Coco Chanel En Costume

You’d think that someone with such a liking for both film and fashion would have absolutely adored Coco Before Chanel (2009). But somehow, I didn’t quite adore it – it would be more accurate to say that I have a cordial regard for it. It’s a beautifully done film in many ways, and I thought Audrey Tautou was an excellent choice for the lead; nonetheless, the film still left me – not cold, certainly, but perhaps slightly cool.

My reaction to some of the costumes in the first half of the film was similar, I’m afraid – and for this I do feel a bit sheepish, especially since they won an Oscar. I do have two extenuating circumstances to mention, though: one is that, to quote good old Wiki (on Chanel’s own brief turn as a Hollywood costume designer), “her design aesthetic did not translate well to film”, and second is that the majority of the movie takes place between the turn of the century and the late teens (before Chanel attained fame), which doesn’t happen to be a “pet” costume period of mine.

All that being said, I still found plenty of lovely costumes to admire, especially in the movie’s second half. Here is a select sampling….

Coco’s earliest forays into menswear were beautifully depicted, featuring tweedy vests, jodhpurs, neckties, and boater hats:



In the costume party scene she even overtly dresses as a man:


And I did most definitely adore her cream silk pyjamas with black edging:


Chanel’s penchant for masculine apparel famously works its way into her feminine clothing; I particularly admired her addition of a crisp white collar and cuffs to a plaid dress:


She is also inspired by fishermen’s wear to introduce marine stripes into her attire:


But it’s once Chanel begins to design in earnest, late in the film, that I really took a fancy to her outfits. Here she is, wearing more of her signature black-&-white, in her atelier:


Check out this blouse-and-skirt ensemble, which would still be eminently wearable today:


Or this black jersey top (Chanel is famous for having popularized jersey fabric):


And naturally, the iconic LBD!


And to top it all off, here’s my very favourite: an off-white silk blouse, exquisitely tailored:


More than the costumes themselves, however, the thing I enjoyed most about the film was seeing the development of an individual aesthetic that went in direct opposition to the tastes of the time. Chanel’s determined insistence on paring away all the “frou-frou” and creating a new simplicity of line for women definitely agrees with me. After all, it worked for menswear!

~ costume design: Catherine Leterrier ~

P.S. Check out Tautou’s resemblance to Chanel, both onscreen and off ->





2 thoughts on “Coco Chanel En Costume

    • Coco certainly is inspiring in terms of her refusal to live by the standard rules of “femininity”. I enjoyed Alessandro Nivola as well (and his pirate costume too!). I must admit that I have issues with the 1999 version of Mansfield Park, but that’s because I’m a Jane Austen traditionalist; Nivola certainly played his part very well!

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