A feminist, a rebel musician, a tennis prodigy and the divine Coco Chanel
“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.”
Everything we know about France and French women, we learnt from Coco Chanel. In the eyes of the world, all French women are as effortlessly chic, as full of drive, and as stylish and fashionable as Ms. Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel.
The daughter of a laundrywoman and a street peddler, Coco lost her mother at the age of 12, and spent much of her teenage years in a convent where she learnt sewing, an art that helped her find her first job as a seamstress. Though she held aspirations of being a stage performer, her voice never quite matched her dreams, and she eventually found fame with her boutique of clothes, and eventual fashion lines.
A lot of what we know about modern fashion comes from Chanel – her emphasis on simplicity, her fondness for jersey dresses and easy-to-wear silhouettes over the much-corseted and fussy designs that were en vogue at that time, and her capability for reinvention.
But more than just the fashion, what we like about Coco Chanel is her tenacity, and her ability to grab life with both hands. She became famous and successful through sheer will power, blithely disregarding existing social norms, and unafraid of public opinions. What she wanted- be it men or businesses-she conspired to get. Where she lacked, she let her fabrications and confidence power her through.
Even if we were not grateful to her for having transformed fashionable women from mannequins to be admired to active individuals who could look tres chic while riding a horse, we would adore her for single minded ambition and refusal to play nice.
The WTA today is ruled by women in their late 20s and early 30s, with agency over their careers, and a willingness to graft. But it wasn’t always the same. There was a time in the late 90s when pushy parents and coaches competed with each other to send their unformed proteges out on the field. Girls not old enough to vote or drink won Grand Slams and gave press conferences with the confidence of someone much older. There were a lot of flaws with that system, and there are a lot of women out there who had to struggle to emancipate themselves from this cycle of expectations and abuse. But at the apex of this movement stood one undeniable star- Martina Hingis.
Maybe it’s just the Swiss connection, but when Martina first burst into the tennis firmament, she resembled an older version of Johanna Spyri’s Heidi with her ruddy cheeks, flaming curls, and hesitant girlish smile. Legend has it that her mother/coach named her after the other great Martina when she was born (no pressure then). Between 1997-1999, players more experienced than her dreaded her quick shots, ability to scamper across the court and that lethal two handed back-hand that landed her 5 Grand Slam Singles titles. Unfortunately for her, she was unable to complete a career grand slam, having never won the French Open. Injuries kept her out of the game after 2001, and though she attempted to mount several comebacks, was never quite successful except in the Doubles game.
In her prime Martina made just as much news for her tennis as she did for her mean spirited comments about her competitors and her arrogance. In retrospect, it is easy to look at those flaws as those of someone who led a largely sheltered and regimented life as a child prodigy. But this unfortunately meant that she was never quite as beloved as a Graf or Seles or even a Davenport. Bratty teenager or not, she shone undeniably the summer evening she defeated Jana Novotna to become the youngest ever Wimbledon Singles Winner. And no one can take that away from her.
Dolores Cocuango was born in great poverty, the daughter of Indian serfs from the Kichwa tribe. She received no education, and little by way of a childhood, when she was sent to work at a hacienda at the age of 13.
But Dolores was to become one of the key architects of the movement to preserve the rights and the ways of living of indigenous Ecuadorians. Starting with strikes in the hacienda, and then participating in the movement to return the indigenous owners their lands, Dolores went on to become a key member of the Ecuadorian Communist Party. She is particularly remembered for her efforts to educate indigenous populations by establishing the first bilingual schools in Ecuador- which imparted education in both Spanish and the local Kichwa language. While Dolores was unfortunate enough not to see her efforts bear fruit in her lifetime (the military junta closed down these schools by denouncing them as communist camps), she is remembered fondly today as Mama Dulu, and contributed significantly towards Ecuador’s ultimate return to democracy and a more inclusive regime.
One of the founder of Ecuador’s feminist and native rights movement, she remains a figure of inspiration and reverence to many around the world.
A tiny republic in Central America, Honduras has seen its share of troubles, the most recent of which was the coup d’etat in 2009. As one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries (with the world’s highest rate of homicides), it is a nation that sees frequent emigration to both Spain and the United States. A lot of the “famous” Hondurans we researched were those who were effectively American, or children of Honduran origin- including some baseball players and actresses that you may recognize.
But the woman (and the voice) we fell in love with it was that of the divine Karla Lara. Karla believes in revolution by way of music. Not only does she believe in producing an authentic “Honduran” sound, but also she uses her music as a way to raise awareness about women’s issues and the plight of workers in Honduras. Her music is popular in much of the Spanish world, and she has collaborated with many Central American bands to create lilting songs of rebellion.
Just listen to her joyful notes here and we promise you will spend hours searching for more on YouTube.