I love Chanel. Seriously - since childhood, I've been obsessed with someday, somehow owning some tiny piece of Chanel something. I even (somewhere, although sadly I could not dig it up for this post) have a photo of me in West Palm Beach, Florida, over Spring Break in 1991, kissing the door of the Chanel boutique. (It was closed...night-time.) In college, I ripped Chanel advertisements out of Vogue and taped them all over my dorm room walls. I was determined to someday wear Chanel.
Flash forward almost 20 years, and I do wear Chanel - No. 5. (It's about all I can afford and the library really isn't the ideal place for haute couture...) Last fall, I heard about a French film starring Audrey Tatou, documenting the early life of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, the iconic founder of the House of Chanel. To my knowledge, it never actually made it to Evansville theatres. And believe me, I checked.
Now available on DVD (in French with English subtitles), Coco Avant Chanel is a wonderful movie about the early life of Coco Chanel, based largely on the biography by Edmonde Charles-Roux, entitled Coco Chanel: Her Life, Her World, and the Legend Behind the Legend She Herself Created, published in 1975. The movie documents Chanel's life from the age of 12, when she and her sister were abandoned by their father at an orphanage - to the beginnings of her serious career as a designer - first of hats, then of couture. The movie focuses primarily on her personal relationships with men - mainly Etienne Balsan (Chanel was his mistress for several years) and Arthur "Boy" Capel, an English businessman who (although married) was rumored to be the love of Chanel's life. If you're familiar in any way with Chanel and her contributions to the fashion world, you can see through the film how this period of Chanel's life impacted her later career. If you are not familiar with Chanel in any way, this film shows the tremendous impact she made on fashion for women - she was very much a champion of comfort (yay) and practicality - of women dressing for themselves and not for men. The film - shot in the French countryside, in Paris, and in Deauville - is luxurious. The music, by Academy-Award nominated composer Alexandre Desplat, is haunting. As always, Audrey Tatou is elegant and lovely. I would have enjoyed a longer movie that explored some of the more scandalous aspects of Coco Chanel's life - including allegations that she was a Nazi sympathizer - but it was still quite good in its rather (my opinion) abbreviated form. (One of the really cool things about this movie is that is was made almost entirely by women.)
A more contemporary take on related subject matter is The Septmber Issue: Anna Wintour and the Making of Vogue, which documents the assembly of the famous, massive September "Age Issue" of American Vogue magazine. The film largely focuses on Vogue's editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who is well-known as one of the most powerful women in fashion and publishing (it is rumored that the Miranda Priestly character (played by Meryl Streep) in the film The Devil Wears Prada is loosely based on Anna Wintour.) If you're interested in high fashion, this documentary is an interesting look into the high-pressure process of putting together an issue of an iconic fashion magazine by a legendary fashion editor and aficionado. You see not only Wintour, but her entire staff at Vogue including former fashion model and Creative Director Grace Coddington, in addition to famous fashion photographers like Patrick Demarchelier and Mario Testino and Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld working feverishly and sometimes petulantly to get this thing assembled.