Silent Chanel


Brad Koenig and Edita Vilkeviciute in Karl Lagerfeld’s Coco Chanel film

Let’s bring a little glamour to the sometimes rather fusty Bioscope, and take a look at the world of fashion. Because designer Karl Lagerfeld has made a ten-minute silent film about Coco Chanel, which premieres in Paris tomorrow. This article from Women’s Wear Daily Fashion provides us with the essential details:

A glamorous, big-budget short film of the silent variety will premiere in Paris this week, and it’s all due to Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld, who donned a director’s hat and let rip his encyclopedic knowledge of Gabrielle Chanel’s early years.

The 10-minute movie — in all its flapper glory, as these stills illustrate — will be screened at Le Ranelagh theater on Wednesday night, along with a showing of Chanel’s Paris-Moscow, a luxury pre-fall ready-to-wear collection embellished by the couture ateliers Chanel owns.

“Today, people are ready for silent movies again, as they spend time — hours, I would say — looking at text messages and e-mails,” says Lagerfeld. “I always loved silent movies.”

The designer gathered some familiar members of his entourage, including model Brad Koenig and his bodyguard/private secretary Sébastien Jondeau (mustachioed and surly as a Russian nightclub owner), for the cast, along with model Edita Vilkeviciute, her gamine allure, jutting chin and ramrod posture creating a beguiling portrayal of the young Coco from 1913, when the legendary designer first set up shop. As reported in WWD Nov. 17, Tallulah Ormsby-Gore plays a Chanel model who has to sell her real-life mother, Lady Amanda Harlech, a hat in the film. Even the workers in the Chanel atelier got to play parts as workers in the fashion house. “I cannot take extras,” Lagerfeld notes. “They don’t know how to touch the clothes.”

The second part of the film takes place in 1923, when Chanel was already established, and is interspersed with newsreel images from the First World War. The plot, conveyed with title cards, involves a fascinating cast of characters, many tied to Russia, including Chanel’s lover the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, from whom she borrowed the pea jacket and pelisse, giving them a feminine touch. “It’s a funny movie, unpretentious,” says Lagerfeld. “Chanel was a charming woman, at liberty to seduce men. Everybody this year has decided to make a movie about Chanel, and you know their historical worth is not always too exact.”

Lagerfeld’s mini movie took two days to shoot in a studio on the outskirts of Paris, and was “made like a Hollywood production,” the designer says. “I had every image in my head.” As for the collection he will show, he says it will be “constructed,” incorporating elements of imperial Russia and Russian folklore.

Well, I think we’re all pleased that Karl loves silent movies even if – were one to be cynical – he may not actually have seen one. And I’m impressed by the intellectual leap displayed when he says that people are ready for silent films once more because they dedicate so much of their time to reading texts and emails. If anyone has wise words on that one, I’d be glad to see them.

A title for Lagerfeld’s film does not appear to have been advertised, but no doubt it will generate far more column space than any conventional silent film screening today, and the same hackneyed ideas about what silents looked like and what they represented will persist. The WWD Fashion article includes an eleven-picture slideshow of images from the film, so you may judge for yourselves.