We're experiencing high velocity Coco mania in France.
The much touted film "Coco Avant Chanel" ("Coco Before Chanel") starring Audrey Tautou of "Les Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain" fame, directed by Anne Fontaine with costume design overseen by none other than Karl Lagerfeld has everyone talking about the fabulous destiny of Coco Chanel. (The couturier and the actress are pictured side-by-side above.)
As one would expect the film and two other recent biopics of her life, one with Shirley MacLaine, the other with Anna Mouglalis, have everyone chattering about what she dared to do for us. Talk about women's liberation.
The bows, the bag, the beads, the bangles and those were just the accessories for the fashion revolution she instigated at the debut of the 20th century. Coco Chanel bobbed her hair; donned men's trousers; made the French Navy's striped T-shirt her own; took simple jersey -- a common, in both senses of the word -- fabric, added couture details and proved in one smooth move how comfort and chic can coexist.
She released women from the constraints of their corsets and showed them a new elegance without the fusty fuss that marked her epoch.
Her iconic suit that falls just-so because of the chains sewn within is as contemporary now as it was then. Surely she would have understood how a woman today would wear her jacket with a T-shirt and jeans, the skirt with a black turtle neck sweater. Both perhaps with her signature black-toed, beige body pumps or ballerinas. Or in any number of the color combinations on her original theme.
The French have a saying: "If he didn't exist, we'd have to invent him (or her)." Perhaps that person is Karl Lagerfeld, the genius who somehow managed to re-ignite the passion for her fashion while making it his own. As the French also say, "there are no wrinkles" on her reputation thanks to his creativity and wit.
You could wear her LBD from 1926 to a cocktail party tonight -- just add masses of beads, cuffs, her black-on-black sling-back pumps and a Chanel bag, maybe in a bright color.
Her Chanel No. 5, the first couture perfume was created in the Roaring Twenties and is to this day the world's most popular scent. Her quilted bag is all a woman needs to own, a camellia on a lapel, in the hair, at the neck -- anywhere -- is the ultimate adornment particularly if one adds upwards of seven strands of pearls and beads to the mix. (Chanel reputedly liked to wear seven strands of pearls.)
If miracles exist in the quixotic world of fashion it is when somehow, simultaneously one can see the past, the present and the future in a single design. How Karl Lagerfeld manages this sleight of hand is the enduring mystery.
(P.S.: I loved the Edmonde Charles-Roux book pictured above.)
"CoCo Avant Chanel" opens in France April 22nd.