Chanel’s iconic interlocking Cs logo is one of the most widely-recognized logos in the world. However, much like Coco Chanel’s life story, much of the origin of the interlocking Cs is shrouded in mystery. A few weeks ago a hairpin belonging to Catherine de Medici, Queen of France in the 16th century, was found at Fontainebleau Palace, a royal residence outside of Paris. A momentous find, the hairpin was the first possession of the Renaissance queen found in modern history. But what makes this find most curious of all is the very familiar looking interlocking Cs.
To fully understand the roots of the interlocking Cs we must take a look into the history of France as well as the formative years of Coco Chanel’s life.
Queen Claude of France
Queen Claude of France is the first person recognized to use the interlocking Cs as her insignia. The interlocking Cs are found at the Château Royal de Blois, where “the symbol was carved in white in the apartments of France’s Queen Claude, who found in the inital “C” an inspiring personal motto: candidior candidis – the fairest of the fair.” (The Secret of Chanel Nº5, Tilar J. Mazzeo, p.107) We get a clearer picture of Queen Claude’s personal apartments in Catherine de Medici, where the authors state: “the apartments of Queen Claude of France…in which may still be seen, delicately carved, the double C accompanied by figures, purely white, of swans and lilies signifying / candidior candidis / – more white than the whitest – the motto of the queen whose name began, like that of Catherine [de Medici] with a C…” (Catherine ‘de Medici, Honoré de Balzac and Katharine Prescott Wormeley, p.54)
Catherine de Medici
Queen Claude of France was Catherine de Medici’s mother-in-law – Catherine de Medici joined the French royals upon her marriage to Claude’s second son Henri II. Having an initial C, like Queen Claude before her, Catherine de Medici adopted the symbol as her own.
It seems Catherine de Medici and Coco Chanel shared not only the “C” initial but also a penchant for jewels. Queen Catherine loved lavish jewels but most of her collection was sold, lost or stolen over hundreds of years. Similarly, Mademoiselle Chanel loved jewelry – both real and fake – and like Queen Catherine, many of her signature pieces were stolen in the hours shortly after her death. To find a piece of Catherine de Medici’s jewelry now is a significant find, and may help unlock some of the mysteries of the Chanel logo.
As a side note, this is not the only similarity between Catherine de Medici and Coco Chanel – both women loved fragrance as well. In fact, one of the many rumors surrounding the creation of Chanel Nº5 is that the formula is derived from “the lost ‘miraculous perfume’ of the Medici queens, an elixir said to preserve aging beauties from the ravages of time.” (The Secret of Chanel Nº5, Tilar J. Mazzeo, p.31)
Another legend says that Coco Chanel saw the interlocking Cs at Château Crémat, a château in Nice that Irène Bretz, and American heiress purchased. Coco Chanel was friends with Ms. Bretz and attended parties she hosted at Château Crémat and “one summer night Coco Chanel looked up at a vaulted arch at one of Irène’s famous parties and found inspiration in a Renaissance medallion: two interlocking Cs.” (The Secret of Chanel Nº5, Tilar J. Mazzeo, p.107)
Chapel at Aubazine
The explanation that Chanel (the modern company) and biographer Justine Picardie subscribe to is that the answer can be found at the Chapel of Aubazine, a Cistercian monastery and abbey that also housed an orphanage where Chanel spent the latter half of her childhood.
A few shafts of light pierce the shadows through the opaque grey and pearl-white windows; there is no figurative stained glass in this Cistercian abbey, but the panes form geometric patterns, knots and loops that look eerily like the double C of Chanel’s logo.
(Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life, Justine Picardie, p. 28).
Capel & Chanel
Justine Picardie also alludes to another meaning behind the double C – Boy Capel and Coco Chanel. Boy Capel was the love of Coco Chanel’s life and Chanel as we know it today may not even exist without Boy Capel. In addition to being her lover, Boy Capel was in some ways a founding business partner of Chanel. He funded her business and her first boutiques and Coco Chanel eventually paid him back his investment.
After Boy Capel’s untimely death, interlocking the Cs of Capel and Chanel was a way of keeping them together. Picardie states:
There was no business contract to bind them together, just as there was no marriage certificate, but it nonetheless joined them, as the double C logo seems to suggest; Chanel and Capel; overlapping, but also facing away from each other.
(Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life, Justine Picardie, p. 74-5).
The Double C Lives On
We will never know where Coco Chanel found inspiration for the Double C Chanel logo. It could have been from long lost loves, royal families, her sad childhood, or a combination of them. What we do know is that the symbol is as mysterious as the woman who made it infamous.
Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life by Justine Picardie
The Secret of Chanel Nº5, Tilar J. Mazzeo (review coming soon!)