Friday, May 20, 2011

The Gospel According To Coco Chanel

Originally posted on La Vie En Fifi, 22 December 2009

I just received this book from the library and am so excited to have it to read when on holiday over Christmas. It looks like a good contender for my own personal library wish list. I was even more excited to discover a website of the book which has a great excerpt from the 'On Style' chapter (a small part of it below).

And if you haven't already found it, read about my Great Aunt who nursed Coco Chanel in the late 1960s whilst working at the American Hospital in Paris.

For nearly a hundred years, Coco Chanel has been synonymous with every piece of clothing we consider stylish — and with lots of stuff to which we never give a thought. Throw open your closet door and you will find the spirit of Chanel. If you have a collection of jackets for tossing on over a pair of jeans, the better to look as if you’ve actually dressed for the occasion — as opposed to simply parked the lawn mower, given your nails a once over with the nail brush, and walked out the door — that’s Chanel.

Any black dress is a direct descendent of Chanel’s 1926 short silk model. A knee-grazing pencil or A-line skirt? Chanel. Jersey anything? Chanel again. She gave us real pockets, bell-bottoms, twin sets, drop waists, belted cardigans, short dresses for evening, sportswear including riding breeches, and the need to accessorize madly at all times. Anything that’s got simple lines, skims the body, is easy to move in, and affords the loading on of a lot of jewelry is Chanel.

So too is anything in which prettiness trumps quirkiness. Chanel ran screaming from the latest fads. She considered them to be expressions of cheesy grandstanding, and, anyway, they rarely held to her standards of simple elegance. Thus ponchos, stirrup pants, or backless dresses cut in a manner that reveals your thong are definitely not Chanel.

If you own anything that has emy husbandets (and you are not in the armed forces), an unnecessary amount of fabric, ill-fitting arms, or Hulk-size shoulder pads, it is not Chanel. Anything related to the grunge revival, featuring ripped tights that look as if you’ve barely survived a mugging? Uh, no. Anything in which you cannot breathe, sit down, or get into a car without flashing your lady bits—well, I don’t even need to say it.

When Chanel observed that “not all women have the figure of Venus* yet nothing should be hidden,” this is not what she was talking about. (To clarify, she meant that the loose, long T-shirts we reserve for fat days do nothing but make us look fatter.) * Actually, a lot of us do; what we don’t have is the flat-chested, slim-hipped figure of Chanel.

The Chanel aesthetic is like the force in Star Wars, surrounding, penetrating, and binding together the universe of fashion, now and forever.

As I write this I’m wearing a pair of J. Crew boy jeans—even though they’re square through the hip with straight legs and a button fly, they are cunningly cut to prevent your looking like an appliance box—and a chocolate brown, long-sleeve cashmere T-shirt. Both pieces descend straight from Chanel’s once-shocking ideas that with a smidge of fancying up, menswear could be easily retooled for the ladies and soft, body-defining fabrics (some of which was normally used for underwear) could make the simplest garment seem luxe.

Excerpt from The Gospel According to Coco Chanel - Life Lessons From the World's Most Elegant Woman by Karen Karbo


  1. Chanel was innovative, but her innovative items were highly wearable. Now when people innovate, it seems like they have to shock and present something almost bizarre for it to sell and get attention. (lobster claw shoes anyone?) If she were alive today I would love to see what she continued to come up with.

    While Chanel is still such an iconic popular brand, they keep regurgitating Chanel's own ideas over and over, which works because they are classic. However, the innovation and real creativity seems to have died with her. I think she is fascinating and her story of becoming a self made success always inspires me.

  2. Funny thing about menswear. I'm petite and find that any frou frou detail just swamps me. I love the look of ruffles and lace but they hate me! I'm only comfortable in very un-frilly clothes and though I really do want to look feminine, the plain lines of menswear styles are what best suit me. Oddly enough, I still feel feminine in them. I've read a biography of Chanel and she really was a rebel, not to mention having a good eye for design. I'm not sure she was a nice person, mind, but perhaps the time in which she lived didn't allow much for that.

  3. Love the excerpt. ;) I actually just checked out Chanel's biography from the library. All I've gotten to so far are the pictures...I just love the way she organized her apartment and her desk.

  4. What a lovely post and thank you for the reminder. I had completely forgotten I'd downloaded this book on my Kindle. I have so much I am reading at any one time I sometimes get overwhelmed and forgetful. I am going to start reading today, now in fact!


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

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