22. Gabrielle Chanel
Known to the world as Coco Chanel, Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel freed women from the corsets and formal appearance which preceded her designs. Chanel changed women’s clothing fashions, jewelry design, accessories, and her signature product, perfume. Her business expanded in post-World War I Europe, and her influence on women in the upper strata of society brought her into contact with leading politicians and influencers of public opinion throughout Europe and the United Kingdom. Among them were Winston Churchill and the Prince of Wales. Samuel Goldwyn hired her to design costumes for Hollywood films, and several leading stars of film hired her privately to design their clothes, including Greta Garbo.
She became controversial during and after World War II, allegedly collaborating with the German occupiers of France. She closed her shops and businesses during the war, residing in Paris at the Hotel Ritz. Following the liberation of Paris, she was investigated by French intelligence and only the personal intervention of Churchill prevented her arrest. Her collaboration led to legal disputes over her ownership of Chanel perfume. An agreement gave her 2% of ownership for the remainder of her life, giving her $25 million per year, as well as an agreement for the French government to pay all of her expenses. She remains a cultural icon in France, and Chanel No. 5 remains one of the world’s most popular fragrances among women.