Monday, October 19, 2009

Coco Before Chanel

I was in New York City this rainy, blustery weekend and saw Coco Before Chanel (Coco avant Chanel in French) at the Paris Theater on 58th St. The film, directed by Anne Fontaine, is a fantastic portrayal of the legendary designer's fascinating early life. French actress Audrey Tautou (Amelie and A Very Long Engagement) portrays Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel. As a fan of Chanel, I was very excited to see the film as I'm sure many fashionistas were.

I'd seen Coco Chanel starring Shirley McClaine on Lifetime, so I knew that Coco did not have an easy childhood by any means. An orphan at a young age, she was a seamstress by day and she and her sister Adrienne (Marie Gillian) sang silly songs in bars at night. She met the wealthy playboy Balsan (Etienne Bartholomeus) who was smitten with her despite her staunch distaste of love and romance. Her sister moved in with a baron who intended on marrying her, so Chanel eventually moved into Balsan's gigantic castle in the countryside where the two formed a unique relationship.

Chanel was considered interesting by Balsan and his friends because she did not look or dress like they did - she often would wear men's clothing. She was disgusted by the lavish parties filled with Balsan's shallow friends. Chanel eventually befriended some of Balsan's friends and helped them tone down their fashion. She would also makes hats for them.

Also in Balsan's circle was an English businessman, Arthur 'Boy' Capel (the handsome Alessandro Nivola). He and Chanel fell in love. Unfortunately, with the way politics were in those days went, he was set to marry a wealthy lady in England.

Their affair continued, and he convinced her to follow her dream and move to Paris to open up a shop. When he was tragically killed in an auto accident, Chanel was devastated.

I loved that fashion was interwoven throughout the film. Though the majority of the film took place before Chanel had become a successful designer, we got a glimpse at how her talent developed. Chanel's distaste for women's fashions - too-tight corsets and tacky adornments - made her want to change the way that women dressed. We got a glimpse into her everyday fashion inspirations, like seeing fishermen in nautical stripes. We even saw her create her first LBD (little black dress) - sans corset.

Chanel once said, "In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different." And different she was! The film was an intriguing look at Chanel's life and all of the obstacles she had to overcome.

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