Fashion Statement: Inès de la Fressange

“Couture is things as they should be: farmyard chickens instead of battery hens; real tea instead of instant powder.”Inès de la Fressange, French model, one-time muse to Karl Lagerfeld and exclusive face of Chanel.

It was Fressange who, in the mid-80s, inspired what Elle magazine called a “French revolution” when she paired her Levi’s 501 jeans with a conservative Chanel jacket, a look that was copied by anyone who could afford it for years afterward. Before Read More »

Cinemode: Coco Chanel Makes her Costume-Designing Debut with The Blood of a Poet

Cinemodes, by self-imposed definition, are On This Day In Fashion’s living list of films we deem must-see, ones that highlight great fashion, or focus on fashionable people or the industry. So I was excited to finally view The Blood of a Poet, Jean Cocteau’s film released on this day in 1930. Why? Because Blood of a Poet features the very first costumes made for film by a popular fashion designer named Chanel.

But any fashion fan that watches this film for glimpses of Chanel couture will be disappointed. Oh, they are there all right, but only toward the end and in fleeting moments. There are no indulgent shots that focus specifically on the garments, allowing the viewer to appreciate the drape, fit and detailing. Even restored for the Criterion Collection, the film quality is poor. If you squint, however, you can see the talent of Chanel.

What makes this film worth watching for fans of fashion—if saying you’ve seen the first film Coco Chanel made costumes for is not enough—is model, muse and Vogue photographer Lee Miller starring in her one and only movie role.

Miller is ethereally lovely in Blood of a Poet, and not just because she is playing an otherworldly spirit. In the 50-minute surrealist story divided into Read More »

Fashion Statement: Karl Lagerfeld

“If you want social justice be a civil servant. Fashion is ephemeral, dangerous and unfair.” Karl Lagerfeld, German fashion designer, from the must-see documentary, Lagerfeld Confidential. To read more fabulous Fashion Statements, click here. Read More »

On the 40-year Anniversary of her Death, a Look Back at the Complicated Life and Legacy of Coco Chanel

“Any human being who thinks of himself or herself is already dead. …When others no longer think of you, you are also dead.”

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel spoke those words to her friend, the author Paul Morand, in the winter of 1946. She was living in St. Moritz, Switzerland, having fled Paris after the Nazis liberated the city to its rightful occupants, and continued, “I have reluctantly decided to place myself on stage and impose my presence upon you.” Over the next several days, Chanel proceeded to tell Morand her life story, perhaps in an effort clear the record and remind the world of her talents. It is clear the designer was all too aware of the fact that, as far as her Parisian clientele was concerned, she was dead.

The bitingly frank designer from the French countryside, however, was not dead at all. It would be another 35 years before Chanel passed away, not in self-imposed exile in Switzerland, but at her long-time home at the Hotel Ritz Paris, 40 years ago on this day in 1971.

But Chanel was dead to Parisians for a single reason: Her rather comfortable survival of the German occupation of the city in the arms of Nazi officer Hans Gunther Read More »

The Unknown Era of Chanel: Could She Have Been a Fur Designer Before She was a Milliner?

Here’s an interesting tidbit to ponder. On this day in 1902, The Paris Herald, that turn-of-the-20th-century journal of privilege founded as a diversion for muckety-muck American expats that eventually became the International Herald Tribune, mentioned the name Chanel in a piece about furs. The article didn’t go so far as to say “Mme. Chanel,” or even “Gabrielle Chanel,” but simply hearkened a fur from “Chanel.” From a fashion-history-nerd standpoint, this piece of information is intriguing, because practically every biography of Chanel claims she launched her career with a hat shop in Deauville, France, around 1912.

What do you think? If anyone knew fur in Paris in 1902, it would be the fashion editor at The Paris Herald. Could the paper have made a typo and misspelled the name of a furrier with a similar French surname, say, Chanal or Chamel? Or have all of Chanel’s biographers missed this era—even if it was a brief one—of the designer’s career? Could there actually be another chapter in the mystique of Chanel yet to be uncovered? It’s fascinating to think about the possibilities of the latter.

Other than writing about Chanel’s marvelous stand-off with her team of seamstresses in 1936 and the introduction of the classic suit and the little black Read More »

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