Monday, October 18, 2010
Coco Before Chanel (Coco Avant Chanel) -- fashion and freedom
Coco's story starts in poor and obscure beginnings. We first see her at the back of a farmer's horse-drawn cart with her older sister, Adrienne, en route to an orphanage. It is the late 19th century and her father is depositing these two girls with the nuns. He never returns. Each week Gabrielle will go with the nuns at visiting time, hoping to see her father again, but to no avail. Surrounded by other orphans and the black-garbed nuns, she is isolated from love, lost and lonely.
When Adrienne connects with a baron from Paris, he woos her and promises to wed her. She departs with him, leaving Coco alone. For a young woman in France in that era, this was frightening. But unlike most women of that time, she took matters into her own hands and determined to carve out her own future.
Having won the attention of an older race horse owner and socialite, Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde), she turns up at his country home outside of Paris. She concocts a story about visiting her sister, and he accepts it and her, and lets her stay for two days. But when the time is up, she agrees to become live-in mistress.
It is access to his home and friends that gives her the opportunities she needs. She is a capable seamstress, and has an eye for fashion. She is willing to break traditions and norms, and carve out new paradigms.
She begins by making simple straw hats for a female actress friend of Balsan's. Then she starts making clothes for herself using whatever she can find, including some of Balsan's shirts. Her clothing shows a marked simplicity and dampened masculinity compared to the frilly dresses of the Parisian ladies.
Love is a gift we all desire. Coco wanted it but found it only later in life. Her relationship with Balsan is a complicated tension of mixed motivations. Ethically, she is not much more than the common prostitutes she sewed for. Their relationship begins as a commercial enterprise, yet there is a love that lies below, even though Balsan will not take her as wife. Both find the relationship beneficial. Coco gains financial security as well as a form of love and acceptance. Balsan, too, gets more than just a fling; he becomes emotionally engaged with his young mistress. This becomes clear when Boy enters the picture and jealousy arises. Boy's relationship with Coco also becomes convoluted, but for other reasons.
at 7:00 AM