms. He has worked for her loyally for seventeen years. Despite many lucrative offers from newspapers and biographers, he reveals nothing of the secrets of Chanel’s household.
Igor finishes Persephone. He becomes a French citizen.
Igor performs, with his son Soulima, Concerto for Two Solo Pianos in Paris. After a second U.S. tour, he moves to Biarritz.
Coco grieves after the sudden death of her lover Paul Iribe.
The Chanel staff strike following Coco’s refusal to implement a government directive reducing the working week to forty hours. She is refused entry to her own shop.
Igor attends the opening of the Athénée in Paris. He seats himself next to Coco in the audience. Card Game is premiered in New York. He is invited to Hollywood as a guest of Charles Chaplin, himself an accomplished composer.
Igor’s daughter Ludmilla dies of tuberculosis. She had been working for Chanel.
Coco, in response to the constant strikes that have beset her shops, announces that Chanel is closing down.
Following the death first of his wife and then his mother, and with Europe on the brink of war, Igor emigrates to the United States and sets up home in Beverly Hills, California. Arnold Schoenberg, Igor’s chief rival, lives a ten-minute walk away. The two never meet. Igor does, though, meet Walt Disney, who, for a handsome fee, appropriates The Rite for his film Fantasia.
Coco designs the costumes for two French films, The Marseillaise and La Règle du Jeu.
With Catherine now dead, Igor is free to marry his mistress of twenty years, Vera Sudeikina.
Coco remains in Paris during the war. She takes a German lover, a high-ranking Nazi officer, von Dinklage, or “Spatz,” who had terminated his first marriage some years earlier upon discovering that his wife was partly Jewish. Unusual for a French citizen, Coco is allowed to keep her suite at the Ritz. She attempts, unsuccessfully, to regain control of her perfume business from the Wertheimer brothers, citing Nazi laws that forbid Jews to control the manufacture or sale of goods.
While loathing the Nazis, Igor nevertheless flatters and courts Mussolini. When the Nazi press describes him as Jewish, Stravinsky is quick to deny it. The best part of his European income comes from Germany.
Igor composes Circus Polka for a parade of elephants at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The elephants find the piece rhythmically difficult.
Coco hatches a bizarre plan, dubbed “Operation Modellhut,” for a peace settlement between England and Germany. She tries to contact Churchill and visits Berlin, where she conducts secret talks with senior Nazi officials, including Schellenberg.
As the war ends and Hemingway downstairs “liberates” the Ritz with members of the Resistance, ordering seventy-three martinis in the bar, upstairs Coco is arrested upon suspicion of collaborating with the Fascists. The Duke of Westminster—and possibly even Churchill himself—intervenes. She is quickly released and leads the life of an émigrée, mostly in Lausanne, Switzerland, where her neighbor in time will be Charles Chaplin, on the run from Communist witch hunts.
Stravinsky becomes an American citizen. At his naturalization ceremony his chosen witness, the film star Edward G. Robin-son, is discovered to have been an illegal immigrant for over forty years. With his Ebony Concerto, Igor attempts to mix the strategies of classical music and jazz.
Igor meets Robert Craft, who will become his musical champion, chronicler, and confidant for the remainder of his life.
Coco and Igor meet for lunch at Maria’s in New York.
Misia Sert dies. Chanel washes and perfumes her body, dressing her in white and festooning her bed with white flowers. She attends the funeral dressed in white, as she did for Diaghilev.
First performance of Igor’s opera The Rake’s Progress, with libretto by W. H. Auden.
Igor is a convert to the twelve-tone chromatic or serial system of composition, long championed by his recently deceased rival, Arnold Schoenberg.
After eight years of exile, and aged seventy, Coco decides to return to Paris and throw herself back into her work.
5 February. Coco launches her fashion comeback in Paris. After an initially cool reception, she dominates the fashion scene until her death.
Coco’s aunt and friend Adrienne dies.
Igor’s Agon is first performed: another “white” ballet, for twelve dancers.
Coco designs the costumes for Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad.
Igor visits Russia at the invitation of Soviet authorities. He composes The Flood for CBS television. He is a guest of John F. Kennedy at the White House.
The assassination of JFK in Dallas. Next to the president, Jackie is wearing a pink wool Chanel suit, which is spattered with blood.
Igor composes his Elegy for JFK.
Coco, a musical version of Chanel’s life, appears on Broadway with libretto by Alan Jay Lerner, music by André Previn, and costumes by Cecil Beaton. The septuagenarian Katharine Hep-burn is engaged to play Chanel. Coco, in suggesting “Hepburn” for the role, had meant the much younger Audrey. Instead of covering, as promised, the 1920s and 1930s, the musical fashions a saccharine version of a seventy-year-old’s comeback. Pandering to American audiences, the scenario suggests erroneously that it was an American designer who helped her make the crucial decision to return to work. With a budget of nine hundred thousand dollars and a mirrored set, the show is the most expensive in Broadway history. Coco hates it. The reviews are lukewarm. Plans for a film by Paramount are shelved.
Largely for medical reasons, Igor moves to New York.
Chanel No. 19 is launched, the number reflecting the date of Coco’s birth.
Coco dies in her bedroom at the Ritz on Sunday, 10 January. On her bedside table is an icon given to her by Igor in 1925. At her funeral service in the Madeleine, the church is filled with her favorite white lilies. She is buried in the main cemetery in Lausanne, Switzerland. On her headstone are five marmoreal lions.
Igor dies on 6 April in New York at the age of eighty-eight—one year for every key on the piano. His funeral procession in black gondolas along the Venetian canals is accorded the same pomp and ceremony usually reserved for a head of state. He is buried on the mortuary island of San Michele, Venice, close by the grave of Diaghilev, who was laid to rest there by Coco forty-two years before.
A new perfume, Coco, is launched.
Karl Lagerfeld, the new Chanel fashion impresario, launches a new collection for the 1990s at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées . The pageant opens to the music of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.