Monday 2 November 2015

Coco Chanel

Don't judge a book by it's cover they say. Then why do publishers work so hard on creating delectable covers and silver edged pages? To tempt impulsive people like me, that's why. I saw this pretty little thing in the shops recently and snaffled it immediately. Given that I think I've never seen a single episode of Sex and the City, nor read the books and clearly live under some kind of unfashionable rock I had no idea who Megan Hess was (hint she's a very talented Australian fashion illustrator). Of course even I have heard of Coco Chanel but sadly I have never bought a single Chanel item- although perhaps I need to fix that oversight now? I think I just might.

Coco Chanel is presented in three sections. The Woman. The Brand. The Icon. There is a definite air of legend about the woman of course. It's fascinating to read her back story, and incredible that an illegitimate girl born in 19th century rural France would become such an icon of fashion and elegance redefining the 20th century and having a lasting legacy even now. Is it true that the beige, black and white of the nun's habits of the orphanage where she lived after her mother died when she was twelve would become the cornerstones of the "simple palate" that would define the Chanel look? Actually I didn't know that Chanel used a rather restricted palate of black, white, beige, gold and red. Although I guess that's how you get to be classy.

And Coco Chanel was classy. She liked to pop round to Angelina's each day for a chocolat chaud. Well, why wouldn't you? And as there was no bed in her private apartment above her studio at 31 rue Cambon she maintained a suite at the Ritz. Where she would die in 1971. Stylish to the end really.

I learnt so much about Coco the woman and Chanel the brand. The iconic quilted handbag, recognisable even to me is called a 2.55. Rather annoyingly the book didn't tell me why it had such an odd name, but an easy google search tells me it was because it was released in February 1955. Ah. So obvious when you know. The linked C logo was created in 1921 for Chanel No 5, and camellias have been associated with Chanel since 1933. And that instantly recognisable tweed suit worn by everyone including Marge Simpson dates from 1925.

Most fascinating was that Coco Chanel closed up shop for 14 years! She closed her business with the declaration of war in 1939. "This is no time for fashion". She toughed out the war at the Ritz with her German officer lover. She then fled to Switzerland when Paris was liberated in 1944. She wasn't to resume her fashion activities for another decade.

Chanel never sketched her clothing like other designers, instead she cut straight into them. She would simply throw cloth onto a mannequin, cutting the shapeless mass of fabric until her desired silhouette emerged. Even into her old age, a pair of silver-plated scissors permanently dangled from Chanel's neck so she could make alterations as she made her way around the cutting-room floor. 

While Chanel's story is interesting the standout is Megan Hess's wondrous illustrations. Megan has an iconic style all of her own.

All apparently created with a bespoke Mont Blanc pen called Monty. I have serious case of house envy too.

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog 

French Bingo 2015


Sim Carter said...

Fabulous illustrations! I guess we’re a bit alike; I’ve never heard of Megan Hess either. While I used to watch Sex and the City, I had no idea she illustrated the book! The detail that really interests me though, is the fact that Coco holed up in Paris with her German officer lover! I hope they were both on the right side of history; sounds like a movie in the making.
Here’s one of my two Dreaming of France links:

Louise said...

I know Sim, I was rather fascinated by the all too brief mention of Coco's war years and her 10 years in Switzerland after the war- I'm sure there's an interesting story there- book/movie.

grammajudyb said...

Thanks for the wonderful review of this book. I never would have picked it up, but I will now.

Paulita said...

Louise, Like Sim, I'm shocked by the German lover thing. I guess a girl does what she has to in order to survive a war. I'm reading The Nightingale now and I know Chanel would have been shunned or worse in France for that choice. No wonder she stayed in Switzerland.
I don't know that I'd want to own anything Chanel, but I definitely want to embrace her fashion.
Thanks for playing along. Hope things improve for you. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme

Susan said...

Looks very interesting. I recently read a historical novel called Mademoiselle Chanel that followed her life story, and I discovered how fascinating she was.

Esme said...

I really enjoyed reading this book. She was an interesting woman.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I would love to tell my mom about this woman. I don't think my mom would believe there was a person who simple cut fabric with a pair of scissors around her neck.

Brona said...

I've now read three bio's on Coco and unfortunately her time during the war years and afterwards do not play out well.

Her story is truly fascinating and I can't seem to get enough of it, but she was an opportunist and a compulsive liar. She did what she did and said what she had to say to get by, for her to survive. She alienated people. her temper was legendary but her creative spirit was inspired. And her ability to read the moment and take advantage of the changing times was extraordinary.

Nowadays she would probably be diagnosed with BPD.

Certainly Boy's death was a huge blow for her that she never really recovered from.

I will definitely look out for this book too.