It’s Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s birthday week, and the Bright Young Things would like to pay her due tribute.
To celebrate, I thought I’d give her a ring. She doesn’t get out much these days, and most people seem to think she’s dead, but like Tupac and Elvis, she’s virtually immortal. She stays in and generally avoids society with the exception of only the closest of friends. She also has a rule to never celebrate birthdays, but I somehow convinced her to let me over for low key afternoon tea and some reminiscing about her 128 years of impeccable style. Naturally, I wanted to pick her brain on style, fashion, love, and her life philosophy. Her answers were uncannily current for someone who stays at home all the time. And once you get her going, she’s hard to stop. By the end of the visit we were playing dress up in her closet and posing for the camera. You should have seen her impersonation of today’s runway models!
She had me cracking up while she coached me on how to pose for the camera to avoid regrettably bad angles for my face. She said knowing how to pose is a key skill to have if you are planning on being any sort of legend. Apparently no one gets famous if they don’t photograph well. Shortly after that Coco and I tried to vogue, but in the end I think we just looked rather smirky. I suppose we let our vanity get the best of us. However, I think we may have uncovered one of the greatest mysteries of the fashion world; why everyone in fashion photos always looks so catty. Chin insecurity! …Then again it could just be us.
Here’s some snippets of what the legend had to say…
Before you retired, many people described you as something of a workaholic. How fitting is that? There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony. There is time for work. And time for love. That leaves no other time.
So that’s a yes? When I can no longer create anything, I’ll be done for.
Ah, so that’s why you stay in, although I think you’re hardly done for. But this love aspect you mention… Great loves too must be endured.
Endured? That sounds awfully laborious! As long as you know men are like children, you know everything!
Too true. So what is your stratagem for luring these man-children? […]
Oh c’mon, one tip? One should use perfume wherever one wants to be kissed.
Ah hah! Classic, I must try that sometime… A women who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.
I’ll keep that in mind. What is your philosophy on personal style? How do you approach personal style? In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.
So you’re of the belief that one should always be creating something new in their outfits when they get dressed or even as one designs? One cannot be forever innovating. I want to create classics.
But doesn’t that contradict what you said about creating something different? How can one be classic yet fresh at the same time? Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening. A fashion that does not reach the streets is not a fashion.
I see. So the truest forms of fashion come from the influences of the environment, and individual lifestyles & philosophies? With that in mind, should fashion designs reflect the basic concepts that humanity cares about, and should clothing be flexible in their ability to translate from the one person to another? Do you think the fashion industry is on track to achieving that? Fashion has become a joke. The designers have forgotten that there are women inside the dresses. Most women dress for men and want to be admired. But they must also be able to move, to get into a car without bursting their seams! Clothes must have a natural shape.
Coco, it’s a bit old fashioned to think that women dress for men now a days. But, I quite agree about fashion, so many fashion houses just seem to be brands. Who wants to be branded? The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.
And what’s your take on the phenomena of fast fashion trends? Fashion is made to become unfashionable.
If that’s the case then how can anyone keep up? And how could our resources survive that? Are designers responsible for the current state of over consumption? Those who create are rare; those who cannot are numerous. Therefore, the latter are stronger.
But the masses are simply made up of individuals. So how can those individuals be empowered in the face of Fashion? Fashion fades, only style remains the same.
Interesting… So are you suggesting that personalized style could cause a change in the rate of mass consumption? By style you do mean personal style, right? [...]
Ok. Either way, what advice about dressing would you give to a woman who lacks confidence about her personal style? The best color in the whole world, is the one that looks good, on you! Elegance does not consist in putting on a new dress… A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous… I don’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little – if only out of politeness. And then, you never know, maybe that’s the day she has a date with destiny. And it’s best to be as pretty as possible for destiny.
But you’re Coco Chanel, it’s easy for you to look classy and fabulous. What about all of the women these days who are feeling the financial crunch? How can a stylish woman without money compete with the rich who can afford luxury designer items? There are people who have money and people who are rich. Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.
Ha! So avoid vulgarity to avoid looking cheap? Or is rich just a state of mind, not the state of your bank account?… Vulgarity, that seems to be our biggest enemy… I stay in the game to fight it.
And you most certainly have. What was your mindset while you were starting out in the fashion world? I invented my life by taking for granted that everything I did not like would have an opposite, which I would like.
But you had a very rough beginning, orphaned, coming from a place of disadvantage, some might even say you had a rather tragic childhood. How did you overcome all the odds to become the Legend that you are today? Success is often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.
A very constructive approach. And it seemed to have worked out! Optimistic ambition seems to be key for you, yes? How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something, but has to be someone.
By sheer will then, was it? And you changed fashion forever; The way women dress, the way designers present, the way society thinks about women’s clothing in general… I was the one who changed, it wasn’t fashion. I was the one who was in fashion.
Were you ever concerned with your designs taking the route of the corset or the scrunchie and losing their appeal over the decades? A style does not go out of style as long as it adapts itself to its period.
What item is most challenging to design? Scheherezade is easy; a little black dress is difficult.
For a woman of your age, you look absolutely unbelievable! I have to ask you, what’s the secret? A woman has the age she deserves. Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.
Fifty, eh? I guess some women just stop aging at a certain point. So why is it that you dropped out of the game in the end? There is no fashion for the old.
That’s a little melodramatic isn’t it? I think you’re still quite elegant at the age of, um, fifty… Elegance is not the prerogative of those who have just escaped from adolescence, but of those who have already taken possession of their future…
Well here’s to you, Coco, and to fashions and mindsets that do not go out of style! For a gal of any age, you are still quite the bright young thing.