Coco Chanel is one of the most intriguing women of the 20th Century. Since it’s difficult to get a hold of interviews of Mademoiselle (especially if you don’t read French), I love to watch films about Gabrielle Chanel. Of course, they are movies and artistic license is applied liberally, but it’s nice to see her come to life if only for a few hours. I also love seeing the clothing and the sets – a bit like seeing history repeat itself – and getting a glimpse of the time period in which she lived.
All three of the films are good in their own way but very different: Chanel Solitaire was the very first and is only available on VHS, Coco Before Chanel documents Chanel’s rise to fame and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky follows an illicit love affair later in Chanel’s career. I’ve seen all three and my favorite is Coco Before Chanel but they are all worth watching. These DVDs would make a great gift or stocking stuff for any fashion or movie buff and are available on Amazon.com.
Chanel seems to be on a fragrance ad campaign roll. It seems like every time I post about a new ad campaign, another one is right behind it. Soon after the Scorsese film ad for Bleu de Chanel, Chanel has announced that it’s filming a new Coco Mademoiselle ad campaign featuring the fragrances face, Keira Knightley. Directed by Joe Wright, Chanel continues the tradition of pairing it’s actresses who star in their campaigns with directors the actresses have worked with.* Knightley and Wright worked together on the 2005 film Pride & Prejudice.
Take a look at the behind the scenes images below.
The old Coco Mademoiselle ad featuring Keira Knightley.
The winners of the Fragrance Foundation’s FiFi Awards were announced and Chanel N˚5′s “No.5: Train de nuit” won the award for Best Media Campaign. As you may recall, the campaign for Chanel N˚5 feautured French ingénue Audrey Tautou and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who directed her in her breakthrough film, “Amélie.”
The campaign certainly deserves this honor as it was the best media campaign I have seen for a fragrance. Not only was the film beautiful, but all of the correlative marketing materials – from the website to print ads – were gorgeous and evocative of the classic Chanel N˚5 scent.
You can view Chanel’s “No.5: Train de nuit” below:
Andrea D’Avack, president of Chanel Fragrance and Beauté, stated that “The ads have been shot in New York, the city which is so inherently part of Martin Scorsese’s cinematographic vocabulary.” (WWD)
Chanel has a long history of working with acclaimed film directors from Baz Luhrmann (with muse Nicole Kidman) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (with mus Audrey Tautou ), both for Chanel No.5 at different times.
Chanel works with movie directors because they bring depth, emotion and what we call in French ‘a supplement of soul,’ or an added dimension,” said D’Avack, pointing to films such as “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” and “Goodfellas” as examples of Scorsese’s vision. “In the case of Martin Scorsese, we knew we would definitely have a man’s world full of complexity that is also adrenaline-driven, and of course, amazing images. (WWD)
This is the first men’s ad of its kind that I will see and I’m looking forward to it! I love Martin Scorsese and I think he’s a wonderful choice to film a men’s fragrance ad. He’ll be able to capture the essence of “man” without coming off as to macho – can’t wait to see!
The nominees have been announced for the 12th Annual Costume Designers Guild Awards and not surprisingly, Catherine Leterrier was nominated for her work in Coco Before Chanel. The specific category is “Excellence in a Period Film” and though I haven’t seen the other films in the category, I think she should win. It’s a very difficult task to do the costumes for the most iconic person in fashion history and I think she met the challenge. The Award ceremony will be held on Thursday, February 25, 2010 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
“This was the most technical performance I’ve ever had to give.”
From the moment Alessandro Nivola stepped into the room, he immediately put the group of journalists before him at ease. He was different from Audrey Tautou and Anne Fontaine who had translators and agents in tow, instead, Alessandro walked in solo and started cracking jokes.
Having met him, it’s easy to see how he was cast as Boy Capel, the man who played a large role in making Coco Chanel the icon she is today: Alessandro is funny and charming and sitting down to talk to him was like sitting down to chat with an old friend.
Nivola was a very different man than Boy Capel and Nivola had to learn a lot of new skills including how to play polo, play piano, dance, and the most difficult, how to speak French. Anne Fontaine, the director of Coco Before Chanel, had found him in some English movies that he had been in. Anne’s people got in touch with Nivola’s agent and asked, “Does he speak French? My agent said yes, when I barely did.” Next came a phone interview where he “had prepared very specific statements that I could stumble through and the next thing I know I was in Paris.”
Anne liked the sound of Alessandro’s voice speaking French, “even though my grammar was deplorable,” because his accent is hard to define, it’s not French or English, it sounds vaguely foreign. Like many French people, she didn’t find French being spoken with an American or English accent very “sexy”.
Learning French was a tedious process and Fontaine hired a woman to come to Nivola’s house for 2 hours a day for a month before they started filming. Then, he went to France a few weeks before filming and he spoke French the whole time he was there. Being the only American on set was a bit lonely for Nivola – the whole crew spoke French and he spent the first few weeks on set not understanding what people were saying. Reflecting on the experience, he said, “You lose your personality and your sense of humor and you find yourself just rigid with fear.”
Having seen the film, it’s impossible to see any guardedness in Nivola’s acting. In fact, I remember thinking to myself that I was quite impressed with his French and how natural it seemed. “The language thing made it much scarier [but I] wouldn’t trade it. There’s a part of me that likes feeling out of control that way. … I’m restless and get bored easily…I knew it would be an adventure that I would go and come back, and now I speak fluent French.”
You can see Alessandro Nivola charm you and Coco Chanel in Coco Before Chanel tomorrow, Friday, September 25th, in New York and Los Angeles, and in San Francisco on October 2nd.
Be sure to also check out the interview with Audrey Tautou, the actress who plays Coco Chanel. Stay tuned for an exclusive one-on-one video interview with director Anne Fontaine.
When you are a rebel, you suffer. You fight, you’re determined, but you suffer because you don’t know if you are going to succeed…. it’s so much easier to accept the ruse. It’s that violence that isolated [Coco Chanel] and this is what I tried to keep everyday of the shooting, even if I was not expressing it in a scene, I really thought this mix of strength and vulnerability was very important.
-Audrey Tautou, on playing Coco Chanel
It may be hard to believe, but Audrey Tautou is even more beautiful in person than she is on the silver screen. Her piercing dark eyes, cropped dark hair and androgynous silhouette made her the only actress who could play the iconic Gabrielle Chanel in Coco Before Chanel. The resemblance is striking and the two women even shared an interest in the androgynous look, Audrey mused, “[Chanel] created the masculine/feminine [look] and I think that’s something that I share with her because I’m not girly girly.”
However, the two women are also very different. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was known for being ahead of her time and Audrey says of herself, “I’m not modern at all, I’m a bit more savage, I don’t like the Parisian show business, it’s not my cup of tee.” It may not be her cup of tee, but it’s a craft that Audrey Tautou does exceedingly well. I had the chance to sit down with Mlle. Tautou with a group of journalists to ask her about her role as Coco Chanel. What follows below is an excerpt from the interview.
How Did You Get This Role? How Did It Come To You?
It come to me because Anne [Fontaine, the director] met me to propose me the part but without having written anything and without even knowing if she would find in Chanel’s life a moment interesting enough… to make a movie not a movie about clothes or fashion, but to make a real movie….I really like her….movies, they’re very clever.. so I thought…she was the right person to do something about Chanel.
Were you very familiar with Chanel?
I was not familiar, in fact I realized very quickly that I didn’t know that much and that my idea of her was kind of false. I knew the icon she was and…that she had created a new style and how elegant, strong and…authoritative she was but…I thought she was coming from the high bourgeoise and that everything had been easy. So, I was surprised to realize where she came from and in fact her vocation was not something that she was born with but it was more the elements and her unpredictable talent and the meetings with Boy Capel that put her on this road. It’s very surprising when you think of the empire she created and…how she influenced women’s fashion, it’s amazing.
You were also the face of Chanel no.5. Who approached you first, Anne Fontaine or Chanel No.5?
I had been approached to do the movie before Chanel asked me to be the new face of Chanel No. 5.
Did preparing for the role of Coco Chanel help you in filming the ad campaign?
No, because I filmed the ad campaign before shooting. …it was a real coincidence…. [W]hen you know a bit more Chanel,…I know her much better now,…I realized this perfume, No. 5, how it was revolutionary because everything was completely out of the fashion at this moment – it was not fashion at all – the smell, the packaging, the name, everything was exactly the opposite of what everybody else was doing. It’s amazing that she could be so modern and ahead of her time. Today it’s still the best selling perfume and still very modern, it’s not old fashioned at all.
You know much more about her now, but is there something that’s still a big mystery to you?
Oh yes, I don’t understand how a woman who is so proud and independent could bear to be very often a mistress…and I don’t really understand why she worked so hard to hide her past.
It seemed that Chanel would put on a mask to hide her feelings. As an actress you have an extraordinarily expressive face, was it a struggle to put that mask on?
I don’t really agree because Chanel, she was not cold…with no emotions…when you see her interviewed she was very, very expressive she was almost like a clown…she’s an incredible entertainer and she’s funny and ….she really expressed things.
How important was it playing a woman like this? She was ahead of her time so as an actress how did you feel playing a powerful iconic woman?
First it was intimidating…even if it’s not a like character and an easy part to play. I can’t say it’s the part that gave me the biggest pleasure in my career but I think she was the most interesting and deep.
You can see Audrey Tautou bring Mlle. Chanel back to life on the big screen in Coco Before Chanel, tomorrow, Friday, September 25th in New York and Los Angeles, and in San Francisco on October 2nd.
Be sure to also check out the interview with Alessandro Nivola, the actor who plays Chanel’s love interest, Boy Capel. Stay tuned for an exclusive one-on-one video interview with director Anne Fontaine.
"Coco Before Chanel" Official Poster & Movie Stills
My life is the story – often the tragedy – of a woman on her own, her miseries, her grandeur, her uneven and fascinating struggle against herself, against men, attractions, weaknesses, and dangers that arise from all sides.
Coco Avant Chanel premiered in France earlier this year and now the eagerly anticipated Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel biopic is hitting stateside this Fall. In English speaking countries, the film is dubbed Coco Before Chanel, and like the title indicates, the feature focuses on the formative years that made Coco Chanel the fashion icon that she is today.
The movie opens up with Gabrielle Chanel being dropped off at an orphanage by her father – a glimpse into the sadness and betrayal that she felt from a very early age. Rather than knocking her down, young Gabrielle knew that the world had much to offer, and her resilience and cleverness made her successful, though the road to success was paved with obstacles.
I have always found Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel inspiring. Fashion influence aside, I am most impressed with what she was able to achieve in the time period that she lived. She was born in 1883, during the Belle Époque when corsets and show-piece hats ruled the day. Your family determined your wealthy, social status and whom you could marry. While men could make some efforts to advance through work, at this time, women of status didn’t work. So what’s a girl to do? Chanel did not let her poverty get in her way. Her fierce determination and ambition is what got her ahead – in a time when it was unheard of for women to do so – is what I find most inspiring about Mademoiselle Chanel.
Anne Fontaine, the director of the film, does an excellent job of showing us that it was not an easy road to success. By focusing on her early life and rise to fame, Fontaine helps us understand the woman behind the myth. I think that the director herself is a woman helped bring a sensibility to the portrayal of Chanel’s life that I don’t think a man would have been able to grasp. She elaborates, “It was not so much the fashion as the characteristics of this exceptional woman that interested me. I had been particularly touched by the fact that she was a self-made person.”
Audrey Tautou plays Coco Chanel and I can’t think of anyone that would do the character more justice. A French woman herself, Tautou transforms into Gabrielle Chanel and the resemblance is remarkable. She breathes life into the designer at once being fragile and robust, vulnerable and determined.
“Coco Before Chanel” Movie Stills
And the costuming! Coco Before Chanel was produced with Maison Chanel’s blessing and the company opened up its archives, the Chanel Conservatory, so that actual original pieces could be used in the final catwalk scene (that was filmed on the actual famous mirrored staircase). In fact, she met with Karl Lagerfeld to go over sketches. Regarding her experience designing the costumes for Coco Before Chanel, Catherine Letterier explained:
Chanel’s [style] is instantly recognizable. What Karl Lagerfeld did in adapting the Chanel style to the future, I did backwards towards the past. I went back in time, designing the first models that Chanel might have created and which could have fashioned her style. The Chanel style is distinctive in its cut, the supple hang of its fabric and the perfect simplicity of its finish. The costumes designed for the film had to be up to the exacting standards of haute couture.
Since Chanel started her career in fashion as a milliner, they brought on the best hat makers alive today – Stephen Jones and Pippa Cleator. Coco Before Chanel definitely does not disappoint in bringing the spectacle of fashion in all of it’s glory from the extravagant gaudiness of the Belle Époque to the simplicity of French sailor shirts.
Though the fashion in the film is spot on, a lesson in fashion history it is not. Letterier definitely took artistic license to the extent that the film showed certain looks and pieces well before they actually became part of the Chanel repertoire. For examples, Chanel didn’t focus in on black as a main theme until after the death of Boy Capel in 1919. Before then, black was predominantly worn for mourning. When she invented “the little black” dress she was rumored to have said “I’m going to put the whole world in mourning for him.” (Chanel: A Woman of Her Own, Axel Madsen) Little did she know she was starting a trend that still hold weight today.
The men’s French sailor shirt that she appropriates doesn’t actually happen until the 1930s. The film ends with a fashion show that is essentially a “best of” collection of a lifetime of work. The tweed box suits that figure so prominently didn’t actually come into existence (in that form/style/silhouette) until Chanel’s comeback collection in 1954. However, the artistic license in not conforming to a strict fashion historical time line enhances the story. Though not historically accurate, it’s a testament to the longevity of Mlle. Chanel’s career – spanning decades and trends – as if we are watching her entire career pass us by. The final catwalk scene exemplifies the impact of Coco Chanel, and is so timeless and classic, it looks just as chic today as it did sixty-plus years ago.
There have been several films that have come before such as Chanel Solitaire and Coco Chanel, the Lifetime made-for-television movie – all of which interestingly focus on Chanel’s early life and rise to fame. However, none come close to capturing the true essence of Mademoiselle Chanel the way Coco Before Chanel has. The rare combination of an artistic screenplay, sensitive director and selfless actress have made Coco Before Chanel an excellent film. I will watch this repeatedly because in some way, it will be closest I can ever come to knowing Gabrielle Chanel. Bring plenty of tissues – the story is inspiring but if I said I didn’t shed a tear I’d be lying. The only downside to the film? As a former smoker, watching Coco Before Chanel made me want to run out and smoke cigarettes as elegantly as only Coco Chanel could.
Coco Before Chanel premiers in NY an LA on September 25, 2009, and in the Bay Area on October 2, 2009.
The word is finally out. Coco Avant Chanel is making its way stateside in its English incarnation, Coco Before Chanel. If you’re in LA or NY, you’re lucky because it’s coming out first in those cities on September 25th. Since I’m not in LA or NY, in addition to buying a movie ticket, I also need to buy a plane ticket. You’ve heard me go on and on about Coco Avant Chanel - the rumors, the casting, the behind-the-scenes, the French trailer and the French premier – so I’ll put an end to my gushing and let you take a look at the photo still gallery and trailer below. End Scene.