updated: 10/07/2009

look-alike makeups: Coco Chanel

Gabrielle Bonheur ‘Coco’ Chanel (1883–1971) was a pioneering French fashion designer whose modernist philosophy, menswear-inspired fashions, and pursuit of expensive simplicity made her an important figure in twentieth-century fashion. Her extraordinary influence on haute couture was such that she was the only person in the field to be named among the one hundred most influential people of the twentieth century by Time Magazine.

The second daughter of a traveling salesman she was born in a poorhouse in Saumur. Because of her father’s work she spent seven years in the orphanage of the Roman Catholic monastery of Aubazine, where she learned the trade of a seamstress. Later in life, she concocted an elaborate false history for her humble beginnings. When she was eighteen she left the orphanage to work for a local tailor. There she met and began an affair with the playboy and millionaire Étienne Balsan. In 1913 she opened a shop selling a range of fashionable raincoats and jackets, but it soon went out of business and she was asked to surrender her properties. took up Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel, a former of Balsan; with his assistance, she was able to acquire the property and financial backing to open her second millinery shop in Brittany. Her hats were soon being worn by celebrated French actresses and she was able to open other shops and expand into sportswear. In 1920 she was introduced to the world famous composer Igor Stravinsky with whom she is rumoured to have had an affair. Chanel came out with her first signature fragrance, Chanel No. 5, in 1921. In the 1920s Vera Bate Lombardi introduced Chanel to the duke of Westminster, the duke of Windsor, and many other aristocratic families assisting Chanel’s creative, romantic, financial, social and political influence to grow. By 1936 she had 4000 employees.

At the beginning of World War II she closed her shops and took up residence in the Hôtel Ritz Paris; during the Nazi occupation of Paris she had an affair with Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a German officer and Nazi spy, and she may have been involved in ‘Operation Modellhut’ . After the liberation she was arrested as a collaborator, but her influencial friends prevented a trial and she went to live in exile in Switzerland; she only returned to France and re-opened her business in 1954 – thereafter the Chanel brand far more successful abroad than in France. She died of a heart attack in 1971.

It’s been twenty-seven years since there was a movie featuring Chanel – and now three come along like London buses. All three have in common that they focus on the rags-to-riches story and love affairs of the young Chanel – carefully avoiding the difficult and unsympathetic years – and only Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky touches on the begining of the most interesting period of her life.

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009): Paris 1920, Coco Chanel (Anna Mouglalis – who will soon be seen as another French icon, Juliette Greco) is newly wealthy and successful but grief-stricken after the death of ‘Boy’ Capel in a car crash. She is introduced by Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballets Russes, to Igor Stravinsky, who following the Russian Revolution is a penniless refugee living in exile in Paris. The attraction between them is instant and electric. Christophe Giraud & Lydia Pujols were the makeup artists; Christophe Chabenet was the special makeup effects artist.

Coco avant Chanel (2008): A petulant Gabrielle Chanel (Audrey Tautou) earns the nickname ‘Coco’ singing in the music-halls, progresses from rags to riches, and loses her true love to a car crash. Thi Thanh Tu Nguyen & Corinne Maillard were the key makeup artists; Christophe Giraud & Lydia Pujols were the makeup artists.

Coco Chanel (2008): Near the end of her life Coco Chanel (Shirley MacLaine) looks back on her early life and the rags-to-riches story of the young Gabrielle Chanel (Barbora Bobulova). A TV movie that has been accurately described as ‘embarrassingly bad’ and ‘so Lifetime’. Giancarlo Del Brocco was the key makeup artist.

Chanel Soletaire (1981): If anyone has any images of Marie-France Pisier as Coco Chanel, please themakeupgallery.