You don’t like colour, Mademoiselle Chanel?” “As long as it’s black.”
Charting the relationship between Coco Chanel and Igor Starvinsky, the imaginatively titled Coco and Igor (Jan Kounen, 2009) is a beautifully shot, glossy ode to style; Mademoiselle would certainly have approved of it’s polished aesthetic, if not the somewhat slow-moving (and possibly exaggerated) plot. Whilst the film opens with the notorious first night of the Ballet Russe production of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring on 29 May 1913 in Paris, much of the ‘action’ takes place at Bel Respiro, Chanel’s home in Garches, where Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelson) stayed with his wife and children, at Chanel’s (Anna Mouglalis) request.
As expected, the costume designs are superb – discreet, considered, louche and incredibly elegant, but it is Bel Repriso, designed by Philippe Cord’homme, that dominates. It’s a sprawling country residence, a stylish Art Deco masterpiece, designed specifically to reflect Chanel’s modernist tastes, from the symmetrical monochrome panelling, to the striking fabrics, elegant swirling motifs, textured jacquard-covered chaise lounges and marble baths. Chanel’s bed is dominated by a geometric, cut-out metal headboard, her dinner plates are white with a contrast black trim.
Bel Repriso is simultaneously spartan and luxe, and perfectly in keeping with the simple, effortless practicality on which Chanel built her maison in Rue de Cambon. The décor is dominated by black and white, the strong linear symmetry evoking of Chanel’s unyielding independence, and her rigorous attention to detail, the gardens and surrounding grounds are immaculate, the effect of symmetry evidenced in the neat shrubbery and the perfectly raked gravel paths. For Chanel, appearance is everything.
Chanel’s tendency towards black and white is perfectly matched with the keys of Stravinsky’s piano, and within the notes of his sheet music. Aloof and unyielding, just like those dual colours, Chanel admits to feeling no regret at her affair with the composer, despite his family and frail wife. She is not callous, but alone, and sees herself as an equal to Starvinsky. His brutal comment: “You are not an artist, you are a shopkeeper”, prompts her to end their physical relationship, although she continues to support his work.
Katarina (Stravinsky’s wife, played by Elena Morozova) seems ill at ease in her new surrounds, her provincial, Orthodox life is little preparation for Chanel’s lifestyle. She drapes her familiar tapestries over the bed, hangs her traditional costumes in the wardrobe. Although Chanel professes an interest in Katarina’s style and even uses it as the inspiration for a new collection, her motives are questionable. Katarina’s status as an outsider is further emphasised in a dinner party scene with the Diaghilev company. All the attendant guests are wearing black and white – from Chanel’s flapper dress with contrast fringing to Stavinsky’s formal tuxedo. Only Katarina stands apart, in a plain red dress. In an earlier scene, she sits on the guest bed, clad in a peach two-piece suit with wide lace lapels, clutching her handbag in her lap. Her rigid posture highlight how uncomfortable she is in Chanel’s home. Katarina is devoted to her children and husband (transcribing his music with rigorous care), yet feels no envy towards Chanel, whose elegance and successd cannot overcome her amoral and undesirable tendencies.