Girl Crush: Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel

January 6, 2011 in Fashion, Personalities by alliemcc

The woman, the myth, the legend…

I think the first photo I ever saw of Chanel. Photo by Man Ray. I was strongly imprinted by this photo…

“August 19th is my birthday. I was born under the sign of Leo. I am a Leo and, like a lion, I use my claws to prevent people from doing me harm, but, believe me, I suffer more from scratching than from being scratched.”

Photo via the official Chanel blog.

I am also a Leo. Will scratch when necessary.

Photo by Richard Avedon. I saw [a print of] this at the International Center of Photography last year. I love that he got a worm’s eye view of her wrinkly, tendon-y chin. It takes muscle to speak French!

Why am I crushing on Chanel?

She was feisty, sassy, and occasionally a right bitch. But always the alpha bitch.

She managed her business like Cleopatra– nothin’ wrong with that.

She was a scrappy, resourceful, badass lady.

She was really what I like to call a “World Heritage Personage”, an irreplaceable, inimitable personality and fashion designer.  Her garments are literally timeless, and yet were so revolutionary at the time she started her line.

She was not without her foibles or vulnerabilities, as much as she would deny them.


I read this bio (caution: affiliate link if you click on that book cover), and it will do as well as any other to get a decent history of La Chanel. She was so skilled and probably compulsive about creating and veiling her life story– she grew up in probably the last era where you really could “forge” an identity for yourself, and very little documentary proof was required by the authorities.

If you’re looking for something brief, here is what the Metropolitan Museum of Art has to say.

You can hear the voice and see the stance on film – search Chanel on Youtube. Test your French against garbly old audio…

And if you’re looking for a creative retelling of the mythology, there have been a crop of movies in recent years:

  1. Coco avant Chanel, 2009, haven’t seen it, and not looking forward to it, as I don’t believe Audrey Tautou can pull it off– she’s too cute.
  2. Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, 2009, which I haven’t seen yet.
  3. The 2008 Lifetime movie, Coco Chanel, which I did watch. I thought Shirley MacLaine did a decent job as the mature Chanel, Barbara Bobulova was terrible as the young Chanel, but Olivier Sitruk was a hottie as Boy Capel, so that helped.

Before that, there was apparently a 1981 biopic, Chanel Solitaire, with Rutger Hauer (that’s right, Mr. Bladerunner-bot himself– or Mr. Ladyhawke if you prefer) as Etienne de Balsan. I had not heard of this until right now, so I’ll have to look for it.

And apparently there was a musical? That’s right. Starring, (in)appropriately, Katherine Hepburn, with a set by, appropriately, Cecil Beaton, and opening in 1969.

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