A RARE INTERVIEW WITH THE GRANDEST OF COUNTRIES.
Byline: Patricia McColl, November 1970
I hate a woman of 80 who wants to look 15. For me, people have the age they think they have,” says Coco Chanel. “There’s too much in the paper about diets now. A hideous literature full of how to get rid of wrinkles. How to lose weight. How to be more beautiful. As if that’s what life is all about. It isn’t.
“I’ve known 18-year-olds who wish they were 15, and I’ve known 60-year-old women who’ve been more loved than the most beautiful woman of 30. Why? Because the 30-year-old was an egoist. For men and women, this fierce egoism is the plague of our times.
“But what does age mean anyway? Only Frenchmen talk about it. The English are much too polite even to mention it.
“The success of a woman is to be a woman,” says Coco. “Women need to be loved. One can never be too feminine.”
Then, there’s a mischievous little smile and she adds: “That always succeeds.”
As for Chanel, this season she is having one of her most successful seasons ever. Usually, the house stops showing the winter collection in mid-November to prepare for the summer presentation. This year, the collection will be shown through the end of November, and the ateliers are so full of work that everyone in the house is wondering whether they’ll be finished in time to start work on the January collection. “I’m working too hard,” sighs Mademoiselle. “Usually, I have at least a month off between collections. This year….” And there’s another sigh before she adds: “But I am enchanted. I like to work.”
For her, the success of her dresses this season has been especially gratifying. Numbers 32, 82 and 33 have been selling almost as fast as those Chanel suits. “A dress is the hardest thing to make,” says Chanel. “All those little boys can make their little Chanel suits. But their dresses….” And those exquisitely manicured hands flap skyward.
“With a dress, you must see the woman. The simpler the dress, the more it must show the woman. But those men designers all want to hide a woman. Where is the woman in their dresses?”
She gives a gentle tug to that bordeaux silk scarf she has loosely knotted at the neck of her beige Chanel and points to the newspapers spread on the beige divan beside her. The papers are full of reaction to the dreadful fire near Grenoble, which took the lives of 144 young people. “We live in an age of terrible catastrophes — 144 — think of it. Now, in the morning, I can hardly wait to see the newspapers to see what new catastrophe has happened overnight.”
Then she tells a story of herself. “You know, people always want to do what they can’t do. I’ve always wanted to ride a bicycle. It looks so easy. So one day, some friends asked me to go bicycling down the Champs-Elysees with them and I said, ‘Of course.’ And I promptly fell off. My face was all cut. I was a sight. But I said to myself: ‘Well, that will teach you to brag.’ That was 20 years ago, though. Now, I’m more prudent.”
Coco stands up to show her skirt length. “Now that is the longueur Chanel. I’ve photos of myself taken 20 years ago, and my skirts were the same length then as they are now.” She lifts her skirts to show the top of her knee and says: “My knees aren’t bad, but is that pretty? And how many women have good looking knees?” She hikes her skirts right up to mini length and says: “Even so, I think legs are prettier covered. That’s why I put women in pants.”
“It was Deauville and I never liked to stay on the beach in my bathing costume, so I bought myself a pair of white sailor pants, added a turban and ropes of jewels, and I must say, I looked like a maharanee. But I still don’t like to see pants in the city. For the country or the beach, but not in the city.”
The thing about Chanel is when she tells a story, she acts out all the parts. At one minute she’s bicycling down the Champs-Elysees, the next she’s the shy girl on the beach in Deauville, or a maharanee sailing into the casino. If you ask her about the play “Coco,” she says shrewdly: “They didn’t lose any money on it. But I’d rather have people tell me about it than go to see it myself. I hear it starts out with me sipping champagne. That was very badly chosen. I don’t drink champagne. Then, I hear that I’m drunk and tumbling down my staircase. I’m not capable of being drunk.
“The most important thing to remember about fashion,” she says, “is that it isn’t always right to be always in fashion. You must dress according to your body. Dress to please. Not to astonish. Try to be your best at all times. A woman must always be ready for what I call ‘the glance without pity.’ And don’t ever be ashamed of yourself. It’s much better to have charm than beauty. Beauty can be very boring. Charm is always seductive. And a woman must always be natural. As for this Women’s Liberation, I’ve read about it, but I think the more women demand liberty, the more they lose it. Women cannot do without men. If a woman is alone, she is unhappy. Don’t you think I’d like to have a husband who would tell me, ‘Dear, you are working too hard. You must look after yourself….”
Above all, Chanel is the working woman, and for her, it’s what counts most. “Summer. I must welcome it. I’ve changed my mind 50 times already. I’ve seen fabric manufacturers, and let me tell you, there is nothing more depressing. They are so depressed, they make me depressed. We must fight for more beautiful fabrics. These fabric men have to spend all their time working for boutiques. We have too many boutiques in Paris. Boutique. I hate the word. What do they sell?”
It’s a late November afternoon and Chanel turns to that big bouquet of white flowers beside her with a wide smile: “Now, I really must think summer. Oh, I’m a bit late with the collection. But then I always am.”
“A dress must be made like a watch; if a tiny wheel does not work, make the watch or the dress over. A dress isn’t right if it is uncomfortable. A dress must function. Elegance in clothes means freedom to move freely.”
— August 1957
“There’s no reason why the Americans can’t produce a great couturier.”
— July 1963
“They love me in America, or so I’m told….I am always meeting Americans in the Ritz elevator and the woman says she loves my clothes and her husband, standing a little behind, says mine are the only clothes he doesn’t mind paying for.”
— July 1963