As our thoughts turn to fancy dresses, dancing and Monte Carlo, our eyes should naturally look to the ultimate chic film, Coco Avant Chanel. Full of bold style and lavish parties, there
aren’t many scenes that aren’t luxurious—this movie sets the mood,
and hopefully the fashion, for Saturday night.
Following the life story of one of the most prominent fashion
designers in history, Coco Chanel, Coco Avant Chanel inspires
elegance and poise, with a strong kick of fierce independence. Starring the
renowned Audrey Tautou (well, as renowned as a French actress can be in
American Hollywood) as Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, the film begins in the grim French
countryside and progresses quickly to elite Parisian society.
The story of Gabrielle Chanel is tragic yet fascinating. The first
scene depicts the young girl as she is dropped off at an orphanage by her
cold-hearted father. Little time, however, is spent on the scarring events of Gabrielle’s early abandonment, and the film quickly advances to her life as a young adult.
In its depiction of Gabrielle’s compelling story, Coco Avant Chanel’s main intrigue lies in the juxtaposition between
Chanel’s frivolous lifestyle and bold, almost harsh, independence. She dances and
performs at ruckus pubs (earning her nickname “Coco” after a song about a
lost puppy of that name), drinks and has scandalous sex. Yet rather than portraying such seemingly
improper actions in a negative light, the film depicts Coco as a strong and
independent woman, undeterred by the judgments made about her.
This is a continued theme throughout the film and sets the stage for
Coco’s real conflict: dressing differently and, specifically, less femininely
than her female counterparts. Taking inspiration from her simple orphanage
clothing, Coco begins sewing plain dresses and hats to make money. Her disdain
for tight corsets, ornate feathers, jewels and fluff is shocking to Paris’ current high society, yet Coco’s bold nature and fashion
statements draw interest, and soon, fame.
The scenes devoted to Coco’s fashion statements and designs were the
most interesting to me; I enjoyed watching her progression over time in
comparison to Chanel’s now legendary designs. A main focus of the film, however, lies in
the strange romances that Coco develops throughout her young adult life.
Though she never marries, Coco Chanel has two great love affairs. While I found these scenes to be the least interesting points of the movie, they did serve the purpose of portraying Coco’s fierce independence as
a woman in the ‘man’s world’ of the 19th century.
Coco and the love of her
life, Boy, frankly discuss the difference between marriage and romance, for example. Coco tells
him that it is “better to be a mistress
than a wife,” because marriage is a societal agreement, often involving money,
while the mistress has a better chance of creating real love. Thus Coco never
marries but continues to have a love affair of her own accord. She retains romantic independence while simultaneously
throwing herself deep into the world of elegant and refined beauty: featherless
Chanel is the inspiring story of Coco Chanel’s entrance into the young adult
world, fashion and the high society of Parisian culture. I left the film feeling
inspired and empowered, and though I may never own a piece of Chanel clothing, its
simplistic and elegant style now holds meaning. I have purposefully avoided,
until now, the slight annoyance that the film provokes as it can only be viewed in French, and the non-fluent viewer must thus read subtitles. While undoubtedly trying, the strong and beautiful French accents are a
key element of the film.
So stick through the subtitles—they will force you to pay careful
attention and enjoy the scenes of lounging elites, beautiful parties and
elegant clothing. Take a step further into Coco Chanel’s prominent character and the message that she sews so compellingly: Stand true to your
independent beliefs, and wear beautiful clothing.
Remember this message at Monte Carlo this weekend, and then make sure
to go home and watch Coco Avant Chanel.
But as always, don’t believe me: Just watch.
Sawyer Henshaw SC ’17 is a media studies major. Believe it or not, the film columnist wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated movies until she was 17 years old.