This year has seen a celebration of designs by Chanel and a return to her classic innovations, largely because of the movie, Coco Avant Chanel’.This lush film is a fictional biography of the young Chanel, showing how Chanel might have made her innovations. What is the real story behind these fashions?
The Boater Hat
“How can you think in one of those,” the young Coco asks one of the ex-mistresses of her boyfriend, Etienne Balsan. The woman is wearing an elaborately decorated picture hat. In the movie Balsan’s friends admire her cute little boater hats so Chanel starts making them and begins her career.
Most of this potted history is true. Chanel really did wonder how a brain could function naturally under ‘all that’. She did start her career as a hat-maker in millineries financed by Balsan and her second beau, Boy Capel. Her trim boater hats were much admired and remained in fashion for many years. She also made less elaborate hats which were still decorated with feathers and other adornments.
This year is seeing a revival of the boater hat.
In ‘Coco Avant Chanel’ Coco admires one of Boy Capel’s soft jersey garments and decides to adapt the material to make practical and wearable clothes for women.
In reality Chanel probably noticed this material on underwear and thought that it could be easily used for dresses. Chanel disliked the tight, ornate clothes that women wore in the early twentieth century. She revolutionised fashion by making clothes that were suitable for smart, working women. Soft and flowing jersey was perfect for these modern women. Her jersey dresses were cut to flatter the figure unlike the ‘hour-glass’ styles designed to narrow the waist and push out the bust. It also enabled women to move freely and liberated them from restricting corsets.
The designer is seen at the end of the movie in one of her classic tweed suits watching her models glide down the stairs to appear in her fashion parade.
Chanel’s handsome and wealthy lover, the Duke of Westminster, took Chanel to his tweed factory in Scotland. The cheap material with its masculine roughness impressed her. She made her classic suit from this material giving the jackets a classy look which belied the cheapness of the fabric by lining them with fur.
Chanel adapted the look to changing fashions. After the stock market collapsed in 1929, for example, Chanel gave the jacket bigger shoulders and narrower waists.
The Little Black Dress
In Coco Avant Chanel women admire Chanel’s simple black dress which she wears to a dance with the love of her life, Boy Capel. This is the lovely imaginary version of the origin of Chanel’s LBD.
The LBC was called ‘the Ford’ by American Vogue because it was so successful. Before the 1920’s black was mostly worn for mourning or funerals. Chanel’s revolutionary LBD was published in Vogue in 1926. It was a very simple, straight, silk dress decorated with only a few pin tucks. Women loved the LBD which has remained popular ever since.
Chanel invented many more fashion trends, including the quilted and the chain-handled handbags. She managed to liberate women from tight, restricting clothes and created comfortable, modern fashion which is still popular. Coco Avant Chanel’ pays tribute to Coco Chanel who was responsible for so many classic designs.
- Chanel Allure
- Chanel at Creative Living