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Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky

Updated on September 16, 2013
Coco Chanel in her famous black knit jumper
Coco Chanel in her famous black knit jumper


Coco Chanel claimed to be born in 1893 and a birthplace of Auvergne; She was actually born in 1883 in Saumur. According to her version of her life story, her mother worked in the Poorhouse where Gabrielle was born, and died when Gabrielle was only six, leaving her father with five children whom he promptly abandoned to the care of relatives.

She adopted the name Coco during a brief career as a cafe and concert singer 1905-1908. Later as a mistress of a wealthy military officer then of an English Industrialist. It was at Moulins that she met a young, French, ex-cavalry officer, and wealthy textile heir Étienne Balsan Coco Chanel drew on the resources of these patrons in setting up a millinery shop in Paris in 1910, later expanding to Deauville and Biarritz. The two men also helped her find customers among women of society, and her simple hats became popular.

Soon Chanel was expanding to couture, working in jersey, a first in the French fashion world. By the 1920s, her fashion house had expanded considerably, and her chemise set a fashion trend with its "little boy" look. Her relaxed fashions, short skirts, and casual look were in sharp contrast to the corset fashions popular in the previous decades. Chanel herself dressed in mannish clothes, and adapted these more comfortable fashions which other women also found liberating.

In 1922 Chanel introduced a perfume, Chanel No. 5, which became and remained popular, and remains a profitable product of Chanel's company. Pierre Wertheimer became her partner in the perfume business in 1924, and perhaps also her lover. Wertheimer owned 70% of the company; Coco Chanel received 10% and her friend Bader 20%. The Wertheimers dynasty continue to control the perfume company today.

Chanel introduced her signature cardigan jacket in 1925 and signature "little black dress" in 1926. Most of her fashions had a staying power, and didn't change much from year to year -- or even generation to generation. Something which makes the fashion so appealing.

Coco Chanel served as a nurse in World War I. Nazi occupation meant the fashion business in Paris was cut off for some years; Chanel's affair during World War II with a Nazi officer also resulted in some years of diminished popularity and an exile of sorts to Switzerland. In 1954 her comeback restored her to the first ranks of haute couture. Her natural, casual clothing including the Chanel suit once again caught the eye -- and purses -- of women. She introduced pea jackets and bell bottom pants for women. She was still working in 1971 when she died. Karl Lagerfeld has been chief designer of Chanel's fashion house since 1983.

In addition to her work with high fashion, Coco Chanel also designed stage costumes for such plays as Cocteau's Antigone (1923) and Oedipus Rex (1937) and film costumes for several movies, including Renoir's La Regle de Jeu. Katharine Hepburn starred in the 1969 Broadway musical Coco based on the life of Coco Chanel.

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel from her millinery shop, opened in 1912, to the 1920s, rose to become one of the premier fashion designers in Paris, France. Replacing the corset with comfort and casual elegance, her fashion themes included simple suits and dresses, women's trousers, costume jewelry, perfume and textiles.

Igor Stravinsky

Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky Fëdorovič Stravinskij ) (1882 -1971)

Stravinsky became a US citizen in 1946. In addition to the recognition he received for his compositions, he also achieved fame as a pianist and a conductor, often at the premieres of his works.

Stravinsky's compositional career was notable for its stylistic diversity. He first achieved international fame with three ballets commissioned by the impresario Sergei Diaghilev and performed by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes (Russian Ballets): The Firebird (1910), and The Rite of Spring (1913). The Rite , whose premiere provoked a riot, transformed the way in which subsequent composers thought about rhythmic structure, and was largely responsible for Stravinsky's enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary, pushing the boundaries of musical design.

After this first Russian phase Stravinsky turned to Neoclassicismthe 1920s. The works from this period tended to make use of traditional musical forms (concerto grosso, fugue, symphony), frequently concealed a vein of intense emotion beneath a surface appearance of detachment or austerity, and often paid tribute to the music of earlier masters, for example J. S. Bach and Tchaikovsky.

In the 1950s he adopted serial procedures, using the new techniques over his last twenty years. Stravinsky's compositions of this period share traits with all of his earlier output: rhythmic energy, the construction of extended melodic ideas out of a few two- or three-note cells, and clarity of form, of instrumentation, and of utterance.

He also published a number of books throughout his career, almost always with the aid of a collaborator, sometimes uncredited. In his 1936 autobiography, Chronicles of My Life , written with the help of Walter Nouvel, Stravinsky included his infamous statement that "music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all.

How fitting it is then that these too highly acclaimed and publicly known artists should engage in a romance of latter day dimensions as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Stravinsky a musical genius and Chanel well a genius in the world of fashion design. Must speculation abounds as to the extend of such a relationship. Such that it prompts a movie to explain it all.

Chanel S.A., commonly known as "Chanel" ' (English pronunciation: Ch əˈnɛl ), is a Parisian fashion house founded by the late couturier Coco Chanel, recognized as one of the most chic in haute couture. Specializing in luxury goods (haute couture, ready-to-wear, handbags, perfumery, and cosmetics among others), the Chanel label has become one of the most recognized names in the luxury and haute couture fashion industry.According to Forbes, the private held House of Chanel is jointly owned by Alain Wertheimer and Gerard Wertheimer who are the grandsons of the early (1924) Chanel partner Pierre Wertheimer

The Movie

Jan Kounen describes it as his action movie. the director watched a battle sequence from Lawrence of Arabia. But what he was getting ready to film wasn't combat, at least not in any traditional sense. It was the performance of a ballet, albeit no ordinary ballet. It was the opening night of The Rite of Spring, in Paris, May 29, 1913, an extraordinary cultural moment of chaos and confrontation.

Nijinsky's ballet, with music by Stravinsky, provoked a riot. There were boos, walk-outs, howls of protest, some cries of support. The noise from the audience became so loud that it drowned out the orchestra and Nijinsky had to stand in the wings beating time for the dancers.

The background to all this demonstrative passion is still debated. But its significance is inscribed into history: it's a founding moment of modernism.

The events of that night occupy the first 20 minutes of Kounen's Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky. We see preparations backstage, we sense the tension, we watch the dancers on stage and the violent reaction of the audience.

Kounen has said he wanted to give that night weight. There were, he says, things that really happened, such as a duel, that didn't make their way into the movie. He filmed this but couldn't include it. It looked too unbelievable.

But then, after this extraordinary opening, everything changes. The film becomes a chamber piece. We go from "all that craziness to three people in a house".

Coco Chanel was one of the figures from Paris society who attended that Rite of Spring performance. But it wasn't until 1920, when she had become a rich, successful entrepreneur in her own right, that she and Stravinsky met.

And by that point, things were very different for him. He was penniless and desperate to find ways to support his wife and children and to find the time to compose.

Chanel became his patron, inviting him, his wife, Katya, and their children to stay at her villa in the country. There he was inspired to write and he and Chanel became lovers.

The patronage is historical fact and it is generally accepted that they had a sexual relationship, although there is a degree of speculation involved in the movie's account. The book it is based on, by English author and screenwriter Chris Greenhalgh, is not a biography but a novel.

Mads Mikkelsen, the Danish actor who plays Stravinsky, was already attached to the project when Kounen came on board. Mikkelsen doesn't speak French or Russian (the two languages he speaks in the film) and he couldn't play the piano (although this isn't obvious in the movie).

His presence, the director says, was one of the reasons for deciding to do the film. Kounen had a hand, however, in choosing French actress Anna Mouglalis to play Chanel. It was her strength that made her right for the role, he says, the impact of her rich, deep voice.

Mouglalis, daughter of a Greek father and a French mother, had no thoughts, growing up, of becoming an actress: she came from Brittany to Paris to study literature. A chance encounter on the Metro with a playwright and stage director led her to acting school.

She appeared in Chantal Akerman's The Captive, then had a breakthrough role in Claude Chabrol's Nightcap, with Isabelle Huppert and Jacques Dutronc, playing a pianist involved in a complicated story of identity. She also worked with the directors Arnaud Desplechin and Philippe Grandrieux and made films in Italy.

She already had a connection with Chanel. In 2002, she was chosen as the face of a Chanel scent, Allure, and she's still associated with its promotions. Yet as far as she's concerned, the figure she is playing is not a legend but an iconoclast. "She's a punk," Mouglalis says. "Anarchist."

And she's cheerfully sceptical about how much we can know about the facts of her subject's life.

There was plenty of material for Mouglalis when she began more extensive research for the role. "Even people who only met her for five minutes wrote a book about her," she says. But what struck Mouglalis, reading biographies, was the extent of the contradictions, most of which came from Chanel's own accounts. She mythologised her past "in a crazy way. Every book has a different story about her childhood. She's like an actress, she created a character: herself." And in the 1920s, when Mouglalis is playing her, "she became the person she wanted to be".

So for Mouglalis, playing the role involved looking for emotional, rather than historical, truths. For example, the film presents a fictionalised account of the origins of one of her most famous and profitable creations, Chanel No.5. But to Mouglalis, what's important is a sense of what the perfume might have meant to its maker – it could have been an elixir against death.

"She wanted a persistent scent. There were so many absences in her life: her mother, her sister, [her lover] Boy Capel. She wanted the scent to stay, to be very present, to fight absence."

Somehow, this doesn't feel like the last time we'll see Chanel on screen. There seems to be a ceaseless appetite for the story of her inventions and reinventions.

Alongside the books, memoirs and biographies, we've recently seen the film, Coco avant Chanel, with Audrey Tautou, a TV miniseries with Shirley McLaine and several documentaries. But there is still much more to be told about the iconic designer.

It has been said that there is a dark aspect to the way she lived her life in Paris during World War II, a tale of collaboration (and more) that has been studiously avoided so far. It would make, to say the least, quite a story if this aspect was ever set to film.

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    • Rangoon House profile image


      4 years ago from Australia

      I look forward to visiting the Chanel store in Brisbane.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I love this post, summarize all important of Chanel. I think that anyone want to own Chanel should know its history, because that is what makes the bag. I think I am going to add something like this too to my website:

      Thanks for writing

    • barryrutherford profile imageAUTHOR

      Barry Rutherford 

      7 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Movie well worth a look as is all that is wrtten with authority on these two influential people.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      7 years ago from Chicago

      Thank you for this interesting movie review. I am going to check it out based on your recommendation.

    • American_Choices profile image


      7 years ago from USA


      Fascinating facts on famous people. I knew Chanel No 5 was big but didn't know the story behind it. Enjoy the back story tremendously.

      There was something about her not allowing production in regards to her beliefs about the war? I didn't see that in your article - did I miss that? Or was that just an unfounded rumor?

      I also heard but again don't know if this is true, she designed the famous three strand pearl necklace?

    • barryrutherford profile imageAUTHOR

      Barry Rutherford 

      7 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Chanel has just opened a Boutique store in Brisbane CBD

    • profile image

      mbt womens boots  

      8 years ago

      I'm glad to see this blog. It really is a nice surprise! I also want to introduce you to see my website. Because it is very exciting.I believe that you will like it!

    • profile image

      mbt shoes 

      8 years ago

      Your blog is very good,very novel,let I learned a lot from,thank you very much.if you have time also attention our products.

    • profile image

      Giselle Maine 

      8 years ago

      Really interesting - never knew these 2 people had any connection! I was so glad you made mention of the ballet music of Stravinksy, among his other accomplishments. Overall, I love how you wrote the bit on Stravinsky - just the right amount of detail, not too much and not too little. Thank you for the great hub!

    • Gabriella D'Anton profile image

      Gabriella D'Anton 

      8 years ago from Los Angeles, Ca

      This is a great hub Barry, informative and most enjoyable. I love everything about Coco, including her misterious life, but do not care much for Chanel 5

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      You write good articles,I like your blog

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    • barryrutherford profile imageAUTHOR

      Barry Rutherford 

      9 years ago from Queensland Australia

      indeed Beatrice indeed !

    • beatrice dupree profile image

      beatrice dupree 

      9 years ago

      Dear Barry,

      CoCo Chanel: You picked one of the most fabulous people in the creative field to walked this planet. She traveled through different dementions and levels of understanding ahead of her time. She knew how to produce life through creativity.

      beatrice dupree

    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 

      9 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      You know I never knew those two were connected. You learn something everyday here...

    • BkCreative profile image


      9 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      I've always been a big fan of Chanel - this is such a nice tribute - with a great photo. And if I must use only one perfume - it is always "Chanel No. 5" - Great hub!

      Thank you!

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      9 years ago from US

      what a story of two great people in their own fields meeting as one, Thank you Barry, Maita,


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