Coco will conquer all

Perhaps esteemed Italian director Luchino Visconti was capable of seeing into the future, as his contribution to Boccaccio ’70 (released in 1962) foreshadows fashion’s more recent embracement of the moving image by some 40 years. Cleverly, and most likely unintentionally, Il Lavoro, (or The Leopard) doubles as a glossy, big screen fashion short for Chanel, as Romy Schneider steals the show in a series of outfits designed by Coco herself.

It’s unlikely that Coco Chanel needed much persuasion to be involved with the portmanteau, having previously described the actress as her ‘ideal woman’. And its hardly a coincidence that Chanel, famed for her outspoken antics, drive and determination, has much in common with Schneider’s character. As Pupe, the wife of a politician whose indiscreet liaisons with local prostitutes are splashed across the front pages of the tabloids, Schneider becomes determined to prove her independence and take up work, but as a wealthy female, finds her options are limited, and her ‘working girl’ role takes an unexpected, if slightly ironic turn. The entire segment plays out across two rooms; Visconti’s technique serving to heighten the sense of intimacy and claustrophobia within the film and the viewer is compulsively drawn into the complex relationship between Pupe and her husband Conte Octavia (played by Tomas Millian).

Chanel’s smart two-piece boucle suit lends an innate elegance to Schneider’s on screen presence. Although we first meet Pupe sprawled across the (admittedly deep-pile) carpeted floor, surrounded by notebooks, discarded decanters and overflowing ashtrays we are left in no doubt of her class and bearing. Schneider as Pupe is clad in a classic Chanel suit; her neat boucle jacket, trimmed with grosgrain trim, and knee-length pencil skirt retains a Parisian poise that belies her inner toughness and her inelegant sprawl. The suit is paired with a silk blouse (obviously a perfect match to the jacket lining), a chic slim gold belt, obligatory pearls and two-tone pumps with a slight heel, simultaneously placing emphasis on Pupe’s femininity, status, and wealth.

That modest, buttoned-to-the-neck blouse firmly separates her from her husband’s ill-advised dalliances. Pupe may be prim but she’s not always so proper, in fact she can be seductive too, as her telephone striptease proves.  As she languidly removes her blouse to reveal a silky camisole edged with lace she embodies the very essence of Chanel – languid glamour with an unexpected edge of insouciant elegance. It’s an aesthetic Coco made her own, and the perfect component to Visconti’s ironic tale.

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