My cousin is a fashion designer who, after working for a big label for a number of years finally broke off and started her own line about a year and half ago. You’d think that was cool, right? Like “Oh biiitch, you so lucky, I betchu get free clothes all the time!” HA! WRONG. Why am I telling you this, you ask? What does this charming familial anecdote have to do with scandal of yore? Well, patience is a virtue, motherfuckers, so see the next paragraph, why don’t you!?
A while ago, my good-for-nothing designer cousin said that if I talked about her in for shame! she’d give me a lil hand out. So I told her she needed to get her ass a little more famous, do something scandalous, and then let a bunch of years pass and then we’d be all over it. But she’s busy being “professional” or some shit, not to mention contemporary, so I’m settling on a couturier a tish bit more fragrant and hoping I score some free shit anyway due to the linkage above. So yes, I’m a sell out. But, as the title indicates, at least I’m not a treasonous slut bag.
If you’ve been waiting for the perfect time to spritz your favorite No. 5 all up in your pale pink tweed suit jacket (because I know we all have those things that aren’t not imaginary), now’s the time because today we’re exploring the scandalosity of none other than Coco Chanel.
Listen, I want to give the bitch some cred before I start making everyone feel uncomfortable reading about the outrageous degree of sexploitation that defined her personal life. As far as fashion/art/modernist design goes, she practically introduced Jersey fabric to womenswear. So all of you hipsters who don’t shower but shop at American Apparel like a squirrel at an acorn store, you have her to thank. Before Chanel, Jersey fabric was only used for men’s underwear. Now it’s used in practically everything,(including the $18 queen size sheet set I got at target this summer!!) She was one of the first and certainly the most important female couturiers in Paris in the 20s. Before Chanel, corsets were the thing. (And by “the thing,” I mean causing women all over the Western world serious and irreparable health problems.) But then Chanel came along and pretty much pioneered the look of the New Woman of the 1920s. Yeah, that was our bitch! She designed loose, comfortable clothes for women that were still elegant and timeless. The Chanel aesthetic really hasn’t changed since the 20s and I mean, that’s really freakin’ cool, huh? OH YEAH. And she invented pea coats and bell bottoms. God bless Chanel.
But enough nicey-nicey. Let’s go all housewives on this bitch and talk shit, shall we? Childhood in a nutshell: Mom dies young, dad says “layta playas,” she grows up in an orphanage, nuns teach her to sew, she’s good at it. She moves to Paris and starts “dancing” in a “cabaret.” And by “dancing,” I mean “showing her boobies to wealthy french men.” And by “cabaret,” I mean “a place where venereal diseases grow in wine glasses.” She met a guy named Etienne Balsan who was, conveniently, a textile manufacturer. She became his mistress, or his “coquette,” which means “kept woman.” She later claimed that’s how she got her nickname, “Coco.” It’s from “coquette.” [SIDE NOTE: Now, don’t you think that would kind of be like if you slept around a lot and then people started calling you “who-who” because you were a “whore.” Just saying.]
Next on the agenda was Boy Capel, a friend of Etienne whose blazers we have to thank for Chanel’s fabulous menswear-inspired design aesthetic. Their steamy affair began in 1909 and continued after his marriage in 1918 and until his untimely death in 1919 in an auto accident that occurred on his way to a secret, Christmas-day meeting with Coco.
The Coquette met Igor Stravinsky, the composer, in 1920. They were introduced by one of her top gays, Sergei Diaghiliv, who frequently choreographed Stravinsky’s ballets, most famously The Rite of Spring. (They were kind of the most important dance/music team of the modernist period. No big deal.) Anyway, I haven’t seen the movie, but apparently in Coco & Igor or whatever it’s called, they knew each other in 1913 because she was at the notorious (B-I-G) premiere of The Rite of Spring at the theatre du champs elysee. I did a little research outside of wikipedia (SO NOT LIKE ME) and I couldn’t find anything to confirm that, but who knows.
Actually, great question and the answer is: no one. No one knows if the two ever had an affair or not but Coco claimed later in her life that when she invited Stravinsky and his wife and kids to summer with her somewhere outside of Paris, that the two took to boning and didn’t feel so bad about it. Hey, they were artists.
BUT HERE’S WHERE SHIT GETS REAL.
You’re probably thinking to yourself: “We’re three affairs in and it’s getting real now?!?!” Well, hold onto your imaginary Chanel pearls because I’m about to make you think twice before spritzing your stationary with No. 5 before you send those love letters to Jason Segel, MRG.
Chanel lived in Paris in the 40s. Remember that time? Well, if you don’t, allow me to refresh your memory. There weren’t many Jews around. They were off at … uh … camp. Does that ring any bells? Yeah. It was WWII. The Holocaust was happening. The Vichy government was all up in Paris’ grill. It was a dark fucking time and our little friend didn’t, like, really care that much. Yeeeeahhhh. Actually, she sort of hated the guy who backed her perfume. His name was Pierre WERTHEIMER. He and his brother Paul (who I think was dead at this point – research was unclear) were the money behind Chanel No. 5 and took like, 90% of profits or something. So she wasn’t really too upset when he gtfo-ed in the early 40s because she used his absence to gain financial control of the company. She became one of the richest women in the world during the war years BECAUSE the JEWS who made her company possible were running away from fucking Nazis. Nazis who SHE was FUCKING.
WOOPS! IVE SAID TOO MUCH. OK, here’s what happened. A NAZI SPY named Hans Gunther von Dinklage (probably with a large ding dong) arranged for Coco to live in a fancy schmancy hotel in Paris where he was also staying. And then they OCCUPIED themselves with fucking during the Nazi’s OCCUPATION of France. She was also really good friends with a guy named Walter Kutschmann who killed thousands of Jews in Poland early in the war years. AND she was such good friends with another Nazi fucker named Walter Schellenberg that when he died penniless and alone (BECAUSE HE WAS A NAZI) she paid for his burial.
Listen. I’m not saying that she was actively oppressing yids, but she wasn’t exactly broken up about the whole fiasco either. I still think the clothes are fabulous, don’t get me wrong, but the Frenchies who weren’t such fans of being terrorized by anti-semetic fascists for 4 years were not such fans of Coco or the Chanel label in 1945. So she moved to Switzerland until the mid 50s.
From there, shit gets less juicy. Her line still is outrageously successful and a major cash cow. And almost 100 years later, her aesthetic is still a cornerstone of womens fashion. Probably THE cornerstone of womens fashion.
But here’s what’s up: Bitch got herself unofficially exiled from Paris. I mean, she was shacking up with one Nazi and in cahoots with at least two others.
At that, the nuns from your childhood and I would just like to say to you, What the fuck, Chanel? We gave you the best life we could. What the fuck?