What Is It With "Gabrielles"?

It shouldn’t surprise you to know that Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel was born to a fashion family. But, with a mother who worked as a laundrywoman and a father who sold undergarments as a street merchant, Chanel’s upbringing was probably not the privileged, pearl-lined one you imagined. After being sent to an orphanage at the age of 12, Chanel worked as a struggling singer in a cafe (where she picked up the name “Coco,” after a song she sang), before meeting a series of men with whom she’d become romantically involved with, whose wealth and connections she’d eventually use to build her own empire. Before her, there were no female ready-to-wear designers. After her, there have been thousands.
Chanel’s background undoubtedly affected the way she thought about her own opportunities, and that of her fellow women. For her, women’s lives and bodies were meant to fulfill ambitions, and they couldn’t be expected to wear corsets and body-shackling garments to do that in. Chanel is credited with creating the easy striped shirt, the unencumbered wide-legged trouser, the practical jersey and tweed suits, the versatile little black dress, and, of course, the hands-free shoulder bag — items that we still consider modern and essential today, nearly 100 years after they were first introduced.
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While you might associate Coco Chanel with the world’s most eminent version of luxury, Gabrielle Chanel should call to mind what challenging the status quo looks like. And, we’re not saying there’s something more special about that name than any other, but let’s just say that when it came to casting this story about local iconoclasts, the hardest part was narrowing down the list — read into that what you will. To celebrate the debut of Chanel’s new Gabrielle bag, we spoke to four women who not only share her same first name, but also her belief that you’re not born into your destiny — you create it.
Kaelen top; Rebecca Taylor Firefly Floral Pant, $375, available at Rebecca Taylor; Mulberry shoes; Chanel Gabrielle Bag, $4,100, available in select Chanel stores.
Gabrielle Korn, digital editor-in-chief of NYLON
How would you describe your identity? How would you describe your style?
"I’m a creative; a feminist; a lesbian; a Taurus; a Millennial. My style reflects all the different aspects of my identity: I love things that are soft and comfortable and allow me to run around all day, but they also need to convey the scope of my job, which is running content at a very cool fashion brand. I like big, unexpected shapes; huge trousers are so fun. I’m also always a little bit goth — I can’t help but throw on a really dark lipstick if my clothes don’t feel vampy enough. I guess my style is power lesbian meets comfortcore meets beach witch."
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Do you feel like a "first" in any way?
"A lot of firsts, actually. I’m the first person in my immediate family to pursue a career in an industry that’s somewhat off the beaten path. My sisters and my parents have impressive careers in healthcare and finance, fields that require specific degrees and are, to a certain extent, not going anywhere. Media is a whole other ballgame — who knows what this industry is going to turn into? I’m the first lesbian in my family, which is a longer story. I’m also the first lesbian editor-in-chief at NYLON. I’m really lucky to have a family that supports me and a workplace that allows me to integrate that element of my identity into the work that I do. I’m the first person to integrate politics into NYLON’s editorial strategy. I was the first person at Refinery29 to write about body hair as something not to shave!"
Tell me about one instance where you felt like fighting against the status quo, and how you pushed back.
"I was a beauty editor for this lovely website before intersectional feminism became so core to the brand and before the internet in general was really embracing diversity. My biggest challenge was to fight to create content that pushed the boundaries of what beauty meant to the reader — when I first started, it was considered taboo to put a woman with very short hair into a roundup of best looks! I had to prove that not only were our readers hungry for content that reimagined beauty as something for everyone (not just a specific thin white heterosexual cis-woman) but that I was the person to create it. I started writing political beauty features as an assistant because I felt so strongly about it, and there was no arguing with the numbers: Our readers responded with gratitude and enthusiasm. I was lucky enough to have editors who supported me, and so once we saw how successful stories were that approached beauty from a different angle, everything started to change."
What does progressiveness look like to you? How are you achieving this through your work?
"For me, the most important piece of progressiveness is your ability to listen. It’s about listening to all different kinds of people and not speaking for them. As writers and editors we have a responsibility to let people tell their own stories, to not assume that we are experts on a community we’re not part of. I think personal essays are really important online—progress in media looks like people from all walks of life seeing themselves represented in the media they consume in a way that is respectful, nuanced, and thoughtful."
What is your destiny?
"The path I’m on is something I create as I go. Sometimes I wish for a crystal ball or a divine spirit to tell me what is going to happen next but most of the time the giant question mark I live underneath is thrilling. I’m constantly reinventing what NYLON’s digital presence means, and the best part of working for the internet is that you literally have to do that in order to keep up. I don’t know if I believe in the concept of destiny as something outside of my control, I see so clearly the way the choices I make shape my life and my future."
Michael Kors Collection Contrast Floral Silk-georgette Blouse, $995, available at Michael Kors; Lela Rose pants; Delfina Delettrez earring; Grenson Agnes Brogue, $360, available at Grenson; Chanel Gabrielle Backpack, $3,000, available in select Chanel stores.
Special thanks to Baby's All Right.
Gabrielle Herbst, singer
How would you describe your identity? How would you describe your style?
"Working artist. Elegance, confidence and comfort are what I look for in my personal style and when I perform. That, and something sparkly to make me feel a little transformed."
Do you feel like a "first"?
"I’m furthering the tradition of art-making in my family. My parents are both experimental artists and I grew up in an environment where love, creation, and art were the highest priorities in life — not money or fame. Although, I suppose I’m the first in my family to tap into the music industry."
Tell me about one instance where you felt like fighting against the status quo, and how you pushed back.
"There have been times where professionals in my field that I respect have in one way or another told me what I’m trying to do is too difficult and want to change my art. They tell me that the field is too competitive, so why not try to be more normal? I push back every day by continuing to do what I love, regardless of the ups and downs in a professional career. Being a woman in the music industry comes with a lot of baggage. If you look at the statistics of women signed to labels, the percentage is extremely low compared to men. It’s important to stay strong and believe in your own message and craft and carve that space out for yourself."
What does progressiveness look like to you? How are you achieving this through your work?
"Being a good listener, and fighting for what you believe in. Also, progressiveness looks like an equal amount of women and people of color being represented in the music industry on labels, festivals, and in the press. I’m always learning how to be more progressive in my work by listening to experiences different from my own, and maintaining honesty in my creations. Staying true to your personal morals and messages in ones career is important."
What is your destiny?
"My destiny is the unpredictable lifestyle of a working artist that doesn’t fit into any clear-cut genre. For me that means developing a fierce inner strength and belief in my own work. I’m constantly reinventing my path and hope that never ends."
Tibi Gothic Floral Edwardian Dress, $1,295, available at Tibi; Orley top; By FAR Lada Leather Nude Boots, $379, available at By FAR; Chanel Gabrielle Bag, $3,200, available in select Chanel stores.
Gaby Wilson, MTV News correspondent
How would you describe your identity? How would you describe your style?
"Being mixed-race and moving every two-three years when I was growing up, I never felt that my feet were planted firmly in a single cultural identity or even a hometown. It made for a sort of confusing upbringing and still makes answering the question "Where are you from?" difficult, but experiencing life that way helped me develop an ability to absorb and find comfort in any given setting (kind of like Mystique but hopefully less evil). I consider that a huge part of my identity.
"I've always had an affection for style and clothes because of their ability to spotlight or camouflage, all while reinforcing a sense of self. I started calling my current style "Sexy Brink! Extra" a while ago as a joke, but it's also pretty accurate. Massive T-shirts, frequently pantsless, lots of crop tops and see-through things, almost always sneakers."
Do you feel like a "first" in any way?
"Absolutely. I was the first in my family to have what some might describe as the quintessential American college experience — my dad took college classes while enlisted in the military and my mom went to school in the Philippines. I'm also the first in my family to live in New York, to work in media, and to meet Kanye West."
Tell me about one instance where you felt like fighting against the status quo, and how you pushed back.
"I feel like I'm fighting against the status quo every day, simply by being a woman of color in front of — and behind! — the camera.
"I make a conscious effort every day to work to the best of my ability to represent voices that haven't historically been given a seat at the table, whether that table is in music, pop culture, politics, or media at-large. That's a massive part of why this job is so attractive and fulfilling to me. MTV has a rich history of putting women on screen, and I'm honored every day to follow in the footsteps of incredible women like Tabitha Soren and SuChin Pak."
What does progressiveness look like to you? How are you achieving this through your work?
"To me, embodying a sense of progressiveness means always looking to the future, and the youth are the future. You see it in the way young independent artists are rewriting the script for the entire music industry. You see it in the way young people have commandeered the culture of every major internet platform from blogs to Youtube to Instagram for their own enterprises. You see it in that group of 21 young people who are suing the federal government for failing to protect the earth against climate change.
"That's something we really stand behind at MTV News, and the faster and more willing you are to open your mind up to their point of view, the easier progress becomes. Plus, there's a Whitney Houston lyric about it, so you know it's true.
What is your destiny?
"As someone who has a harder time looking around and seeing other people who look like me doing the things I'm doing, it does feel a little like I'm having to invent a lot of the path along the way. But I also like to keep in mind that, absolutely everyone is making it up as they go, some people are just more convincing than others.
"I don't know what destiny looks like, but she gave us Beyoncé, so she must be alright."
Alessandra Rich Floral Print Cropped Blouse, $1,019, available at Farfetch; 3.1 Phillip Lim Sleeveless Sweater, $275, available at 3.1 Phillip Lim; Tome skirt; Chanel Gabrielle Hobo Bag, $3,600, available in select Chanel stores.
Gabrielle Prescod, fashion market editor at Interview
How would you describe your identity? How would you describe your style?
"This is actually very on brand for this, but the Chanel fragrance commercials with Lily Rose Depp for the Chanel No. 5 L'eau — it's like I am composed and excessive. Like that is me. It's the best way to describe me in a nutshell. Composed and excessive. Style wise, it would be the same. I'm drawn to so many things and depending on my mood, I can make outfits that range from sexy and chic to downtown and street."
Adidas Originals Navy Suede Gazelle Unisex Sneakers, $100, available at ASOS.
What does progressiveness look like to you?
"Working in this industry allows for me to interpret and express my opinions in an unconventional way. For me, that's doing it through what I wear, what I choose to wear, and what I don't choose to wear. The resounding message of late is women's strength, equal rights, and unity, and its actually visible in the collections. It's not subtle. I think that is so important. That's progress."
What is your destiny?
"I'm a firm believer in making your own destiny. I think hard work and dedication are key drivers of success. Things are not always going to be easy or fun but if you want something badly enough, you put up with all the bad because you know in the end, the pay-off will be worth it. My mom would always joke about me, saying that I'm the type of person that doesn't see things in black and white — I see things in all the different shades of gray. I always try to find a way to make what I think should happen happen. There are so many different shades of gray, so pick one!"