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While most people have this image of Chanel as this perservering artist, my image of her is one of a ferociously tough and savvy businesswoman. She was everything a successful businessman was in her day, personally inspired, a union buster, an innovator, frugal, and a woman who believe in quality and service. She had a good part Louis B Mayer. Like Louis B Mayer understood films and audiences, so did Chanel understand clothes and her buying public. Mayer had a brand. It was consistant. Everyone knew that an MGM film was a certain kind of film. That it had a certain style and production values. Chanel likewise. She had a definable, consistant style. Starkness, contrast, ease, simplicity. She was a whiz at marketing. Like Mayer, who sold family values, style and glamour, she sold her public an idea of ideal womanhood, of ease, and luxury.
Mouglalis gives us a Chanel who is naught but bone and sinew, ambition, and brutal sensuality. She is referred to constantly as a “femme independante” and that she is. Chanel remained unmarried and childless throughout her whole life, though she had a succession of well heeled lovers. The film begins with her mourning her great love, Boy Capel. She was not a happy woman and indeed this film portrays her as cold and imperious with a deep, harsh, almost mannish voice. Like the real Chanel, Mouglalis’ Chanel wears deliciously contrasting black and white, and slouches with chic, Chanelesque comfort. She is an autocrat and a perfectionist, fastidious about the appearance of her atelier and her vendeuses.
I adore the look of this film. Chanel herself is a marvel. This is the woman who made black chic and indispensible (well, her and Anna Karenina). While all black looks brutal on most women, on Mouglalis, it works, perhaps because it’s softened by her gorgeous bob and plentiful costume jewelry (another Chanel trademark). Even the interiors have that Chanel aesthetic, crisp black and white contrasts, pared down, elegant, and clean,very deco. In contrast, Chanel’s famously perserved apartment at 31 rue Cambon is still intact, though it features a much more exotic, almost art nouveau aesthetic
The film “Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky” is based on the premise that Chanel and Igor Stravinsky had an affair in the early 1920s when he and his family were staying at her country home after fleeing Revolutionary Russia. The film itself ultimately doesn’t hold water, though it’s a visual and aural feast, interspersed with ludicrous sex scene. It starts off brilliantly with the infamous first and last performance of the Stravinsky/Diaghaliev “Rite of Spring” with its scandalous rhythmic dancing and perverse syncopation and atonality. There was, of course, a riot. Chanel is in the audience, a younger Chanel, still with long hair and long skirts. She’s mesmerized. That magnificent revelation of the avant garde. You get it. You are privy to the artist’s secret. Chanel gets it. When he comes back to France, penniless, Chanel now a patronne of the arts decides that she will take him and his family in. And sleep with him. Her intentions toward him are never clear until the moment she expresses them. She is completely opaque, a charaterization that Mouglalis’ Chanel shared with Audrey Tautou’s younger, spritelier Chanel from “Coco Avant Chanel” (the gamine Tautou bears a far stronger physical ressemblance to the actual Chanel than the lanky Mouglalis).
The film is set in the twenties but Chanel feels timeless. Pretty much anything Mouglalis wears could be worn by a woman today. For the most part Chanel, as an aesthetic and a brand, has aged very well. She never bent to fashion trends and remained relevant and successful. When frou-frou was in, she did simplicity. When the New Look was in, she created the boxy Chanel suit, a style that can still be seen, in one way or another on runways today. There is something incredibly attractive about this woman. A great survivor, who fundamentally believed in what she did, and held an iron fist over Chanel until practically the day she died
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