NEW YORK, Sep 14, 2008 / FW/ — One of the most important figures in the history of fashion, Coco Chanel was the subject of Lifetime’s made-for-TV-movie that look into the design’s great early life and how she became a fashion designer.
The movie began in 1954, the year that Coco Chanel came out of her ‘self-imposed retirement.’ Played by Shirley MacLaine, the first scene showing the design great was just before the start of the fashion show. Unhappy with the sleeves of an outfit, she tore it apart, and then instructed her assistants on how to reconstruct it properly.
The collection was less than stellar, the attendees / clients were leaving even before the show ended and the reviews on the next day’s papers were murderous. Taking in the bad reviews with her closest friend and financial advisor, Coco Chanel commented, ‘I’ve been rejected before, even during the time I was still called Gabrielle,’ and thus the ‘flashback’ style of the movie begun.
The movie took the audience to 1895, the year that Coco Chanel was 12 and her mother died. She and her younger sister were sent to live in an orphanage while her father sailed to America. Later, Coco would find out that her father never left but had stayed and remarried, thus the ‘rejection’ she was talking about in the beginning of the film.
More of a love story than a retelling of Coco Chanel’s rise as one of the most influential designers in the 20th century, the story focused on Chanel’s love life. While working as a seamstress, she met Etienne Balsan, a millionaire cavalry officer. It was while she was living with him that Coco Chanel begun designing hats as a hobby and through Etienne, she would also meet her next amour, rich polo player and industrialist Arthur “Boy” Capel who would help her finance her shop.
From rags to riches to rags and then riches again, the story of Coco Chanel as told is Lifetime is tame, even romantic. Except for a few scenes with Shirley MacLaine, Coco Chanel’s immense talent and fashion dictatorship was barely touched.
Perhaps, it is to avoid controversy; this is television after all. But, why get an award winning actress like Shirley MacLaine if her range as an actress would not be used. Lifetime’s ‘Coco Chanel’ is adequate but it is nowhere near as compelling and dramatic as its subject.
Photo courtesy of Lifetime
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