The Fashion of Coco Before Chanel
Fashionistas and film critics alike are abuzz about the upcoming Chanel biopic, Coco Before Chanel (in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on September 25). As if Chanel’s incredible rise to fashion royalty wasn’t reason enough to head to the theater, the costumes are spectacular. “The story is more or less set before the first World War and I wanted amp#91;to stay true toamp#93; the style of the period,” says the movie’s costume designer Catherine Leterrier. Here, Audrey Tatou (of Amelie fame) is wearing a striped nautical top inspired by what French fisherman wore as underwear. “I put it on her to show that she was a tomboy, but very chic” says Leterrier. “She could turn working outfits into sophisticated looks.”
Working Girl Gets Chic
In the film, Tatou portrays Chanel’s days working as a seamstress, so Anne Fontaine, the movie’s director, asked Leterrier to create this uniform. “Over 200 costumes in the movie were originals. We went to fashion houses in England, France and Spain for the others,” says Leterrier. “The challenge was that she had to look great, but very poor.”
Coco's Standout Style
The film also details Chanel’s relationship with Etienne Balsan, a wealthy French socialite. At this dance in Deauville “all the women are dressed in pale colors, but Chanel is wearing black,” explains Leterrier. “It wasn’t that scandalous, but people would definitely talk about her.”
Making It Her Own
“Balsan gives Chanel this dress to wear to a party at his castle,” says Leterrier. Instead of wearing it as is, the designer uses it to create something entirely new. “When she arrives at the party, Balsan is furious.”
“Silk pajamas were a new thing for men, so here Chanel is borrowing Balsan’s pajamas,” says Leterrier. “She was unique because she was wearing them when she was so young. Everyone wanted to wear what she was wearing.”
“I put Audrey in a small suit that Balsan might have worn with a glove in place of the handkerchief,” says Leterrier. Stephen Jones created the hats Tatou wore in the film and Pippa Cleator designed all the others. “Since Chanel was a milliner, I wanted to show the difference between what she would do and what she would see,” says Leterrier.
For a trip to a horse race with Balsan, Leterrier created a replica of a suit she saw the designer wearing in a picture. “Chanel didn’t want to copy, she wanted to be copied,” explains Leterrier. “She imagined herself as someone to be admired.”
A Star Is Born
“This is a timeless shot. It’s inspired by a picture of Chanel when she’s in her 70s,” says Leterrier. “The suit and the shoes were done by Chanel. Coco invented these shoes, beige with a little black, because she thought they made legs look longer." It was important to Leterrier that she include as many Chanel pieces in the movie as possible, "so that the audience could recognize the Chanel style even in the early times,” she says.