Saturday, March 14, 2009

Reel People: Audrey Tautou is Coco Chanel

The film is Coco avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel), a film directed and written by Anne Fontaine, adapted from the book by Edmonde Charles-Roux.

Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel

Gabrielle Chanel was born August 19, 1883 in a poorhouse in Saumur, France. She was the second daughter of a traveling salesman.

The illiterate women who were with her and her mother at the poorhouse went to the court house and even misreported the spelling of her name. Her birth records show her birth name as Chasnel.

Gabrielle/Coco Chanel was certainly not born into a traditional family, her parents were married the same year as her birth and they already had one daughter (Julie). Four siblings would follow Gabrielle.

When Coco Chanel was 12 her mother, Jeanne, died of tuberculosis. Because the 6 kids' father was a traveling salesman, he was unable to care for the children, the children were raised at the Roman Catholic monastery of Aubazine. It was a the monastery where she learned to sew from the nuns.

When Coco was 18 she left the monastery to work for a tailor.

During this time Coco met Étienne Balsan, the french socialite and horse breeder. Balsan was Coco's lover as well as a man who introduced Chanel to fine things, pearls, dresses, and a socialite life she had not experienced or been accustomed to previously. Coco lived with Balsan, and in 1909 they parted ways but he allowed her to remain living in a first floor flat he owned in Paris. In 1913 Balsan also helped well as helped her open her own boutique in Deauville where she primarily sold raincoats and jackets. The store went out of business and Coco was forced to surrender the property.

Shortly after she met a friend of Balsan's, Arthur "Boy" Capel, with whom Coco feel in love with. Like Baslan, Capel, was also a polo player. It's hard to tell when Capel and Coco began relations, it could have begun as early as 1909 when she left Balsan, but the role of Capel in Channel's life seems to have an increased role after the failure of her first boutique.

Capel helped finance a second boutique for Chanel in Brittany, France. Capel's blazers and male clothing apparently inspired much of the look that Chanel drew into her clothing styles. As this store did well, Capel helped her open more stores. Especially during WWI, Women began to become more interested in dressing for themselves, and not just for their husbands, and the style Chanel created really captured many women.

Capel and Chanel broke off relations, and Capel married Honorable Diana Wyndham in 1918, daughter of the half-brother of the Duke of Winsdsor.

In 1921 Chanel came out with her first signature fragrence, Chanel No. 5. This perfume was the first to have a designers name attached to it.

During this time Chanel also made up new stories of her family, including the primary story that he mother had died young, and her Father had traveled to America. The mispelling of Coco's birth records when she was born, made it very challenging for people to track down her true roots.

By 1923 Harper's Bazar was interviewing Chanel about her clothing and style, which was based on simplicity, comfort, and revealing styles. Chanel was known for using bourgeois fabrics like jersey, and updating them to be elegant and stylish. Many have said that Chanel's styles influenced the flapper look of the 1920s, with fashionable short skirts and outfits that showed style at the same time they reflected disdain for conventional styles.

1925 Vera Bate Lombardi, the illegitimate daughter of the 1st Marquess of Cambridge, began the public relations manager of Coco's lines to the British royalty and society. With the help of Lombardi, Chanel also fashioned "the English look."

With WWII, just beginning, Coco Chanel closed her shops in 1939 saying it was not a time for a fashion. At this time Coco Chanel took up residence in Hôtel Ritz Paris. During the Nazi occupation of France, Chanel was said to have had an affair with German officer and Nazi spy Hans Gunther von Dincklage, who arranged for Coco Chanel to remain in the hotel even during the occupation.

In fact, in 1943 Chanel contacted Vera Bate Lombardi to try to gain access to her relative Sir Winston Churchill. When Lombardi refused she was living in Rome, and the Gestapo arrested Lombardi claiming she was a British spy. After WWII, Chanel was convicted of war crimes, but the British family intervened to prevent Chanel from being taken to trial.

In 1945, she moved to Switzerland partially to avoid the scandal caused by her WWII associations, but even when she returned back to France to return to fashion design, but was highly criticized by the French who shunned her because of her Nazi ties.

Chanel was still able to succeed in selling her products as American interest in Chanel designs was very high at this time, and Chanel was still able to sell huge amounts of her product overseas to Americans who were less aware and concerned with her WWII-history.

At the age of 87 (January 10, 1971) Coco Chanel died in her suite at the Hôtel Ritz.

Coco avant Chanel

The films title (Coco before Chanel) and the casting of Audrey Tautou, the 32 year old actress to play Coco, gives us a good indication that this film will feature the earlies parts of Coco's life. The role of Arthur "Boy" Capel will be played by Alessandro Nivola, and the part of Étienne Balsan will be played by Benoît Poelvoorde.

Audrey Tautou has never received an Oscar nomination, although she has been highly praised for much of her work, specifically for Amelie which scored her name recognition and critical acclaim.

Will Audrey Tautou's portrayal of Coco Chanel earn her critical attention and even an Oscar nomination/win for portraying this Real (Reel) Person?


Lorna said...

I'm looking forward to this one. AT is one of my favourites. Is it a French movie with subtitles? I speak French so subtitles aren't helpful but I can just go to one of the french theatres and see it without....

RC said...

@ Lorna, it is a french movie. I'm sure in the US it will have subtitles at most viewing locations.

cath said...

Audrey Tautou was wonderful as Chanel. I just wish there was a sequel depicting Chanel's interesting life after her move to Paris.