Coco Before Chanel

By Ashley Hillard

In a time when women were stuffed into corsets, petticoats and lace, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel sought to bring women into what would become modern fashion. Born to poor parents and left with her sister by her father at an orphanage, Chanel overcame hardships to oversee one of the biggest fashion houses in the world.

Audrey Tautou (Amelie) does a nice job portraying the fashion icon in this French language take on Chanel’s life. She conveys pain and strength in a subtle way as the audience follows Chanel through the decades. Perhaps because director/writer Anne Fontaine assumed the audience already knew what Chanel became she chose to focus more on her young adult life and loves, as well as her relationship with her sister, than the fashions she was known for. This take works well but the film would have been stronger if she had shot more scenes depicting Chanel’s rise to fame and how she was able to hold her place as a fashion icon over the years.

The costumes are beautifully designed by Catherine Letterier and not given enough screen time. A film about a fashion icon should make the costumes as much a part of the film as the characters. There is focus on Chanel’s outfits but her designs are barely featured.

Several biopics have been done on Chanel and each focuses on different aspects of her life. This one is not completely accurate and fails to give in depth accounts of her childhood or adulthood. It does, however, give a beautiful glimpse into key moments in Chanel’s long life and Tautou’s genuine performance makes it worth watching.