I recently came across the 2009 film, Coco Before Chanel, and decided to watch it in hopes of learning more about what drove the tremendous fashion Revolution of the 20th Century. I have always been interested in her story, since Coco Chanel was almost singlehandedly responsible for some of the most dramatic changes in women's fashion.
The movie was full of immoral liaisons, not surprisingly, since Coco and her sister, formally orphans, both found positions as mistresses in their adult life. This struck me as interesting, considering that it would not have been difficult to find a respectable place working as a maid or a nanny back in early 20th Century France. It also tells a great deal about the type of person Coco Chanel was. She despised convention. She was a Revolutionary.
"In any case, such judgments are not really on the movie’s agenda. Rather than take a moralizing or pitying view of its characters, who live according to... the logic of their desires, Ms. Fontaine examines them with curiosity and compassion." says the New York Times.
Although many of the scenes I could not watch, I did learn something from this film. Firstly, Coco Chanel was a cynical person. She saw the beauty of Victorian fashion as constraint and inequality. She took femininity as a curse and used every effort to revolutionize it into a superficial tool that moved society. Coco saw sailors on the beach and immediately designed a striped jersey overall for herself to wear- with pants. She walked around in her own creations, a man's coat, a short haircut, no corset, a perpetual cigarette, and drew the attention of something "different" which was later seen as something "modern", "all the rage", and "classy". The Revolution moved on.
The movie covers only Coco's early life. She went on to become the mistress of some of the most influential men of her time. She was a drug addict for most of her life, injecting herself with morphine on a daily basis. Coco Chanel was rumored to have German sympathies during World War II; in any case, she moved among German elites in Paris during its occupation, even becoming involved in an affair with a noted German officer at the Paris Ritz.
|Early Chanel designs|
Why do these personal events matter so much in the analysis of a celebrated designer of women's fashion?
Perhaps they tell the story better than her clothes. Coco Chanel's designs "liberated" women from a life of traditional morality. They freed women to become the feminist working woman of a brave new world. They stepped toward a hippy nudist culture. They were the first hint of our current nation of slobs. All of these fashion eras are related through a progression of rebellion.
Women are made by God to be ladies with engrained morality based on natural law. Evil hates women to be this way and thus creates an alternative in popular culture, especially fashion.
I assume it is pretty obvious at this point what I think of Coco Chanel and the Fashion Revolution. (Although No. 5 perfume and Chanel jewelry can still be used to accent femininity of course!) The question is, do you agree? Please let me know in the comments below!