Scrolling Headlines:

UMass women’s basketball suffers disappointing loss to St. Bonaventure at Mullins Center Thursday -

January 19, 2017

REPORT: Tom Masella out as defensive coordinator for UMass football -

January 19, 2017

Zach Lewis, bench carry UMass men’s basketball in win over St. Joe’s -

January 19, 2017

UMass women’s basketball handles Duquesne at home -

January 16, 2017

UMass men’s basketball’s late comeback falls short after blowing 15-point first-half lead -

January 15, 2017

UMass hockey outlasted at home against No. 6 UMass Lowell -

January 14, 2017

Hailey Leidel hits second buzzer beater of the season to give UMass women’s basketball win over Davidson -

January 13, 2017

UMass football hosts Maine at Fenway Park in 2017 -

January 12, 2017

UMass men’s basketball snaps losing streak and upsets Dayton Wednesday night at Mullins Center -

January 11, 2017

UMass women’s track and field takes second at Dartmouth Relays -

January 10, 2017

UMass hockey falls to No. 5 Boston University at Frozen Fenway -

January 8, 2017

UMass professor to make third appearance on ‘Jeopardy!’ -

January 8, 2017

UMass women’s basketball suffers brutal loss on road against Saint Joseph’s -

January 7, 2017

UMass men’s basketball drops thirds straight, falls to VCU 81-64 -

January 7, 2017

UMass men’s basketball drops tightly-contested conference matchup against George Mason Wednesday night -

January 4, 2017

Late-game defense preserves UMass women’s basketball’s win against rival Rhode Island -

January 4, 2017

AIC shuts out UMass hockey 3-0 at Mullins Center -

January 4, 2017

UMass professor to appear as contestant on ‘Jeopardy!’ Thursday night -

January 4, 2017

Penalties plague UMass hockey in Mariucci Classic championship game -

January 2, 2017

UMass men’s basketball falls in A-10 opener to St. Bonaventure and its veteran backcourt -

December 30, 2016

Coco before she was France’s Mademoiselle

We are all familiar with the Chanel logo, the iconic image of the two C’s intertwined. Department stores internationally sell the famous Chanel #5, while the authentic handbags are sold at a price range that extends up to $3,500. As a brand, Chanel is inarguably an elite fashion label, and its famed designer, the late Coco Chanel, is a fashion icon whom many modern designers wish to emulate.

“Coco before Chanel” – or “Coco avant Chanel” since the movie is in French with subtitles – is a film of Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel’s modest life before she became France’s famous Mademoiselle. Written and directed by Anne Fontaine, the movie stars Audrey Tautou, who plays Coco Chanel. While during her 60-year-long career, she seemed to embody sophistication, class and affluence, Chanel’s roots and her path to success is obscured by the fame she later achieved.

Fontaine’s film documented Chanel’s experiences growing up in an orphanage with her sister, Adrienne Chanel (played by Marie Gillain), because their father had left their family. Years afterward – due to the fact that her father never returned for her – she and her sister emerged from the orphanage, both intent on becoming self-sufficient. After finding jobs as seamstresses for performers and singers, they began to perform songs at a local bar. Specifically, they performed Qui qu’a vu Coco (Have You Seen Coco) which is how Chanel earned her nickname.

Chanel actually aspired to be an actress, although her talent as a seamstress was recognized from the beginning. Chanel crossed paths with French socialite Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde) and quickly thereafter became his live-in mistress. Through their association, she met many wealthy women who compliment her on her hat-making skills.

During a time in France when every woman was dressed from head to toe in loud feathers, laces and restricting corsets, Chanel wore wearing black pants or simple solid color dresses. She did this at first due to living in poverty, but continued because she didn’t enjoy France’s current style. She also became a vociferous critic, claiming that the hats were too big and feathery, the makeup too thick and bold and the corsets too restricting. In one scene, she told an upper-class woman to lose the feathers in her hat and to forget the corsetry.

Aside from compliments on Chanel’s straw hats and scenes of her sewing – as well as  a happy-ending when she put on a fashion show of the clothing she has created – much of “Coco before Chanel” focused on the Mademoiselle as a female in a male-dominated world. Her choice to abstain from marriage and to favor her career was viewed by contemporaries as controversial. However, during this time, issues of love and marriage were handled with triviality. Chanel found herself treated like nothing more than a sex object by Etienne before falling in love with Arthur “Boy” Capel (Alessandro Nivola).

Because Chanel never married, she was viewed as a feminist for her time. Throughout the film she claimed she had no interest in marrying anyone. While she had opportunities to marry, that would have solved her money issues, she opted never to do so. She later famously opined that, “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster. There is only one Chanel.”

Chanel also revolutionized the feminine ideals of her day, which seems fitting given her overall rebellion nature. This was gauged early on, when she stole fancy dresses after being fired from her job. This rebellion was indicative in her designs. The style in France appropriately demonstrated the lack of power women had at the time. Their corsets were as restricting as their husbands and their feathers and makeup covered their bodies. Chanel started out using mostly menswear to create her styles.

Chanel famously said, “Simplicity is the keynote to all true elegance.” She left her styles simple, comfortable and revealing. She left the woman in the clothing the main focus, rather than the clothes.

“Coco before Chanel” helps foster a better understanding of the value of Chanel’s viewpoints during a time in France where most women were not radical or rebellious. But more evidently, “Coco Before Chanel” strips the legend away from the icon, revealing a woman of depth, soul and above all – keen fashion sense.

Lisa Linsley can be reached at llinsley@student.umass.edu.

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