Abbey habits that inspired an haute couture legend

The courtyard at the Abbey of Aubazine, looking towards the dormitories where fashion designer Coco Chanel stayed as a child
The Abbey of Aubazine was once an orphanage, where fashion designer Coco Chanel stayed as a child

Samantha David meets the French-speaking, trumpet-playing, Irish-American nun who watches over the now-uninhabited Corrèze abbey that inspired a young Coco Chanel

Such is the glamorous, fast-paced and chic image of designer Coco Chanel, it is probably surprising to learn that much of her creative inspiration came from the six years she spent in an austere orphanage in Aubazine, Corrèze, housed in a Cistercian Abbey run by nuns belonging to the Sacred Heart of Mary.

After her mother's death, when she was 12, Chanel's father left his three daughters at the orphanage, promising to return soon to collect them.  

Life at the orphanage was stark and frugal. There was no running water, no heating, and for Chanel it must have been heartbreaking, waiting for her adored father to reclaim her.

But he never came, and she never heard from him again. She and her two sisters were schooled and taught to sew, and must have been kindly-treated, because Coco Chanel returned to visit the Abbey many times throughout her life.

During her six years there, Chanel learned to love the austere beauty of the ...

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