Not since Scarlett O’Hara upcycled those curtains to make a crazy green velveteen dress have we seen such industrious textile make-overs on the screen.
Yes, Anne Fontaine’s Coco Before Chanel is the quintessential tweed rags-to-riches saga, in which a poor but clever French girl and her sister climb the ladder from the orphanage to the chateau by making great contacts at a tavern where they sang a funny ditty, entitled Coco (hence the nickname for Gabrielle Chanel).
I took away much from Audrey Tautou’s brilliant portrayal of the iconic designer, mainly a reminder why monochromatic, pared-down simplicity has always ruled in the chic department, and how this can be arrived at with the three R’s: recycling, reducing and reusing.
Coco’s early homemade ensembles were reconfigured men’s tweed suits and women’s work aprons – a collection you might spot on Etsy or other sites where crafty visionaries are putting their green spin on fashion. She takes an old tablecloth plaid dress and embellishes it with a white ribbed bib and cuffs. Her lover’s suits become her riding clothes. Sailor tops she spotted in Deauville inspire simple, blue and white striped cotton tees.
You’d never know this was the genius who would put quilted handbags, designer perfume and the famous pocketed Chanel suit on the map, becoming the true first lady of fashion.
Any Project Runway addict will love watching the textile transformations in the film which yielded both handsome and hideous results. You can just hear host and judge Heidi Klum snort, “It’s just so Octoberfest!”
Would the early Coco have had a chance on Project Runway? Certainly in a green competition, you know, one of those challenges in which designers are tossed newspaper, candy wrappers or high volume acrylic wedding gowns and ordered to remake them into something Tim Gunn finds has the wow factor.
The wow emerging in the extraordinary executions was the lack of wow, the architectural lines and basic black palette which allowed the most important aspect of glamor to shine through: the woman. That was the magnet for “Boy”, her painfully handsome lover who appreciated her gift, and that is what attracts a recession-strapped audience to the sullen-eyed heroine.
In a decadent and wasteful Edwardian society married to costumed corsets, frills and other excess, Coco proves women of real style can wear curtains and still be the belle of the ball.