COCO Chanel met Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, the 2nd Duke of Westminster, at a dinner in Monte Carlo in 1923.

At the time, Chanel was on the way to achieving global recognition for her work as a fashion designer, and the duke – a landowner known to family and friends as Bendor – was one of the richest men in the world.

Here author Caroline Young delves into their fascinating relationship and how it brought Chanel to Scotland:

THE 2nd Duke of Westminster travelled to Scotland on his destroyer, The Cutty Sark, as it was a long journey on rough roads to access the remote Sutherland region.

The 100,000-acre Reay Forest estate in the rugged north west was originally leased by the 1st Duke of Westminster in 1866 from the Duke of Sutherland, his father-in-law, and Bendor, the 2nd Duke of Westminster, bought it in 1920. This area of the Highlands became his playground, where he held hunting parties and fished for salmon in the bountiful rivers.

One of Westminster’s properties was Lochmore Lodge, a fifty-two-room granite mansion with Victorian Gothic turrets resting on the edge of the loch, and which offered beautiful mountain views. Stack Lodge was the Duke’s sports house on the River Laxford, wood-panelled and with stag antlers above the roaring fireplace.

The bedrooms lay under the eaves, a space that may have brought back fond memories for Chanel of when she lived in an attic room. The lodge was only accessible by a storybook stone bridge over the river. Chanel fully embraced the country sports she was introduced to by Westminster, and reflected that ‘on the moors of Scotland, the grouse are ready to be shot, or the salmon to be fished . . .’

Author Justine Picardie discovered the leather-bound volumes of fishing records in the Reay estate office, where Chanel’s fishing prowess has been forever recorded. Her name first appeared on May 27, 1925, with details of her 9lb salmon catch.

She spent the summer of 1925 on the River Laxford and Loch Stack salmon fishing, with one of her largest catches on September 30, 1925, with a 17lb haul. Such was Chanel’s legend for fishing, she recounted that she chanced upon a Scottish man at the Ritz, Paris, who asked if she was the same Mademoiselle Chanel whose name was in the record books at Lochmore.

‘I learned to fish for salmon. For a year I watched, and I found it very dull,’ she said. ‘And then I tried it, and I fished from daybreak to 11 at night. I adored it. Obviously I was lucky; I fished only the best rivers. I even went to Norway, but up there I wasn’t allowed to fish because the salmon were too tough. They’d bite off your fingers easily.’

Winston Churchill visited the couple in Sutherland in September 1927, which was Chanel’s third annual visit to Westminster’s Scottish estate. Days were spent fishing on the river, and evenings in Stack Lodge involved playing bezique, a popular 1920s card game, by the roaring fire.

Churchill wrote to his wife Clementine in early October 1927 from Stack Lodge: ‘Coco is here in place of Violet. She fishes from morn till night, & in 2 months has killed 50 salmon. She is (very) agreeable – really a (great) & strong being fit to rule a man or an Empire.’

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Chanel’s closest friend Misia Sert also visited Chanel in Scotland at some point in the late 1920s. Chanel’s biographer Claude Delay recalled Chanel telling her that Misia ‘felt like a fish out of water in Scotland. One day she wanted to go to the post. Coco told her it was 20 miles away and asked her if she could ride a horse.’

As a commitment to Chanel, Westminster established a Highland escape, Rosehall House, giving her free reign to redecorate it in her own style. The house on Rosehall Estate, located near Lairg, was sold by the Duke of Westminster in 1930, and left derelict from 1967.

As it fell into disrepair the interiors disintegrated, yet Chanel’s touches lingered on in the decaying walls with the beige colour scheme evident on the painted doors, skirting boards, and timber mantelpieces. Bedrooms were decorated with French floral blockprint wallpaper and a pale pink and beige flower design, while the remaining traces of rose-beige striped wallpaper in many of the rooms hinted at her panache.

Chanel’s bathrooms in Rosehall featured bidets, and while it has been claimed this was the earliest example in Scotland, the bidet was first manufactured by Shanks in Glasgow in the early 1900s, with Chanel’s model from 1912. As well as exporting them to the French market, Shanks may well have supplied to other fashionable homes in Scotland.

There was also a very large wine cellar at Rosehall, which would have been ideal for entertaining. ‘This is a (very) agreeable house,’ wrote Winston Churchill to his wife in May 1928.

In the Highlands, Chanel developed her love for masculine clothing, and often borrowed the Duke’s tweed coats when she was cold. She posed with Vera Bate by the front door of Rosehall, dressed in men’s sports clothing – Chanel in Westminster’s tweed hunting jacket and flannel trousers, with the long sleeves and cuffs rolled up, sturdy boots, cardigan and cravat.

While Chanel’s collections from 1923 had been marked with a Russian influence, her luxury sports clothes reflected her time with Westminster and the clothes she borrowed. Vogue, in 1926, reported that ‘tweed is an essential of the smart new wardrobe.’

Sourcing the tweed fabric for her luxurious cardigan-style tweed jackets, Chanel worked with Carlisle mill Linton Tweeds, founded by highly regarded Scottish textile producer William Linton. He used light boucle woollens in pastels and jewel tones, transforming traditionally rough tweed into a feminine fabric that was popular with the jazz-age denizens of the 1920s.

Linton was born in 1872, in Selkirk, a town that, from the 18th century, grew around cloth manufacturing, and where locals were guaranteed jobs in the mills, learning skills such as weaving, darning and dying. Linton began working as a tweed-maker in Hawick, before taking his business over the border to Carlisle, where he established Linton Tweeds in 1912, as a supplier for the luxury market. Chanel was introduced to Linton in 1928 by fashion designer Edward Molyneux, who was also part of her wealthy Monte Carlo set.

Chanel’s tweed cardigan jackets were worn with pleated skirts and ropes of faux pearls, like the ones the Duke bestowed on her every birthday. She brought French style to traditional, masculine hunting clothing. She told author Paul Morand: ‘I brought in tweeds from Scotland; home-spuns came to oust crepes and muslins. I arranged for woollens to be washed less, so that they kept their softness; in France we wash too much. I asked wholesalers for natural colours; I wanted women to be guided by nature, to obey the mimicry of animals. A green dress on a lawn is perfectly acceptable.’

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Chanel became one of the most prestigious designers to champion Scottish textiles, utilising them in every collection – Fair Isle tricot, tweeds, tartan and cashmere, the last still created in a Scottish Borders mill, Barry’s Knitwear to this day. In 1933, Harvey Nichols advertised a Chanel ready-to-wear sweater: ‘You simply must have at least one of these jumpers . . . the latest creation of Mademoiselle Chanel but actually made in Scotland.’

Living With Coco Chanel: The Homes And Landscapes That Shaped The Designer by Caroline Young is published by White Lion Publishing, priced £22


I’VE always been fascinated by the gloss and romance around the Chanel brand; an orphan raised in a French convent became the inventor of the little suit jackets of the 1950s, the flapper dresses and strings of pearls in bohemian Paris, the sun tan on a yacht in the south of France.

My interest was further piqued when discovering Coco Chanel’s connection to Scotland – the tweeds and cashmere which she sourced from the Borders since the 1920s, and her time spent salmon fishing on the vast estate of the Duke of Westminster, whose clothing inspired her classic twist on the tweed jacket.

In recent years there’s been much talk of Chanel as the Nazi secret agent who lived in luxury at the Ritz with a German officer while those in occupied France suffered. There were thousands of women treated as collaborators at the end of the war, some who were guilty, and some who did what they could to survive. Chanel escaped punishment and was relatively unscathed.

Chanel can be considered a complicated, flawed icon. But I wanted to delve deeper to discover who she was; to visit the places that shaped Chanel’s life, to experience and feel for myself the landscapes that inspired her.

I went to Aubazine, the abbey in the Correze region of France, where she was raised after being abandoned by her father at the age of 12 after her mother died. It’s incredibly remote and quiet, high up on a plateau and surrounded by forests of chestnut and oak, and I discovered this was where the legend of Chanel begins.

The convent was a continuing influence on her life, shaping the austere designs and monochrome palette, and even the double C logo which she first conceived in the early 1920s.

When I visited Rosehall, the Highland home she shared with the Duke of Westminster, I was also struck by the tranquility of the place. I got the sense that Chanel longed after the solitude of life at Aubazine.

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Chanel is often cast as the seducer of wealthy and powerful men, choosing to become a Belle Epoque mistress to further her own career.

But she was living through a time when women in France couldn’t own property without their husband or father’s permission, and as an orphan without riches and family, Chanel’s success came from a tireless work ethic.

She created something new and appealing for society women – a look that perfectly encapsulated the dawn of a new era after the First World War.