Coco Chanel: fashion legend

UB French Connection screens film about the French icon


To have a dream is to look to the future toward something brighter. Whether big or small, dreams require a perseverance and ambition so that they may come true. The idea that one’s life may change dramatically for the better is what keeps the dream alive.

Unwavering determination seemed to be the theme of Anne Fontaine’s Coco Before Chanel, a biographical insight into the early beginnings and tribulations that led legendary fashion designer, Coco Chanel, to be considered one of the greats at her craft.

On Thursday evening, UB club French Connection, a group of graduate students, screened the film in 109 Baldy Hall.

Dany Jacobs, a teaching assistant in French language and literature and president of the French Connection, strives to make learning about French culture fun and interesting through the club’s weekly events.

“[The French Connection] organizes weekly French discussions tables and movie nights,” Jacobs said. “In this way, people can learn by interacting with French speakers and [get to know] about the culture.”

The beginning of the film depicts the early stages of Gabriel Bonhuer Chanel’s (Audrey Tautou, Chinese Puzzle) life before she became known as the founder of the Chanel brand. The film starts with her father dropping a 12-year-old Chanel off at an orphanage in Corrèze, a territorial division in south-central France in the beginning of the 1900s. Her father never returns for her.

The film attempted to inspire viewers to achieve their own dreams despite hardships that occur.

“This is a film people should watch if they have a dream and they’re not really sure [of themselves]. Just go for it,” said Kelley Royes-Sullivan, a junior psychology major and media study and French minor.

Once Chanel turned of age to leave the orphanage, she led a life as a seamstress and cabaret songstress known for her performance of the song Qui Qu’a Vu Coco? (Who Has Seen Coco?), earning her the nickname Coco Chanel.

She attracted the attention of Étienne Balsan (Benoît Poelvoorde, Three Hearts), the wealthy textile heir to his family’s fortune. Balsan takes Chanel away from her unsatisfying lifestyle and into his life of lavishness and entertaining his affluent, elite guests.

This marks Chanel’s first experience with French high society, and the primary stages of her career designing her iconic fashion hats and garments.

Chanel always disliked the popularity of the “corseted” woman’s attire in France during the early 20th century. Her fashions have been lauded for expressing the modern woman at the time, whose fashion stressed comfort and practicality.

She emphasized a fashion that combined masculine silhouettes and patterns that followed the natural shape of a woman.

“Coco Chanel didn’t conform and her styles are still relevant today,” Royes-Sullivan said. “I like the idea of not sticking to the norm.”

In the midst of developing her craft, Chanel falls deeply in love with Arthur Capel (Alessandro Nivola, A Most Violent Year), a wealthy Englishman and friend of Balsan, who believes in her ability to change the fashion world. Capel helps Chanel form a business, and her life becomes full of love, happiness and success.

Shortly after, in the midst of Chanel’s bourgeoning success, Capel dies in a car accident.

Although devastated, Chanel continues her business and her determination stemming from her years in an orphanage, struggling seamstress and cabaret singer. She eventually earns the honor of the only fashion designer in Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

Some students also gained a new perspective on life after seeing the depiction of Chanel’s trials and staying true to herself to be successful.

“I’m always thinking about what I want to do with my life. After seeing this film, I have a different feeling,” said Irene Llopis, a junior undecided major. “After seeing this film, I learned that when you’re absolutely sure you want to [achieve] something, you go for it with all you have. It’s a great feeling.”

On Monday at 3 p.m. the French Connection holds discussion events on the ninth floor of Clemens Hall. After the discussions, the club screens a French film with English subtitles, like it did with Coco Before Chanel, at 8 p.m.