Monday, 27 July 2009

Oui Coco, Oui Coco

Coco Avant Chanel portrays the story of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel before she conquered the world of fashion and revolutionised the way women wear clothes.  Encapsulated by Audrey Tautou in Anne Fontaine's new film 'Coco Avant Chanel', Chanel was born in Saumur, France on August 19 1883 and died on 10 January 1971.  During her lifetime she popularised casual and comfortable clothing for women without them losing an inch of style or elegance.  The film focuses on Coco before Chanel though.  It begins with images of her childhood where Coco and her sister were orphaned to a Convent in France.  Every Sunday, Gabrielle – before she was known as Coco waits in vain for her Father to visit.  She notices the simplicity and monochrome on the nuns’ uniforms, this shapes her whole take on Fashion. 

Coco worked as a dressmaker and after a brief career as a singer in French Cafes with her sister where she acquired the nickname Coco, Chanel finds herself as a Mistress of Etienne Balsan, a wealthy Military Officer.  The relationship she has with Balsan is odd and endearing at the same time.  Balsan is intrigued by Chanel but also embarrassed by her leeching onto him and her “dowdy” dress sense.  Undeterred, Chanel cuts up his clothes and her brain processes the designs she wants to make.  The wealthy world she has found herself in enables her to change it.  She refuses to wear corsets or “ridiculous” hats instead she customises male tailored clothes and rides a horse the male way!  A revelation for the over styled and pulled in to within an inch of their lives women around her.  By designing hats first of all, Chanel wins over the audience around her and falls in love with an English industrialist called Arthur “Boy” Capel.  As Chanel’s popularity rises within her social group, Balsan proposes to her.  Coco is the unique diamond in the rough for these men and the social group around her, or perhaps pearl is a better description, as pearls become the finishing touches to her beautiful designs later in her life.

Coco’s relationship with Boy flourishes and a beautiful seaside trip scene occurs in the film where Coco falls in love with stripes as she watches the fishermen in their stripey shirts reel in their catch.  Coco also wears a groundbreaking simple Little Black Dress at a Dance with Boy amongst the busy Edwardian uncomfortable designs of the time. 

Boy breaks Chanel’s heart as she had always feared by marrying an English aristocratic woman.  This is not the end of their affair though and with the financial help from Boy, she opens her first Milliner shop in Paris which is an instant success.  A tragic ending ensues though and this is where our story finishes.

This bio of Coco Chanel is an endearing and lovely watch but one can’t help hungering for more – perhaps the future films focusing on Chanel will show in film more of the life she led.  Audrey Tautou is scrumptious in the picture, Fontaine claimed she picked Tautou for her “little black bull side” and this is a phrase that rings in my ear whenever I see Tautou, this was the part she was born to play and charms us in it completely.  

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