“It is through cinema that fashion today can be imposed“. These are the words that Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel pronounced 90 years ago (it was the year 1931) and that today – exactly 50 years after his death – we remember to celebrate the link between the immortal stylist born in Samur and the seventh art. Both revolutionaries, Coco and Cinema have forever changed our life, our imagination, our way of seeing and experiencing the world.
Pioneer of style and modern feminism, Gabrielle Chanel has radically changed the concept of clothing, transforming it into an instrument of emancipation and self-affirmation. Promoter of a style and not of fleeting fashions, Mademoiselle Coco he read the contemporaneity with his creative choices. Visionary and powerful, just like cinema.
There is no doubt that the advent of the Seventh Art (1895) influenced Chanel’s choices. She, born 12 years earlier (1883), was only a child when she saw for the first time “moving images“. And it was just this aspect – the movement – to fascinate her more, inspiring and nourishing the idea of freeing the body, giving a new rhythm to female silhouettes.
To be truly incisive and leave a mark on society, her creations had to remain etched in the eyes and soul of those who admired them. They had to walk the world. And that’s why they had to be seen by as many people as possible. Starting with the theater: 110 years ago (1911) a straw hat of hers, worn by the actress Gabrielle Dorziat, entered the scene in Bel Ami of Guy de Maupassant. Subsequently, Coco designed the costumes for an immense poet and author like Jean Cocteau: for the tragedy Antigone (1922, he made tunics in raw wool decorated with Greek motifs) and for ballet Le train bleu (1924, designed the clothes of the dancers). But the Cinema, for Coco, it was something else entirely: more alive, more powerful, more influential.
The meeting between Gabrielle (and therefore La Moda) and the prophetic Cinema takes place in the 1930s. More precisely in 1931 when, thanks to her lover of the time, the Duke of Westminster, Coco met the magnate of United Artists, Samuel Goldwyn. In April of that year, the film producer wants the French designer to dress his actresses. Coco signs the contract and flies to Hollywood: she will have to design Gloria Swanson’s dresses for the romantic comedy Tonight or never of Mervyn LeRoy (on December 4, 1931, the premiere in Los Angeles). In the film, the actress wears an entire (and very refined) Chanel wardrobe. Her style is not limited to costumes: a bottle of the famous perfume N ° 5 slips into the furniture, communicating a new concept of feminine allure.
For American cinema it seems the beginning of a new phase, Greta Garbo is Marlene Dietrich they welcome Gabrielle like a Queen. But it’s just a mistake. Swanson herself complains (refusing to wear only her clothes), and Coco has no intention of bowing to Hollywood glamor. Not wanting to compromise, Chanel returns to France. In his baggage, however, there is a new awareness: fashion fits perfectly with cinema. The first art nourishes the second, and vice versa. Coco designs the costumes knowing that they will come to life in the evocative frames of the shots, animated and enhanced by precise lighting. The costumes, La Moda, thus become the architecture of each sequence. As always forward-looking, Chanel sees in Robert Bresson – future director – an innate talent in photographic art, in image composition, in the use of light. She asks him to shoot and portray her jewelry collection Bijoux de Diamants (1932). In fact, this is where Gabrielle’s second cinematic chapter begins.
The fashion mademoiselle begins to collaborate with several French directors – from Marcel Carné for The port of the mists (1938, she suggests to the director that Michelle Morgan wear a raincoat and beret) a Jean Renoir (The Marseillaise is The Angel of Evil, both from 1938, and Laea of the game, 1939) – designing innovative women’s clothes, never seen before: she is a new woman, she is a free and bold woman (who puts her hands in her pockets like men did).
The prolific artistic exchange between Gabrielle and French cinema is interrupted with the arrival of the Second Great War. His return, however, is disruptive. At the end of the 1950s a new phase began in the great history of French cinema: the Nouvelle Vague. Her vision of fashion – as an integral part of real life – fits perfectly with this wave of emerging young directors, promoters of a new cinematic aesthetic. The (always renewed) modernity of Coco, embodied by the iconic tweed suit, witch one of the main interpreters, Jeanne Moreau (who will become his close friend). The actress chooses her clothes for Lovers is Lift to the gallows (both from 1958, both from Louis Malle) and for Dangerous Liaisons (1960, by Roger Vadim). Another interpreter, Delphine Seyrig, wears Chanel in Last year in Marienbad (1961, by Alain Resnais: the black chiffon from his Haute Couture collection immediately became legend) and above all in the master’s Baci rubati (1968) Francois Truffaut. Another star of the Nouvelle Vague, Anna Karina, marries forever to his creations.
A separate discussion deserves Romy Schneider that in Boccaccio ’70 (1962), in the episode directed by Luchino Visconti (III act: the Work) shows off the Chanel universe: from the dress to the quilted bag, from pearl jewels, to two-tone shoes, to perfume N ° 5. A real style manifesto that the actress tried to explain as follows: “Chanel taught me everything without ever giving me advice. Chanel is not a designer like any other … It is an elegance that pleases the mind even more than the eyes“.
Gabrielle was just that, a woman capable of embodying timeless modernity. The actresses were his ambassadors, souls who dressed a new way of being. His imprint is eternal, always powerful and inspiring: for this reason his connection with cinema will never end.