I was very lucky to be one of five winners of the book Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life by Justine Picardie from HarperCollins Canada, and it's a mesmerizing read. Behind such an iconic figure and empire, one wouldn't expect such sorrow and sadness to help propel it to such heights. I'm not quite done the book yet, and I suspect at the rate I'm reading I'll have it done before the month ends. Yet so far, from what I have read about this astonishing woman, she was a force to be reckoned with. Born in a poor house in Saunur, France in 1883, her childhood in an orphanage run by nuns, to her bourgeois lifestyle scorn with heartache, loss and death in her early adult years - and I'm only halfway through! You can have a read of an except of the book here!
Nick had found a collection of vintage Chanel charms at a garage sale and brought them home for me a few months ago, because he's a good boyfriend. *sigh* I had also received a $25 gift card from the good people of Artbeads.com, and spent it wisely on the beautiful beads used in these pieces. I had been waiting for the right setting for these charms, and the images in Justine's book have started to craft colours and silhouettes that I could shape around them. Chanel believed in simplicity in design and well-cut garments. "Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury," Coco had once said. These pieces pay tribute to the classic style of Coco Chanel and her contribution to timeless luxury fashion.
|Later sketches of the 'Ford' dress.|
The Double C necklace. The iconic symbol for the house of Chanel have many believe that the two Cs represent 'Coco'. Reading this book, I've found the significance of these letters are much deeper in Chanel's life than expected. The name 'Coco' derived from a brief stint as a stage singer in Paris cafes, only having two songs in her repertoire: 'Ko Ko Ri Ko' (the French refrain for a rooster, 'Cock a Doodle Doo') and 'Qui qu'a vu Coco?', a 'ditty' about a girl who's lost her dog. Soon audiences were greeting her with barnyard calls and referring to her as 'Coco', the name of the song's lost dog. "Thus Gabrielle became Coco, a metamorphosis that might have been humiliating rather than liberating, but nevertheless led to the birth of a legend."
However, here's where the mystery continues to the significance of this symbol. Chanel met Arthur 'Boy' Capel whilst living with her lover, Etienne Balsan in his opulent home, Chateau de Royallieu. Here began a complicated triangular relationship between two men who shared "an enthusiasm for fast horses and pretty women" and "the girl who was mistress to no one." Chanel's attraction and passion for Capel was complicated, developing over a lengthly period of time before their love was consummated and became inseparable for over a decade, even while he had started a family with another woman. His involvement in Chanel's fashion empire traces to the roots, providing funds for the property on Rue Cambon, which still stands today as a shrine to Chanel's work. His sudden death in a car wreck outside of Paris devastated Chanel, although he had provided for her by including her in his will, leaving her forty thousand francs, which she invested furthur into the business he helped build with Chanel. She had immortalized his memory within the iconic logo that is still recognizable today.
|Synthetic pink rectangle beads in random shapes dangle from black glass tube beads from a thick silver-plated chain. A vintage button-like Chanel charm dangles near the hoop clasp.|
Jackie had found a 'moral loophole' in continuing to include Chanel fashions in her wardrobe through some clever 'circumnavigation'; fabrics and supplies were shipped directly from Chanel to a dressmaking establishment in New York called Chez Ninon, providing handsewn fashions from Chanel's latest collections. (Chanel had a 'line for line' system when it came to the authenticity of the garments, as supposed to providing literal cutting and sewing patterns.) "Mrs. Kennedy did not save money by doing so - the prices at Chez Ninon were on par with those at Chanel, with a suit starting at $850, and evening gowns running into the thousands - but she did save face, as an implicitly patriotic patron of an American dressmaker."
Thus, she came to wear the famed pink suit during her husband's ill-fated visit to Dallas, Texas (pictured above), where he was assassinated when riding in an open-roof limousine, with Jackie at his side in the car. Her appearance when Lyndon Johnson was taking his oath into office was dramatic, as written by Mrs. Johnson in her diary: "Mrs. Kennedy's dress was stained in blood. One leg was almost entirely covered with it and her right glove was caked, it was caked with blood - her husband's blood. Somehow that was one of the most poignant sights - that immaculate woman, exquisitely dressed, and caked in blood. I asked her if I couldn't get someone to help her change and she said, 'Oh, no ...' And then with almost an element of fierceness ... she said, 'I want them to see what they have done to Jack.'" She had changed out of the early the next morning, not before attending to her husband's casket when it arrived in Washington. Her maid had placed the bloodstained suit in a box and marked 'November 22nd 1963' on the top, which eventually made its way to Jackie's mother's attic. The suit is now safely stored, away from public viewing in the National Archives, and has never been cleaned.
"In retrospect, Mrs. Kennedy's Americanized Chanel was never entirely uncomplicated, from the moment of its creation, even without the president's blood on it." With the swirling rumours and tabloid fodder of her husband's infidelities and affair with Marilyn Monroe made public, the sterling image of "Camelot" had begun to tarnish, and the bloodstained Chanel served as a symbol of the end of innocence in that era. No sooner did the media paint Jackie Kennedy, grieving widow, clad in black did they replace them with images of Jackie O, "in a short white wedding dress with her billionaire second husband." She continued to buy the European couture she always admired, frequently dispatching her Greek husband's private jets to Paris to purchase bottles of Chanel No. 5 from the boutique on Rue Cambon. Her status as a fashion icon and association to Chanel - whether tragic, extravagant or elegant - is a timeless reminder of the power of clothing and image.
I'm excited to finish the book and read more about Chanel's life. I just may have another jewelry piece/book report in me! Grab a button to show your appreciation for Chanel!
All quotes sourced from "Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life" by Justine Picardie, HarperCollins Publishers.