Monday, May 14, 2012

Style Maven: Coco Chanel

Here are some excerpts from the book, "In My Fashion" by Bettina Ballard, an early fashion editor of Vogue from the magazine's younger years in the 1930's to the postwar era,  her title of which I pay homage to, and got my inspiration for my own blogger title here on IMF.blog:

“An impertinent chic; one foot forward,
hips forward, shoulders down, one hand
in a pocket and the other gesticulating.”
"Her advice is nearly always good. On food, she says, 'Eat simple food, not too much of it, at regular hours." Meals are something you share only with intimate friends who are good for your digestion.

"On exercise she advises, 'walk in the open air on country roads with your head looking always forward—don’t watch the Earth as if you were glued to it.' Her walk remains young and springy."

"Her advice on clothes is 'Always dress to make yourself feel young—this means being free and easy and unpretentious in you cloths. You have to breathe and move and sit without being conscious of what you have on. Don't expose a lot of flesh unless it is firm and young.'"

"About perfume she says, 'Spray it on wherever you expect to be kissed—any women who goes to excess in perfuming herself has no future because she will only offend her friends and admirers.'"

"As to the couture, she told me before the war, 'you make money on the customer who orders lots of cloths at once. The one-dress customer just takes up time and wastes money.'" (Aside: I presume his would be a good representation of her business strategy at the time)

The "Chanel Look"
When I read these excerpts from the book, it helped me to understand how our society came to some of the style standards that we champion today. By remaining steadfast in her convictions and style, she was able make the decision to close up her salons at the beginning of the second World War, and simply because she wanted to, “escape boredom and keep young,” she reopened the house with a collection in 1954, awaiting the slew of uncompromising fashion press who were not open-minded to the reemergence of the "Chanel" look. That is until Bettina Ballard, and Vogue, supported Chanel's vision of timeliness by showing her pieces in Vogue that March, after which, was followed by a French import show where Ballard spoke to fifteen hundred fashion insiders about "the Chanel story and what she meant by her cloths.” By the next season, the Chanel look was "rediscovered" and became a best seller. I am highlighting Coco Chanel as to enlighten you on some points in remembering what it takes to have good style, straight from words of the designer’s fast and “machine-gun” like tongue (or at least, even though I will never have the pleasure of meeting her myself, it is Bettina Ballard's account that shines a certain credible light on the lives of "the fashionable", such as Chanel, during that time).

“Her extraordinary comeback in 1954—a comeback that has endured—had far more to do with a real hunger that
woman had for the confidence-giving clothes that Gabrielle Chanel had always understood, [and] always made.”
When I read Chanel's advice, although mildly fanatical, they make sense and, in my fashion, they speak for a certain high level of style and class. As we can all account from history class, women during prewar times did not have the same opportunities, or respect, that they have now. In Bettina Ballard’s words, "Their social standing depended very little on being liked—a weak form of leadership—but, rather, on their power to make others emulate the way they dressed or entertained or talked and on their ability to make fashionable the people and the places they preferred." Chanel took her craft as serious as any "man" would if they were a Politian, doctor, or something of the sort. Maybe you would not want to follow her guidelines to the "T", but the fact that she had established a set of guidelines for herself as to what makes her most stylish is what I feel we all need to do in this life. Fashion mavens are thoroughly caricaturized as being pompous, arrogant, and opinionated in their conveyance of good living. In my fashion, (and Bettina Ballard's) it’s for good measure. 

“‘You see, people are more sensible. They like my clothes; they know they are being made fun of by others.’”
What most impressed me by Chanel, and women of that age in Paris, is their commitment to their convictions on how to live capriciously. They were the epitome of “living for your style". Bettina Ballard says, "The fashion world is no place for timid dedicated souls; it is a field for strong, determined egotists who have innate desire to impose their wills on the world—wills of iron disguised in rustling silks and beautiful colors." In my fashion, this is certainly true because fashion is so subjective. One has got to believe in their convictions and values for as I have previously observed in my “first post”, as long as you have a definitive reason for why you do what you do, or why anyone should listen to your opinion, no one can have any say in what you believe. All you have to do is back it up to the fullest!  “It takes people, determined ones, to translate influences into fashion.”

“She has devised a timeless sort of fashion for herself: a jersey world of easy skirts and jackets, always
with good pockets to sink her expensive hands in, generally with white silk shirts as a background for her jewels.”
Coco Chanel's tastes have continued to dictate the principals of high style for more than half a century, and now, with Karl Lagerfeld being the current Head Designer and Creative Director for her house since 1983, he has taken the Chanel mentality strong into our digital age.  I feel that once you have come up with those basic style guidelines for yourself in regards to how you carry yourself, and are committed to following your own set of convictions, that is when you can start to build and evolve your style. The longevity of how long you are able to stay in that realm of convictions, and continue to show an easy, natural progression in your dress and who you are is what determines how much of a relevant influence and inspiration you can be to others. Think about when a level headed person becomes irate, and loses their temper; others would view that person as being emotionally unstable which would diminish your style appeal in others eyes, and in turn, you may lose out on opportunities because people around you find you unappealing to be around. If that irate person were in the same position that made them upset, but handled it in a different, more level-headed manner by flipping the scripts, or turning the negatives into positives, one's style appeal would be salvaged because handled the situation in a manner that matched your personality. We all handle situations different, but all we have to know how we need to act based off of who we are.

“The young joined as her followers—as I said she was a Pied Piper—and now there is a whole
new generation of aware of the good-taste connotation of the ‘Chanel-look.’”
In my fashion, by consciously living for your style and making sure that all of your actions positively reflect your style and who you are, you learn to check yourself before you lose style points from the people around you. We are all faced with taxing situations that test us, but ultimately we, ourselves, are in control of how others see us, and the value of our style. As warning note, I would advise you to make sure your convictions are valid. I feel it is imperative to go out into the world, be brave, and test your convictions and see if they bring you, and those around you, a greater sense of happiness. If your beliefs are weighing you down to the point where you no longer have control over the progression of your life, then maybe it’s time to adopt a new conviction, but the point is that you are exploring your world and using it as your classroom to learn how you can be a fulfilled person. The best way to learn is through experience.  
 
“Chanel look was a single cry in the
night for a philosophy of easy, young,
comfortable fashions in which she
believes profoundly”
Creating your own set of style guidelines is for you to be able to handle situations that may give you trouble. Maybe, before you do something you don’t want to do, you would remember what guidelines you have for yourself so that you know not to let others ruin your image of yourself. It’s my understanding that you cannot be successful at solving the problems in your life or advancing to the next level in life unless you are prepared to perform when the opportunity arises. Style is about foreseeing the problems that may occur in your life, and finding ways to face them in the most elegant of ways, in the most aesthetically pleasing of ways, in the most modest of ways, as not to look foolish in the eyes of others, thus, exposing our weaknesses for others to try to take advantage of. Style is about figuring that you must find ways of dealing with life, during the good times and bad, to keep you in the upper hand of the situation so that both your image, and self-confidence, is protected. In my fashion, in this world, image is simply everything. It’s also about finding your target audience and who you will and won’t fraternize with. As I explained in my post "Another Year of Style", we all fall into a particular personality type, so you have to be able to determine who you deem the most beneficial for your growth as a person and who helps you to stay in line with your personality type. Be sure to fraternize with those who cross ideas with yours and who help to bring out your good side. I like to think that if you find you are putting too much energy into a particular relationship, so much so that you have no energy left enough for yourself to enjoy, it's time to re-evaluate that person in your life.

That is why it is important for us all to be completely aware of our strengths and weaknesses. Your weaknesses do not have to be your pitfalls! When you find your strengths, you find your weaknesses as well, and once you clearly define what both are, you can work to navigate between them, and use your strengths to supplement your weaknesses. Even though your weaknesses make life hard, they don't have bring your life to a standstill, and that is why it’s best not to mask our weaknesses, but its best to find ways to make them stronger so that they are not so taxing to deal with when you have to use your weakness to help you in life, for its inevitable that we will find ourselves out of our element and have to face moments where we simply are not as strong as we always are. It’s about finding how to be proactive to those troubling situations.  

“‘I make fashions women can live in, breathe in,
feel comfortable in, and look young in.’”
I have found that considering we are no longer barbarians having to use our fist to fight, or in Medieval times jousting to prove ourselves, we have to use our style to fight off those who attempt to make us live against our who we are as individuals. Style plays a major role in getting what you want out of life, so it’s important to stay strong in your convictions. Style is a form of armor, and that is how I see women used to use fashion in life, and is absolutely still true to this day. So all in all, I guess one can say that I work in fashion to make sure people are able to find that armor they need to get on with life, and be strong, capable persons in this incredulous society. I like to see myself as that ass-riding coach/gym teacher we all had in grade school who wants to see you at your strongest at all times. Happy dressing, and make me proud!  

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