11 December 2013

The Return, a movie based on the highly acclaimed comeback of Coco Chanel post world war II.

It was 5th February 1954, 4 years after the death of her close friend and muse Misia Sert, when Chanel finally showed her first collection after the war (many fashion houses closed their doors from shortly before the war until even after the war. Some were associated with the German Nazi, some closed simply because everyone was hiding, or lack of financial support). After long time of hibernation, with a little sprinkle of legal battle for her parfumerie, Chanel found the longing to show collection again. Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, one of most devoted clientele of Chanel had played part in persuading Chanel to return to couture. Bettina Ballard, fashion editor of American Vogue described it,  '(Chanel) went back to designing to escape boredom and to keep young'. To Paul Morand, in his Chanel biography The Allure of Chanel, Chanel declared, 'I have been a couturière, by chance. I have made perfumes, by chance. I am now going to tackle something else. What? I don't know. Here again, chance will decide. But I am quite ready. I am not saying goodbye for long."

Not long it indeed was. But her premiere collection post war was nothing but full of media critics. In the days when critics were very powerful and heard, where a word could suddenly rise up or tumble down a collection (it's not the case these days. Designers would just delete the haters from guest lists for upcoming shows), Chanel first comeback collection was not favourable.

Le Figaro was patronising: 'It was touching. You had a feeling you were back in 1925. L'Aurore dismissed the show as 'a sad retrospective', a resurrection of past show which dated back even further than Chanel's final collection in 1939, with 'suits in rather dull wools, in a wan black, matched joylessly with melancholy prints. The models have figure of 1930 - no breast, no waist, no hips.'

The Combat was even nastier condemning her collection as the 'ghost of 1930 things', in which the guest 'saw not the future but a disappointing reflection of the past, into which a pretentious little black figure was disappearing with giant steps'. The British newspaper was no less harsh: the Daily Mail called it 'a flop', the Daily Express pronounced it 'a fiasco'.

But it was Bettina Ballard, fashion editor of American Vogue, who could sense a remarkable ressurection of a fashion icon. In spite of the hatred spread by her peers in French Vogue, Vogue shot three full pages of Chanel models for March issue in 1954. As like Vogue, the biggest magazine in America, Life, also celebrated the comeback by running a four-page spread on Coco Chanel. It was America who supported her come-back, and even she was invited to Dallas in September 1957 to receive an award from Stanley Marcus, the owner of department store Neiman-Marcus.
With her decision not to give up after receiving mean critics and determination to keep going, Chanel made a deal with her business partner, the Wertheimer. The deal with Wertheimer was made in short, sharp talk and without circumlocution. The peace deal to keep on, to continue showing collections, after a 'flaw' collection as she mentioned,  was the right decision. Chanel proved it, as she sad to Lilian Ross of The New Yorker, "When I showed it in Paris, I had many critics. They said the I was old-fashioned, that I was no longer of the age. Always I was smiling inside my head, and I thought, I will show them."

Signorfandi, and she did...