Sunday, June 2, 2019

Coco Chanel, the Savonarola of Fashion

An interesting take on Chanel. From The Catholic Herald:
Democratic as this elevation of simplicity may sound, it made possible a new form of elitism in dress. Anyone can recognise the fineness of costly silks. Only initiates can appreciate rough fabrics finely employed. Chanel disdained the woman “who is so happy with her green scarf printed in all the signs of the zodiac” which “will only astonish those who don’t know”. Her ideal was an elegant simplicity recognisable only by the cognoscenti.

Anyone who has observed the way our tech overlords dress (Mark Zuckerberg is the most famous example, Jack Dorsey the most telling) understands the strange form of sartorial elitism propagated by Chanel. Post-conciliar liturgical aesthetics conform to the same logic. What Morand called “poverty for billionaires … extravagantly expensive simplicity, seeking out what did not attract attention” is hardly humbler than lace and taffeta.

Malraux once said: “Chanel, De Gaulle and Picasso are the greatest figures of our times.” In contrast to De Gaulle, Chanel collaborated with the Nazis. She not only took a German baron as her lover, she also arranged through him to become an agent of German security. It is hard not to see Chanel’s hatred of prettiness and delicacy, her belief that with modernity something definitely new had come into being, as preparing her for these vile mistakes. For all its faults, the decadent and prettified society of the Belle Époque, despised by Chanel, was too delicate to accept something as barbarous as Nazism.

As Lagerfeld’s death reminds us, Chanel has reigned for 100 years. Black quilted purses still hang from shoulders in Singapore, Dubai and LA. Fashionable women still wear boxy tweed suits. Those who cannot afford these things strive for a cheaper version of ostentatious simplicity. (Read more.)

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