Saturday, March 12, 2011

Book Review: The Gospel According to Coco Chanel

     When Amanda Brooks was talking about her style history in her book I love Your Style, she said that as a kid growing up in Palm Beach, "there was still one store one store too intimidating, too fancy for us to approach: Chanel. Even as children we could sense the force field of pristine chic emanating from those interlocked C's." And she's not alone on this one. Why does Chanel have this affect affect on us? Why do we all feel like her brand and everything associated with her fashion house emanates this forbidden fruit feeling in all of us. For someone who lived in the early 1900s and where every single one of us and our parents were barely fetuses, she sure has a strong power over us. But why? Do you even know anything else about Coco Chanel other than her iconic products like Chanel No.5, the classic quilted chain handbag, the costume jewelry, and the tweed and boucle' jacket? I thought I knew Coco pretty well until I read this book, the Gospel According to Coco Chanel by Karen Karbo

     Inevitably, all that I really knew about this influential woman was her stance in fashion. But there is so much to know about this iconic woman other than just clothes and accessories. Her various opinions and beliefs, which are covered by this book, include self-invention, fearlessness, success, money, and femininity -- all of which completely ties in to her fashion business and passions. But since this is a blog about fashion, we'll just talk about the most relevant chapter which is Chapter 1: On Style

     You know how people are always talking about how someone has style. Well, Coco Chanel had taste. And an impeccable taste at that. She knew about cut and fit and basically knew what looked good on her and she did this with both comfort and practicality. She hated corsets and all of the frou frou and frilly clothing of her time and opted for something more comfortable, yet elegant. And this is why her designs completely defines what a classic is today. And what's more is that she was a woman designing for women. She wasn't afraid to be her own best model. Don't get me wrong. I adore Lagerfeld, De la Renta, Dior, Jacobs, Posen, and McQueen, but they all didn't have what Coco did which is an extra X chromosome. She knew the shapes, contours, and lines of the body of a woman very well, because quite frankly she has lived in the body of one ever since she could remember. "Chanel wore the clothes she designed for the life she led," as Karbo perfectly puts it. 

Chanel Classic 
[Sha-NELL klas-ik]
- noun 
1. Chanel classic is the iconic Chanel suit made of loosely woven tweed (probably in beiege, navy blue, or black -- the colors Coco preferred), with its quilted silk lining, gold-chain hem, and simple knee-grazing skirt. 
2. It is the big clunky costume jewelry, sporting poured glass that looks like hard candy, and the square quilted bags, so classic that an illustration of one could appear on the international sign for handbags. 
3. It is the aforementioned black dress in crepe de chine or lace. 
4. Hats always figure in Chanel style..  
5. It is the two-tone beige and black pumps, with a comfortable, modest heel.. 
6. It is the long ropes of pearls.. 
7. The camellias. 

     Chanel Classic is probably the reason behind our forbidden fruit mentality of the brand. Because Chanel Classic it is a collectible in the same way that people collect pieces of historic art. It is less about the clothes and more about the iconic design. 

Chanel-Chanel vs. Lagerfeld-Chanel
    This next point is probably the most obvious one that I've never really though about. There is a distinct difference between the Chanel that Coco herself designed and the Chanel that we know today as designed by iconic house's current art director, Karl Lagerfeld. Karabo said that Chanel-Chanel's practical designs "sprang from the changing reality of her own life and the lives of the women around her," while Lagerfeld-Chanel is the "spring from that brand that is Chanel, mixed with whatever else is going on out there zietgeist-wise" -- all of which is only inevitable in the name of fashion. So if you're thinking about investing in a classic Chanel tweed or boucle' jacket, this might be something to consider and worth looking into, especially if the Chanel-Chanel and Lagerfeld-Chanel distinction is something that's important to you. 

Style 'a la Chanel 
"It's always better to be slightly underdressed."

"All you have to do is subtract.

"One shouldn't spend all of one's time dressing. All one needs are two or three suits, as long as they and everything to go with them, are perfect." 

"One ought to be a bit of a fetishist.

"Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn." - Gore Vidal

     So if you want to learn more about this iconic woman that TIME magazine named as one of their 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century, this book is a great start. The book is filled with loads of world history, fashion history, lots and lots of Chanel anecdotes, and unexpected humor. Maybe you'll learn something more than just fashion from the woman that Giorgio Armani called "the most elegant woman who's ever lived." Happy reading! 

Love, KB

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