Coco before Chanel

I watched a great movie over the weekend – Coco avant Chanel.

Audrey Tatou as Coco Chanel

The title is pretty self-explanatory, its obviously about the life of Coco Chanel (whose name was actually Gabrielle btw) and how she became the trailblazing designer and founder of THE brand of the world. 

I love fashion, and for me, Chanel is right at the top.  It beats every other fashion house in terms of elegance, sophistication and history.  It’s creations have always been timelessly classic, uber elegant and oh so chic (barring, of course, the latest few fiascos of full-body fur suits and what not). 

The movie depicts Coco’s rise to the top, but its not as cliched as it sounds.  She is an orphan who works as a seamstress during the day and sings at a cabaret bar/parlour with her sister to earn money, and even then she’s extremely picky about who to take it from and the line between singing and selling your body.  The song that she performs is extremely catchy and about a a little puppy called Coco who is lost: Qui qu’a vu Coco dans l’Trocadéro? (Who’s seen Coco in the Trocadero?) This is how Gabrielle earned the nickname of Coco.

She catches the eye of a baron by the name of Balson and it is through this liaison that she makes her entrance into the high society.  Balsan himself is a character who I, as a viewer, both despised, pitied and even empathised with; his multifacetedness is depicted brilliantly.  As much as she desperately wants to go to Paris and become rich and famous, she is equally disdainful of the opulence that she witnesses in the social circle of the creme de la creme.  Hers is a paradoxical nature, and though she knows she was destined for greatness, she’s also puzzled about where it is that she belongs or what her place in the world really is. 

She starts designing hats for the society women and begins to make a name for herself for having a minimalistic and chic approach to accessorizing.  This is emphasized immensely in the movie by the way Coco prefers to dress up in men’s trousers and vests instead of soft, pink and lacey gowns.  She refuses to wear a corset, preferring instead that the fabric fall naturally on the body, and she continuously mocks the other women under her breath for their excessive display of jewels and use of rich fabrics.

The movie also shows Coco’s affair with the English businessman Arthur Capel, and its tragic end was so beautifully depicted that anyone who’s ever had a love story cut short will definitely be able to relate.  It also offers an explanation for why Coco never married, as she herself says in the movie that she is not the type of woman to marry.  I think there’s a direct quote from her regarding why she never married a certain Duke, and she just said that there are many Duchesses but only one Chanel.  Sigh.  She was a woman ahead of her time and exasperatingly independent, truly deserving of the being the icon she became.

The REAL Coco in 1938, oozing with oomph

Audrey Tatou does a fantastic job at playing the role of Coco, she lives and breathes the character through every nuance and every gesture.  She embodies the essence of Coco, and bears a startling resemblance to the icon.  It may not be a subject of interest for many, but for anyone who has even the slightest inclination towards or passion for fashion, this movie is a must-watch.  There were so many instances that inspired me, and I was just in awe of it all.  The outfits are all amazing, and it’s really fascinating to watch the origins of the simplistic, demure and ultra chic designs that the fashion house of Chanel is so renowned for creating.

Note:  The movie is entirely in French so if you are flunet in the language, it’s a rela treat to watch.  Otherwise, keep your English subtitles on and the experience is just as gratifying.