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Highland house of Chanel; She was the woman who revolutionised fashion, whose name still means quality today. Historian Caroline Young tells Anna Burnside about Coco's Scottish links and how her duke lover gave her a home on his estate to decorate.

Byline: Anna Burnside

RESSES with pockets.

DAthleisure. Comfortable shoes. A century before millennial women were ordering these from ASOS, they were championed by Coco Chanel.

And although we associate her with ultra-feminine styles - dainty suits, huge corsages, strings of pearls - she led the way in using comfortable, practical fabrics such as stretchy jersey. She used these to make clothes that fitted women's changing lives.

Scottish fashion historian Caroline Young unpicks the designer's influences in her new book, Living With Coco Chanel. It's a biography with a difference, looking at her different homes and the impact their landscapes had on her work.

Caroline said: "She had such a fantastic life story.

"She came from nothing, her mother died and she was sent to a convent at the age of 12 when she was abandoned by her father.

"She was a self-made lady, she made her choices and luck."

The author had already explored Chanel's Scottish connections with an earlier book, Tartan and Tweed.

In Living With Coco Chanel, she digs into the designer's time in Sutherland in more depth.

This involved a research trip to Rosehall House, part of the Duke of Westminister's Reay Forest estate in the 20s, when he and Chanel were lovers.

It's 100,000 acres of wild Sutherland, where the duke indulged his love of country sports and converted Chanel to the delights of scratchy fabrics and landing huge fish.

He gave her the house and she set about making it her own.

Touches such as imported French wallpaper, the neutral colour scheme that she loved, bidets in the four bathrooms and an extensive wine cellar are still visible today.

The house, uninhabited since the 60s, has been for sale since 2015 - the asking price reduced to PS2.5million - but was recently taken off the market.

Caroline thinks it's a shame that no rich Chanel fan has taken it on.

She said: "It looks amazing on the outside but it's a bit of a wreck inside.

"You can still see the touches she chose, the wallpaper from the 20s, the beige paint on the mantelpieces and the natural wood that she loves.

"I'd like to buy it but I don't have any money. It would cost a huge amount to bring it up to standard.

Everything's falling apart.

"But I could see it working as a boutique hotel. Having that connection would give it a chance." When Chanel was not tweaking the soft furnishings in the 20-bedroom property, she was out in the fields and riverbanks with the duke.

Caroline said: "They went fishing in the nearby loch. She got quite into salmon fishing."

And while she was enjoying the grouse moor lifestyle, she was also absorbing ideas that would appear in her fashion collections.

According to Caroline: "It became part of her look. She liked to borrow pieces from men's wardrobes.

"If she was cold, she'd take a tweed jacket and put it on. That's where a lot of her style developed, from wearing men's sweaters and men's polo shirts."

These were happy days for the designer. She and the duke travelled to Sutherland on his destroyer, the Cutty Sark, then motored inland along the twisty roads.

Her fishing skills improved - the first catch recorded in the estate office is a 9lb salmon in May 1925. She landed a 17lb whopper four months later.

Visitors included Winston Churchill. She made quite an impression on the then chancellor of the exchequer. He wrote to his wife: "She fishes from morn till night and in two months has killed 50 salmon.

"She is very agreeable - a really great and strong being, fit to rule a man or an empire."

Caroline said: "The quote from Churchill underlined that she was a very impressive person, a match for any man.

"She was independent, strong, tough. I could definitely see her landing a huge fish."

Living Coco Caroline White Publishing, PS " Chanel's affair with the twice-divorced duke ended when he remarried in 1930 and she never returned to Rosehall but her business relationship with Scotland endured.She sourced her tweeds from a Scottish textile producer, William Linton, whose mill was just over the border in Carlisle.

He adjusted the traditional heavy weaves to create textured tweeds in pastels and jewel tones.

Chanel began using these for her cardigan-style jackets in the 20s and refined the style throughout her career.

She also sourced knitwear from Scottish mills, a tradition which the fashion house continued after her death in 1971. In 2012, Chanel bought the struggling Barrie mill in Hawick, where its cashmere sweaters had been made for the previous 25 years.

Caroline said: "She liked good quality Scottish woollen goods. It was all about high quality."

Chanel shut up shop during World War II, then staged a comeback in 1954. French fashionistas were underwhelmed by her neat tweed suits but the Americans loved her ladylike but wearable styles, designed to reflect women's busy post-war, servant-free lives.

She kept up her Scots connections, using soft woven fabrics from textile designer Bernat Klein. That love of practicality and comfort continued to inform her creations.

With Chanel, Young, Lion 22 One of her most famous pieces, a black quilted handbag with gold chain, came about because she kept losing clutch bags. She added the strap and created an icon that is still prized today. Caroline is even more impressed by Chanel today thanks to her research. She said: "She kept the secret of being abandoned and never told people. She told fairytales.

"Yet she had this eye for fashion and this wonderful aesthetic. What an extraordinary woman, what a life to have gone through."

she designer of Living With Coco Chanel, Caroline Young, White Lion Publishing, PS22 she

If she was cold, she'd take a tweed jacket and put it on. That's where lots of her style developed, wearing men's sweaters and men's polo shirts


RUNDOWN Rosehall House was at the cutting edge of interior design but has not been lived in since the 60s FADED GLAMOUR Coco's wallpaper and colour scheme are still visible inside the dilapidated house

POWERFUL FRIENDS Chanel and Churchill

LOVERS Duke of Westminster and Chanel in 1924

STYLE ICON Chanel in Paris in 1936. Pic: Lipnitzki/ Roger Viollet/ Getty Images
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 23, 2019
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