“Coco avant Chanel” movie - Women in Fashion

Coco avant Chanel is about the cultivation of strength and determination, leading ultimately to the destiny of one woman—whose creations eventually revolutionize the fashion world.

However, this film is all about the lead-up to Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s career. Anyone expecting grand Chanel suits and catwalks, or sweeping scene from garconne to glamour will be disappointed, as this movie takes its time to meander in Coco’s young adulthood and love affairs.

A brief introduction of her childhood is given, then the film shows a grown Coco played by nuanced Audrey Tatou, building an increasingly opaque shell by working as a bar singer, navigating through high society with the help of Etienne Balsan, and finally becoming a woman of work and thus, worth. Although her sewing and incredible outfits attest to her stubbornness to remain true to herself and her remarkably keen eye, Coco’s loneliness is palpable from the beginning. She is only carelessly happy with her true love, “Boy” (played by Alessandro Nivola) and her only family member, her sister Emiliene (played by Emmanuelle Devos). Benoit Poelvoorde plays a complex and captivating Etienne Balsan, Coco’s close friend and former beau.

While this seems like expected fare from a commercial release, the film weaves (with the help of stellar costumes from Catherine Leterrier) Coco’s past, present and future together, from her personal to her professional life, and expresses what the minimal dialogue could not. The incredible cinematography by Christophe Beaucarne sets such abstract notions in dreamlike vividness and together with Tatou’s emotions, lends some magical humanity to the mammoth mythical image that Chanel is today


Seow Chin Pua, Fashion Writer