Film and Fashion - Coco Before Chanel

Film and Fashion - Coco Before Chanel

As a slew of films and documentaries about fêted fashion houses gears up for release, Paul Dale ponders the old alliance between film and fashion

As enjoyable as Coco Before Chanel – the giddy biopic of the reputed Nazi collaborator couturier starring Audrey Tautou – is, it underlined a hard, learned truth for me. Fashion and films co-exist – there is no symbiosis between the two. If they were human beings they would hate each other, but vanity and a certain spirit of self-preservation keeps these two monstrosities of commerce faking it all the way up the red carpet.

Let me explain. Many years ago I tried to launch a magazine called Film and Fashion (catchy name huh? Hey, I was young). Our admittedly pompous mission statement was to ‘catch the zeitgeist of glamour and fashion at the point where it intercepts with great cinema.’ Whatever that means. The idea was to get clever, possibly brilliant writers to write savvy, suave and intellectual articles from the frontline of high fashion as represented at the movies. If Jean Paul Gaultier was working with Abel Ferrara, we wanted to know about it, and more than that we wanted to unpick what that meant in terms of historical context, philosophy and broad socio-economics. As you can tell, the magazine was always going to have a slim readership. As this was before the days of a widely available internet I tried unsuccessfully to secure some public funding for publishing and then borrowed a small amount of cash from media friends. That money I spent on a self-proclaimed marketing hotshot who promised to get the advertising from distribution companies and fashion companies rolling in while staking Film and Fashion’s place in the kudos-heavy marketplace alongside the excellent Dazed and Confused (then redefining itself as more filmcentric than most fashion-led magazines).

To cut a long story short Film and Fashion was less a footnote to British publishing history than a complete non-event. Fashion companies were less than enthused by a product that preached bio-diversity with a business they felt superior to, while distribution companies saw little advantage trading their wares in a near-academic journal as schizophrenic as Film and Fashion.

Anyway, since those heady days I’ve had the suspicion that the relationship between couture and cinema is all surface and no depth. Issey Miyake may gift one of his latest creations to Angelina Jolie to stroll up some blood-coloured rug or Sex and the City hench-woman Patricia Field may be able to beg a sack-full of Manolos for any one of the ever unfolding SATC movie sequels, but it’s all really just shrewd product placement.

One has to look back to the 1950s and Stanley Donen’s wonderfully fluffy Funny Face (the mighty Edith Head working with Givenchy) or Hitchcock’s Rear Window (Head again channelling postwar couture and new designs in indigo denim) and Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life (costume designer Mary Wills mixing up high end fashion and suburban preppy chic) to find a collaboration that had anything to do with art and essence. After Coco, sleeping with the enemy was no longer de rigueur.

Coco Before Chanel is on general release from Fri 31 Jul.

Coco Before Chanel

  • 4 stars
  • 2009
  • France
  • 1h 50min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Anne Fontaine
  • Written by: Edmonde Charles-Roux, Anne Fontaine, Camille Fontaine
  • Cast: Audrey Tautou, Benoît Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola

This sumptuously dressed biopic of the early years of Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel faithfully charts the rising hemlines and torn bustiers of a passionate woman repressed by society, with emotion-driven montages of dressmaking as Coco uses sewing machine and scissors to direct her restless energies into clothing. There's…