I’m pretty much a Chanel girl. My fashion palette is predominantly black and white, and my favourite perfume is Chanel No.5. In fact, I even attended Chanel College, a local boys school in Geelong in my VCE year (to study French, no less). In the past two weeks I have also seen as part of my DVD catch up fest two Chanel movies, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky and Coco Avant Chanel.
Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky looks at the affair between Chanel and Stravinsky and is set in 1920, the year in which Chanel No. 5 was released, while Coco Avant Chanel depicts the fashion designer’s life before she attained iconic status, concentrating on her relationship with two men, Etienne Balsan and Englishman Arthur “Boy” Capel.
Both films look beautiful and elegant, though I think in both cases it is a matter of style over substance. Coco and Igor is based upon a novel which fictionalises the alleged affair, which commenced when Chanel invited Stravinsky, his wife and their family to stay at her country house.
Coco Avant Chanel, while starting out establishing dates for particular pivotal moments in Chanel’s life, seems to forget this device as the film progresses. Her affair with Boy Capel, for example was said to have lasted 9 years, yet this is not established in the film.
In both films Chanel is portrayed as quite ruthless, not letting anyone stand in her way of obtaining what she desires, and quite unsentimental. The actresses who portray her both do a sterling job in their roles. In real life they both represent Chanel, with Anna Mouglalis (Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinksy) modelling jewellery and Audrey Tautou (Coco Avant Chanel) the face of Chanel No.5.
Of the two, Audrey Tautou (Amelie) is able to convey an inner fragility, which belies her tough appearance. The final shot at the end of the film shows Tautou displaying an uncanny resemblance to Chanel herself, as models wearing her classic couture descend a mirrored staircase.
In many ways, her later life, with her links to the British royal family and her activities in Paris during World War Two would have been the basis of a more substantial, and certainly more controversial, movie.
This has definitely whetted my appetite to find out more of her life, and fully intend to read the latest biography by Justine Picardie. It will make for a good read on the train!