Friday, May 8, 2009

Coco Avant Chanel

April 22 marked the French release of the film Coco Avant Chanel, a Warner Bros./Sony Pictures movie about Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel's early years. Chanel is played by Audrey Tatou, of Amelie and Da Vinci Code fame. The screenplay is based on Edmonde Charles-Roux's biography of Chanel titled "l'Irreguliere" (The Non-Conformist), considered to be the authoritative work on the "true" Chanel story (Mademoiselle Coco loved to cultivate flowery stories about her life, and the house of Chanel sometimes maintains intrigue about certain uncertainties surrounding elements of her designs). It will be interesting to see a movie-industry take on the story (a good, if not entirely complete, synopsis of which can be found on Wikipedia here); there may be an interesting dialogue between the almost-inevitable additions and embellishments added to make the movie interesting and the fictitious claims made by Chanel in her lifetime.

Apparently Karl Lagerfeld, who is the current designer for Chanel, is overseeing (but not creating) the costume designs. I think he does a wonderful job of reinterpreting Mademoiselle Coco's design ideology for the 21st century, so his understanding of her work will be an asset, I'm sure.

I'm not sure yet where the movie ends; I wonder if the film will touch on the break in her design history. She shacked up with a Nazi during World War II (which damaged her PR in France...) and reopened her house in 1954, gaining widespread success- especially in the United States-in the early 1960s.

Younger fashionistas and the public, who tend to associate Chanel with Lagerfeld's designs, the Chanel suit, and the quilted bag, will hopefully be educated on the more complex and nontraditional elements of Chanel's design credo- sportswear, the appropriation of "lower-class" materials in haute couture, impeccable tailoring skills, and the stripping away of excess adornment, to name a few. These are the things that I really love about Chanel, much more than two-tone shoes and tweed cardigan jackets. Also, every Chanel design incorporates some element that is personally important to her-- the black and white, the camellia, etc.-- all of which are more significant after learning about her history.

If you're interested in more reading, Cecil Beaton's diary includes notes on his lunch dates with Mademoiselle Coco, at that point a relatively elderly woman. Talk about a fiesty old lady- she seems to have been quite the piece of work (which is no surprise).

I have yet to figure out where the film is showing in the states, since it's in French and seems to be appearing only in select theatres. If anyone finds it, let me know!

Here are a few links:
The NY Times review
The trailer (in French)
Some stills from the movie, courtesy of Fashionologie. Looks great!

Undated photo of Gabrielle Chanel, c.1920, from the Life Photo Archive.

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