Monday, November 30, 2009

Coco: The Woman

Having just seen the film Coco Avant Chanel, I have this desire to purge my entire wardrobe and start over. I won’t, but I will tell you a bit about the icon who changed the way women dressed forever.

The life of Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel is not your typical rags-to-riches story. Accounts of her life vary because she herself told such extravagant lies about her past. It is true that she was born in a poor house and was later given to an orphanage by her father because the only work he could find was far away and too demanding for a single father. Coco learned to sew from the nuns at the Catholic orphanage, a skill that would sustain her in her particularly lean years. She met with failure more than once, and she met it with her characteristic unflinching manner.

The film collapses chapters of her life, and removes the complication of her going into and out of business repeatedly. It also only covers the early part of her designing years, which is to say, before she slept with the enemy, literally. Her storied affair with a Nazi officer during and after WWII enabled her to keep an apartment at the Hotel Paris Ritz, though it cost her dearly in popularity with her beloved France.

Coco was a true original. She began designing during the Belle Epoque, when women’s fashions were at their most complicated. Either because she herself could not afford the fashions of the day or because of her unerring vision of how women should dress, Coco created garments whose lines and textures were inspired by menswear. She discarded corsets and petticoats, but her designs were not lacking in femininity; they just rejected the current definition of it. I confess I'm not a huge fan of what came to be known as the Chanel look. I prefer her work from the early years, and her gowns were always breathtaking. Coco gave women casual elegance. She gave them trousers, interesting textures, perfume … and the little black dress.

How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something, but to be someone.


Jane Grant Tougas said...

I love the way the film foreshadowed fashion staples -- like the LBD, unstructured blazer and the use of jersey.

Rita Finn said...

Jane, I couldn't agree more. I really think the woman was the Einstein of fashion. She changed everything!

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