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Fashion on Film: Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

A second biopic exploring the (love) life of saucy temptress Mademoiselle Coco Chanel hits the cinema this week. It's a feast for the eyes and a glorious romp through the fashion archives, unsurprisingly…

Written by Matt Bramford

Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, illustrated by Naomi Law

Plans to large it in East End boozers or at Green Kite Midnight‘s Ceilidh on Saturday night turned sour when my other half broke his arm in a freak gymnasium accident. So, unwilling to sit in sulking, we took a trip to the Rich Mix Cinema.

Mainstream fashion films don’t come around that frequently. Okay, so we had Tom Ford‘s plotless but beautiful adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man, but it’s rare for those who control film production company’s purse strings to invest their cash in fashion biopics. Things might be changing though – we had Coco avant Chanel recently – an exceptional film starring Audrey Tatou (who, I’d like to add, should stick to acting en Francais). Next up, it’s the release this week of Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky.

Viewers will be forgiven for thinking that this is the sequel to Coco avant Chanel – the bulk of the movie focusses on Gabrielle Chanel’s life post lover Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel’s death. There are many similarities – the fashion, the smouldering actress, the references, the consultants (Monsieur Lagerfeld lent his services and granted full access to the couturier’s archives). The films, in fact, have nothing professionally to do with each other. 

This film actually kicks off in 1913. We join the male protagonist (played by devilishly handsome Mads Mikkelsen – well, until you Google him and see what he really looks like) as he is about to present his first major opera, at which Coco (devilishly beautiful Anna Mouglalis) is in the audience. The Rite of Spring is a disaster; the audience descends into chaos. It’s here though that fashion fans first get a feast for the eyes. Row after row sit bourgeois women dressed decadently in the early indications of the prosperous fashion of the 1920s, with stunning millinery galore.  

Illustration by Stacie Swift

The film then jumps to 1920, and we see the chic Chanel meet Stravinsky properly for the first time at a party. Coco Chanel was nothing short of a tart. Dressed in a risque (for the era) shoestring-strap floor-length dress and hair in a 1920s twist, Coco oozes appeal and ‘even makes grief seem chic’ according to one bystander. She has, after all, just lost Boy Capel in a car accident – but you’d never know.

Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, illustrated by Kayleigh Bluck

The pair arrange to meet at Paris’ Muséum national diHistoire naturelle, where Gabrielle invites Igor (and his wife and children) to stay at her glorious villa outside Paris. He accepts, and the rest of the film takes place here. Here we’re treated to Coco’s impeccable interior design taste – room after room decorated with stunning art-deco style, and rooms themed on exotic locations from around the world. Chanel dazzles in outfit after outfit, and after a few scene/outfit changes, it’s easy to see where Lagerfeld gets his ideas from.  

I won’t spoil it for you, but the frivolous pair get it on at the villa while poor Stravinsky’s wife is laid up in bed upstairs with a bad cough. Cue gratuitous sex scenes on various carpets. Chanel is always impeccably dressed in floor-length silk numbers, while tormented Stravinsky, dressed in simple sartorial style, tinkles the ivories and stomps around the villa’s gardens like a bear with a sore head. You can’t carry on like this without somebody finding out…

Chanel No.5, illustrated by Natasha Thompson

1920 is also the year that Chanel devised and launched what is probably the world’s most iconic scent – the Chanel No.5 perfume. Cut to Gunther-Von-Hagens-slash-Willy-Wonka-esque perfumer Ernest Beaux, who appears with a twirl of his chemist lab coat like a zany magician; here the film goes a little pantomime, and while committing this crucial piece of fashion history to film is inspiring, it’s difficult not to cringe at the ‘ooo! numero cinq’ revelation at the end of this scene…

This is certainly a film for fashion fans and documents a fascinating piece of history – rumour has it that the makers of Coco Avant Chanel plan to pick up where this film leaves us, so that’s something we can look forward to. We do get a glimpse of glamour-granny Chanel at the end, too; perhaps to whet our appetite – Anna Mouglalis makes a fantastic mature Coco decked in prosthetic make-up.

31 Rue Cambon, illustrated by Thomas Leadbetter

What this film occasionally lacks in empathy for the characters – it’s a marriage of egos and there’s little to make you feel anything for this homewreckin’ harlot – it certainly makes up for in sophistication. Most exciting for me were scenes at 31 Rue Cambon, fashion’s most famous address, both inside and out. With a soundtrack of Stravinsky’s effortless symphonies and Coco Chanel’s visionary and groundbreaking fashion, this film celebrates two massive twentieth-century figures in style.

Cinemas nationwide.


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