Captain Arthur Edward ‘Boy’ Capel,CBE (d. 21 December 1919 in a motor accident) was an English polo player best remembered for his affair with, and influence on the style of, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. He was wealthy and supplied her with resources she needed to open her first shop. His blazers inspired her to put a squared, masculine touch on classic suit designs. Capel was killed in an auto accident in 1919.
In his daughter’s obituary, Capel was described as “an intellectual, politician, tycoon, polo-player and the dashing lover and sponsor of the fashion designer Coco Chanel.”. Nothing else is known of his earlier life; there are hints in biographies of Chanel about his (illegitimate) connections with the Capel earls of Essex but no connection has been established. He was already a rich man, and apparently a self-made man, by 1909.
Capel was portrayed by French actor Olivier Sitruk in Coco Chanel, a 2008 American television movie about Coco Chanel for Lifetime Television which starred Shirley MacLaine as an elder Chanel.
His affair with Chanel apparently lasted from 1909 to 1918 when, as a friend of her then lover Etienne Balsan, he became acquainted with Balsan’s 26-year-old mistress. Capel financed Chanel’s first stores and his own clothing style, notably his blazers, inspired her creation of the Chanel look. The couple spent time together at fashionable resorts such as Deauville, but he was never faithful to Chanel.
Etienne Balsan (1880–1953) was a French socialite and heir. He was a lover of Coco Chanel. Balsan bred the best horses in France and frequently attended horse races. He was abrother of aviator Jacques Balsan, and came from the family of wealthy industrialists from Châteauroux (Indre) who provided the army with uniforms and originated the famous cloth known as “blue horizon.”
Le parc public de Bayser (Royallieu).
Le parc de Bayser (ancienne propriété d’Etienne Balsan) est de nos jours un parc public.
An officer in the cavalry, he renounced his career to breed horses and participate in races. A polo-player, he owned Royallieu, near Compiègne (Oise).
He noticed Coco Chanel in Moulins (Allier) and became her lover. They remained friends throughout their lives. In 1909, when Chanel settled in Paris, he lent her his bachelor flat on the ground floor, 160 Boulevard Malesherbes, and helped her to open a boutique in Deauville. He introduced her to high Parisian society.
His brother, Jacques Balsan, married Consuelo Vanderbilt, the former Duchess of Marlborough.
He was also a lover of Émilienne d’Alençon
Even after Capel married an aristocratic English beauty, he did not completely break off with Chanel. His death, in late 1919, was the single most devastating event in Chanel’s life.
In 1918, Capel married the Honourable Diana Wyndham, née Lister (7 May 1893-1983), a daughter of Lord Ribblesdale and widow of Captain Percy Lyulph Wyndham (killed in action 1914), who was the half-brother of the Duke of Westminster. Diana’s elder sister Laura was married to Lord Lovat, and another sister to a baronet.
By Diana, Capel had two daughters:
1. Ann Diana France Ayesha Capel (1919-4 May 2008). Ann was married three times and had children with her first two husbands. In 1940 she married her first husband, George Reginald Ward (1907-1988), who in 1960 became first Viscount Ward of Witley. Ward was a younger son of the 2nd Earl of Dudley. They divorced in 1951. She had two children with him: a son who died unmarried in his parents’ lifetime at the age of 40, and a daughter. On 7 August 1951 she married Richard Thurstan Holland-Martin (26 December 1908-1968), by whom she had two sons: Barnaby Robert (b. 1952) and Giles Thurstan (1955 – 4 May 2008). They were divorced in 1966. Ann Capel’s third and final husband was Peter Higgins.
2. June Capel (1920-26 September 2006), later Lady Hutchinson of Lullington. June was born after her father died, and he was apparently even unaware of her conception. Thus, he made no provisions for her in his will, and the will had to be contested to ensure that June got her fair share of her father’s fortune (most of it subsequently stolen by a lawyer, according to Lady Hutchinson’s obituary). In 1948 June married Franz Osborn, by whom she had a son Christopher. Her second marriage took place in May 1966 to Baron Jeremy Hutchinson, QC (born 28 March 1915). Hutchinson was the former husband of Dame Peggy Ashcroft. Her second husband was created a life peer on 16 May 1978 with the title Baron Hutchinson of Lullington, of Lullington in the County of East Sussex.
Capel’s living descendants today include the Honourable Mrs Patrick Tritton (daughter of his elder daughter Ann) and three sons by his younger daughter June, Lady Hutchinson. He had no issue with Chanel (who died childless).
French actress Audrey Tatou will play a youthful Coco Chanel. The film, to be called Coco Avant Chanel (Coco before Chanel), will be directed by French director Anne Fontaine. Originally, the film was supposed to be released this 2009.
(Top) Audrey Tatou as Coco Chanel (official poster), (Right) Coco Chanel/Audrey Tatou