“Everyone marries the Duke of Westminster. There are a lot of duchesses, but only one Coco Chanel.“
― Coco Chanel
One spring day in Paris, the doors of Mademoiselle Chanel’s apartment flung wide opened for this little explorer.
I traipsed up the famed mirrored staircase, past the fitting rooms of couture clients and found myself sandwiched somewhere between Kaiser Karl’s atelier and Gabrielle Chanel’s private apartment.
While any Chanelphile worth her weight in tweed bouclé knows she spent most of her time in a very simple suite at the Ritz (now undergoing renovations, thank GOD!), the apartment where Chanel used to entertain famed guests, and fit her models, is closed to the public.
Here, you’ll find ceiling-to-floor Coromandel screens that create the atmosphere of a treasure chest, which the Mademoiselle filled with gilded artifacts. While the time has long passed for Coco and I to have a chat, her spirit does indeed live on.
Here’s what I learned from my afternoon at Coco’s.
1. KNOW WHAT YOU WANT, AND KILL IT “Success,” she said, “is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.” As the Mad Men from Wieden + Kennedy say, fail harder.
2. WORKED THOSE CONNECTIONS, BABY A savvy woman in both love and business, Coco Chanel has been criticised by commentators and historians for being ruthless and opportunistic in her networking (because let’s face it, she was). Always surrounding herself with the rich and powerful, her long list of noteworthy lovers were those she could gain a thing or two from. While the thought of applying this to my life creeps me out, I draw from her independence and ability to find good life teachers. I will just have to find acquire my place in Biarritz and La Pausa by other means…
3. CREATE THE LIFE YOU WANT The historian who hosted me in the apartment said her servants and staff couldn’t keep up with her stories. Whether made-up fantasies she chose to believe as reality, or little white lies to help elevate her position, Coco Chanel’s countless tall tales have been well documented. That said, nobody can fault her on being a super visualiser. She The Secreted/Eckhart Tolled herself outta poverty to create Chanel, the brand and the legend. Her throwaway line, “My life didn’t please me, so I created my life,” says it all. Take-away message: we alone are responsible for our own happiness.
4. DO IT LIKE A BOSS At least she had the creative chops to back the ‘tude up: “I don’t do fashion. I am fashion.” Nobody was going to tell her what she was or wasn’t. Passion for your craft isn’t a 9 to 5 job, it’s something that is fully integrated in your lifestyle. Designers Valentino, Tom Ford, Yves Saint Laurent and other artistic greats have all remarked there’s no end to their work. If they’re not shooting or designing, they’re researching or travelling to get renewed inspiration. If you love and believe in your craft, you will instinctively explore the other facets which help enhance it because it naturally gives you joy. It may be hard work but there’s nothing contrived about it.
“Those who create are rare; those who cannot are numerous. Therefore,” said Chanel, “the latter are stronger” which suggests that if you have a voice, or an eye, keep creating. Keep offering the world your take on things.
5. OWN YOUR IDIOSYNCRASIES Coco Chanel loved white camellias because they are one of the few flowers with no scent. She hated natural perfume. And, according to the historian, she often preferred to serve food that wasn’t particularly fragrant. She brought the whole notion of dressing for comfort to the fore. She proudly did high-low by mixing haute joaillerie with paste pearls. She got a tan. Without this woman being so confident and embracing of her quirks and preferences, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to fall in love with a flower other than the predictable rose (or a fragrance that contains such unique aldehydes). We’d shun holiday tans and still be in Dior’s fabulous yet highly constricting New Look. I love this really subversive, irreverent take on liberty.
7. EMBRACE YOUR FIRE Life’s too short for feeling half-hearted about things. For Chanel, passion was fleeting but it outweighed boredom every time. “There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony. There is time for work. And time for love. That leaves no other time.”