coco chanel: legend and liar

“you could search forever for the whole truth about gabrielle chanel, and never find the last of the missing pieces; for when she cut up her history, she scattered it all around, losing some details, hiding others, covering her trail.”
-coco chanel: the legend and the life
justine picardie

justine picardie’s excellent biography is heavily illustrated, as any biography about a visual person should be. we see chanel as a sweet young milliner, as a middle aged beauty cavorting foolishly on her lover’s yacht, and as an old women burning with creative energy.

what drew me to read about chanel? i abhor black clothing: it makes me look gaunt and feel old. ditto suntans, and though i do like thin, not at the price of health. but chanel’s legacy is more than the famously ugly trends she cultivated. she also introduced comfortable clothing designed to unburden women from corsets. clothing intended to create a look of girlish freedom in its wearer. “to be free to drive a car, to ride a bicycle, to walk to work, you had to be able to forget about what you were wearing. forgetting is part of freedom- and so she was able to forget about her past.” (ibid.)

chanel was a self invented person. by the time she was 20 she was already lying about her age, trimming the years as she would trim her hair, her clothes, even her famous maxims were constructed with a determination that would do occam proud.

chanel’s first “little black dress.” it was christened “the ford” because it could go anywhere. 1926.

frolicking on her lover, the duke of westminster’s yacht. she’s wearing tweed she borrowed from him and which she would later redesign and make into chic women’s wear.
he’s in plus fours. i find these particularly charming because they’re such a goofy couple. where is the fearsome chanel?

chanel pioneering the sailor look. ringstripe jersey top and soft wide legged pants.

chanel and friends goofing around in the garden of her mediterranean estate, la pausa.

chanel designs for american vogue, illustrated by christian berard 1937. the writing reads, “chanel dines in printed pyjamas (sic), sweater, barbaric jewels. (two small chanels) striped linen, flannel jacket. checked tussur, chiffon cape-veil. 

chanel, by cocteau. a woman without a face, without a past…

all photos and quotes from “coco chanel: the legend and the life” by justine picardie. if you’re interested in chanel, fashion, or the lost generation i highly recommend you pick it up.

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