Sunday, August 23, 2009

Chanel, Cinema Style

Before she was one of the most important forces in fashion, Jeanne Gabrielle Chanel a.k.a. Coco Chanel spent her youth in an orphanage where she learned how to be a seamstress.

Opening September 25th, the film Coco Before Chanel (Coco Avant Chanel) celebrates one of the most influential fashion designers of the 20th century, chronicling the young designer's formative years.

This is not her first time on the screen, large or small. The iconic designer has been heralded in the biopic Chanel Solitaire (1981), documentary Signe' Chanel (2005) and Oscar winning actress Shirley MacLaine donned her pearls and black beret to play the legendary designer in later life in the Lifetime movie Coco Chanel (2008). She was even portrayed by Katherine Hepburn in the 1969 Broadway musical Coco. And in real life, Chanel was a costume designer on the Jean Renoir film La regle du jeu (1939).

MacLaine channels Mlle Chanel

Directed by the stylish Anne Fontaine (The Girl From Monaco), the story weaves the rags-to-riches tale of Chanel, concentrating on her early years. Fontaine referenced the Charles-Roux book Chanel and her World: Friends, Fashion, and Fame and noted, "I had to think about whether it was possible to stick to the first period of her life --the training years, what had happened before Chanel, herself, understood her dazzling destiny."

Director Anne Fontaine

French actress Audrey Tatou embodies both the spirit and sophistication of Chanel as well as the look. You may also recognize her from Amelie and The Da Vinci Code. Keira Knightly was said to have been offered the coveted role and turned it down.

Audrey Tatou as Chanel

Maison Chanel opened their archives for the historical period piece which features everything from the young Coco's Aubazine uniform (which is said to have greatly influenced her style with its black skirts and white blouses) to her classic couture. The daunting task of designing the film's costumes was assigned to costume designer Catherine Letterier who explained, "The Chanel style is distinctive in its cut, the supple hang of its fabric and the perfect simplicity of its finish. The costumes of this film had to be up to the exacting standards of haute couture."

For more on the life of Coco, check out Mademiselle: Coco Chanel/Summer 62 by Karl Lagerfeld and Douglas Kirland and the definitive book (in my humble opinion!) Chanel: A Woman of Her Own (Axel Madsen, Holt, 1991) as well as scores of other tomes.

And for more on the film, check out the official website.

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, Lifetime