My guys are out of town, camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota for five–count ’em, five–nights. Some women hate being alone at home. Me? I love it. Introvert. Workaholic. Writer. Get the picture?
One of the things I look forward to when I’m home alone is catching up on movies that no one else in my family wants to see, like foreign flicks and musicals. So more than a week ago I set my Netflix queue in anticipation of this event. NINE is on the list. So is CREATION, a biopic about Charles Darwin starring Paul Bettany. And THE LAST STATION, a biopic on Leo Tolstoy. Looking forward to all of them.
Last night, I watched COCO AVANT CHANEL, another biopic about the life of Gabrielle Chanel before she became a famous designer. (Don’t ask me why so many biopics are on my list. It just happened that way.) This was good movie that I believe ran fairly true to life. The acting was impeccable. I love Audry Tautou (pictured on the left), and Coco Chanel was much more interesting that I’d expected. I had no idea she was such a major influence in women’s fashion.
She was born in 1883, and while the fashion of her time included dresses with corsets and monstrous hats with feathers, Coco preferred trousers and small straw hats. She got her start in the fashion business with hat-making and was initially financed with funding from a man who was purported to be the love of her life. (Spoiler Alert: their 9 year affair – the length of which was not made clear in the movie – ended tragically when he died in a car accident.) She became known for her loose fitting, elegant clothing for women made out of jersey, a material previously used only for men’s underwear!
I was so intrigued by the movie that I did a little more research and was surprised to find that she stayed on in Paris during the German occupation in World War II, although closed her dress shops, believing there were more important things that fashion during that time. She not only was rumored to have had a spy with an important German officer and Nazi spy, she was also later arrested by the Gestapo accused of being a British spy. The British royal family intervened on her behalf, ensuring she evaded trial.
Here’s the real Chanel.
She refused to marry, but the list of men with whom she was rumored to have had affairs is impressive, including Igor Stravinsky. When asked why she turned down a proposal of marriage from the Duke of Westminster, she replied, “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster. There is only one Chanel.”
An unabashed workaholic, she worked until the day she died at the age of 88. She was listed by TIME as one of the top 100 most influential people of the past century and was the only person from the fashion industry to be included in that list. And she smoked like a chimney. Who knew?
The movie got me wondering about other influential women, so I checked out TIME’s century list. I wasn’t surprised to see Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice or Hilary Clinton listed, but I was surprised to see Lucille Ball, Princess Diana, Aretha Franklin and Marilyn Monroe.
What women do you think have been some of the most influential of the last century?