Everything seems to have been said about Coco Chanel. She is the unwavering subject of books, films and museum exhibitions. The double C logo is perhaps one of contemporary fashion´s most ubiquitous symbols, seemingly drenched with talismanic powers, known by women of all sorts and hemispheres, untiringly coveted because of its instantaneous association with the creator of a kind of chic that has not waned in strength nor reputation. Many things have been said about Chanel. That she liberated women from the constriction of the corset. That she invented the little black dress. That she was the first modern woman and the first celebrity designer. That she gave women a way of dress that granted them the possibility of investing in something other than their appearance. Perhaps one of the most awing pieces of information on her is that she had an ongoing affair with a Nazi officer during the German occupation of Paris. This has not however, seemed to bend the fortitude of her presence more than forty years after her death.
Her witty, will-powered maxims on a woman´s freedom and strong femininity often circulate in social media, teaching us, like Audrey Tatou did in one of the 2009 filmic versions, that Gabrielle Chanel was an indomitable woman, too fearless to be caged by conventions of matrimony and men.
There are, in this sense, a lot of myths in her circulating versions. She did not invent the little black dress out of thin air, she was not the first designer to embrace a streamlined, clean, minimal modernity and her freedom was not as idyllically achieved as we have come to believe. She did, however, tell the story of her life through the clothes she made. She did manage to grip the essence of her time, translating it onto her fashion creations. And she was, undoubtedly, a master of chic, encouraging a style that is still relevant today – wearing simple, concise clothes as the background to lavish accessories. She was also a profound incarnation of modern femininity. She worked and moved beyond appearance. Freedom of movement was something she herself needed when she began to find solace in something other than lovers and husbands: work.
We are bound to believe that Chanel was and still is an ultimate beacon of female freedom, independence and autonomy. And she was in many ways. She defied convention and odds to build an empire and a legacy that we frantically still celebrate today. But she was also unable to construct an enduring relationship, to trust and to yield to affection without the urge of dominating. She also finished her days in solitude and anxiety, with a slight addiction to narcotics and a tendency for self-destructive sleepwalking. Towards the end of her life, she recurrently lamented the absence of a family in her life. Like anything else, her truths are not simple or plain.
Modern women of today are often confronted with the type of choices women such as Chanel and Colette – another French female who represents modern womanhood – faced in their own time. A woman who loves too much risks the possibility of losing her sense of being. A woman who strides too far from love and marriage may rise professionally at the risk of ending a lonely existence. Freedom for women has intensified their life experience. Women of today, living in hypermodern times, are faced with an unprecedented challenge: to find balance. To integrate the multiple elements that shape a woman´s life today.
Symbols of our time are often revered because of their form more than their content. We think of Chanel as free and indomitable, avoiding the fact that she built an empire on the expense of plenitude she often yearned with nostalgia. To me, Chanel is a symbol but also a rather personal reminder. That as a daughter of my time, my quest as a woman is to be feminine but also indomitable, to work and to love, to be fierce as much as to be soft, to conquer life as much as myself. To depend on one´s approval in order to feel aliveness and self and, at the same time, to be able to rely on vulnerability, friends and the man I love. One of Chanel´s greatest achievements was to materialize the time she lived in – in her life, her style and her clothes. Chanel reminds me that as a woman in hypermodernity, I am called to reflect our time in everything I do.