August 23 2014

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Coco Avant Chanel, An Appreciation


First off, I don’t like biopics. So when I went to see an advanced screening of Coco Avant Chanel yesterday (the movie opens in New York and L.A. on September 25), the film already had three strikes against it—the aforementioned dislike of biopics; a firm belief that when movie people tackle fashion, nine times out of ten they get it all wrong; and Karl Lagerfeld’s recent diss on Audrey Tautou, who plays the late, great Coco. For all that, I liked the movie. Filmmaker Anne Fontaine has made a fine film about a young woman discovering her passions, personal and professional, and if you work hard to get away from the mythos of Chanel and treat Coco Avant as a conventional love story, then you, dear reader, will probably like this movie, too. Particularly likable: the conceit that Arthur Capel, the English gent who bedded Chanel and then funded her business, fell for her initially because of her amazing sense of personal style. Here’s to that! And this neat bit of dramaturgy—I expect the truth was rather more complicated—is of a piece with the film’s real respect for the art and craft of fashion. There’s a great sequence at the shore, for example, where we watch inspiration dawn on Coco’s face as she sees fishermen dragging in their nets, and in the next scene, she’s wearing one of their boat-neck, sailor-striped tops. And beyond that, Coco Avant Chanel gives fashion its due as a form of expression, a medium for speaking one’s mind about the layout of the world at present. This is welcome. The problem with Fontaine’s movie, however, is that whenever you take the blinders off and recall that the Coco on-screen is a version of the woman who launched what is arguably the single most important brand in the history of fashion, you can’t help but feel like the woman at its center is a bit small. At no point do you feel yourself in the presence of a radical imagination. And there’s something disappointing about the way the film treats Chanel, the brand, as a secondary love affair—the thing Gabrielle Chanel settled for creating once her grand romance with Capel ended. Maybe that’s how it was; I don’t know. I do know that Coco Avant Chanel has inspired me to get out my credit card: If anyone knows where I can find a pair of white silk, navy-trimmed men’s pajamas like the pair Tautou wears in the film, please let me know.

Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics



  1. navare says:

    I cannot wait to see this film, as I am a Chanel and a Tautou fan!

  2. fashionpicks says:

    I completely agree with you on the part of Tautou being able to bring out the personality that was Coco Chanel.Though her lack of physical resemblence to Coco would have made Marion Cotillard unfit for the role, still I feel acting skill wise she is the one who had any chance of making a convincing portrayal of Coco.

    Off the topic, I thought the comments are moderated.How can you let a person(flyinghigher) post a commment promoting Chanel knockoffs for $38 on the very topic that celebrates Chanel??Such a shame.Please do moderate the comments.This person is spamming other posts as well with link to the knockoff website.Please do remove the links,as it reflects poor on you!!

    P Adhikari

  3. fashionpicks says:

    Thanks for taking note of my comment and removing the spammer trying to sell knockoffs!!It feels good to be heard! :-)

    P Adhikari

Dept. of Culture