Photo Credit: The New Yorker
Monday night, after waiting a few days in anticipation for my next Netflix movies to arrive, I finally received two fashion-related films that I’ve been anxious to see: Brüno (Larry Charles, 2009) and Coco Before Chanel (Anne Fontaine, 2009). Needless to say, I watched not even 5 minutes of Brüno and decided that it needed to be sent back immediately, if not sooner. Alas, it was quickly resealed in its red envelope and I then popped in Coco Becoming Chanel… within the first 30 seconds the movie was already vastly superior… ok, enough about how bad Brüno was and onto the good stuff!
This was the story of a girl who was left at an orphanage by her father. Upon seeing Gabrielle Chanel as a young girl walking curiously through the halls of the orphanage, you immediately get the sense that she’s extraordinary. The director did an amazing job capturing this aura of a quiet and subtle genius in the making.
The story then moves on to Gabrielle and her sister striving to become performers, which is where she gets her nickname, “Coco.” She and her sister perform at bars at night, but work as seamstresses during the day… these scenes in the sewing rooms are incredibly exciting – she was doing something she saw as being beneath her while trying to pursue fame as an actress…
She finds herself at the home of a lover/acquaintance she came to know at the bar and it is here, miles outside of Paris that she begins to start really rebelling.
She decides that corsets inhibit women from being comfortable, and to stop wearing them. The ladies she is surrounded by question her choice – why would a woman want to wear a garment that looks shapeless? But in the end, as we know, Coco’s decision changes eveything.
Coco finds fame amongst her elite new friends with her unique style and most importantly her simple hats. She mocks the women around her with Arthur, also known as “Boy,” and observes how the women overly decorate themselves with feathers and jewelry, while she chooses to wear, and alter to her liking, Baltan’s suits.
Tragedy occurs (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it!) and we see Coco working voraciously at the dress form, which is a really powerful and emotional scene (for me at least – I think I cried around 4 times throughout the film). Coco finishes her collection and we watch along with her as her creations walk down the elegant staircase. From the orphanage to one of the most coveted names in fashion, Coco Chanel shook up the way women lived on a day to day basis. It is a cliche phrase, but in her case it was incredibly true: she was indeed before her time. My favorite scenes were those when Coco was surrounded by the “fashionable” Victorian women of the time, and she is in an immaculately tailored (for her body) men’s suit. Absolutely breathtaking and special.
Whew! Needless to say, I recommend this film. Where are my tissues…