Karl Lagerfeld’s period film Once Upon a Time, which stars Keira Knightley as Gabrielle Chanel, is finally here – all 15 glorious minutes of it. The film marks a legendary 100 years for the French Maison.
In 1913, designer Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel opens her first boutique in the French city of Deauville, from which she sold her hats.
Financed by her lover Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel, the seaside shop (located in Deauville) saw immediate success, and as they say, the rest is history. The subject of a new, black-and-white short film directed by current Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld, British star and face of Chanel Keira Knightley stars as the young Gabrielle, giving us a glimpse into Coco’s extraordinary fashion mind.
‘Tweed jackets are very chic on a woman’ she observes in the film, which apparently was improvised, the stars making up their lines as they went along. In addition, Lagerfeld tapped favorite muses Stella Tennant, Saskia De Brauw, Lindsey Wixon, male model Brad Kroenig (and his 4-year old son Hudson), male model Jake Davies playing Gabrielle’s’s lover Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel. (the briefest hint of Lagerfeld fave Baptiste Giabiconi), and Sebastien Jondeau, Karl Lagerfeld’s strapping bodyguard. (more Baptiste), along with French actress Clotilde Hesme for roles in the film.
The designer-cum-director reportedly gave the actors (including Knightley, Clotilde Hesme, Lindsey Wixson, Stella Tennant and Tallulah Harlech) their lines just moments before shooting–which makes a lot of sense when you watch the film.
The dialogue is sometimes stilted and awkward. There’s one moment when Knightley, describing a hat to Amanda Harlech’s ‘lady of society’ character, seems at a loss for words. But then, since Lagerfeld was supposedly going for a ‘natural effect’ with the dialogue, that may have been the point. Or, maybe it has to do with the inexperience of some of the cast. Let’s just say we hope Lindsey Wixson, who plays Miss Wonderbilt, doesn’t try to make the transition from model to model/actress any time soon. Either way, it seems that long pauses and sort of awkward dialogue may be becoming a Chanel signature of sorts.
Incidentally, Lindsey’s last name is misspelled in the film’s closing credits. She’s also listed as playing the exotically-named ‘Miss Wonderbilt’. That’s presumably a cute French typo in place of the actually-named ‘Miss Vanderbilt’. Saskia de Brauw’s cameo, as British poet Vita Sackville-West, is also typo-laden in the credits. Lady Sackville-West’s last name features only two letter ‘e’s, unfortunately.
That being said, there’s still a lot to enjoy about the film, which is set at the first Chanel store in Deauville, circa 1913. We see Chanel interact with the city’s fashionable ladies and come up with the inspiration behind some of her most iconic designs. When Tennant’s character Lady de Grey tells Chanel she’s wearing her husband’s jacket, the designer remarks, “Tweed jackets are very chic on a woman”. Gabrielle always wanted to cover up her poor background and create her own story so she always had a taste for revolution. She had the idea to transform womenswear by shortening dresses, freeing the waist and cropping hair.
I’m sure Karl Lagerfeld is not going to be winning any awards for this, but it’s a bit of a treat to imagine the Normandy social scene and style at the time.
And of course it’s worth watching for the star cameos alone. Along with Tennant, the Harlechs, Wixson, Knightley, and Hesme, Ashleigh Good, Caroline de Maigret, Saskia de Brauw, Brad Kroenig, Hudson Kroenig, Jamie Bochert, Baptiste Giabiconi, Sebastien Jondeau, Jake Davies, and more also make appearances in amazing period costumes.
‘Once Upon A Time…’ by Karl Lagerfeld
‘Ah! Finalmente!’ extract from ‘Tosca’
Composed by Giacomo Puccini
Performed by Gottfried Hornik, Fernando Corena, José Carreras, Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan ℗ 1980 Deutsche Grammophon GmbH, Hamburg
‘Io De´ Sospiri’ Extract from ‘Tosca’
Composed by Giacomo Puccini
Performed by Wolfgang Bünten, Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan ℗ 1980 Deutsche Grammophon GmbH, Hamburg