Monday, October 26, 2009


by Polly Guerin, Fashion Historian

Cloaked in mystery and romance Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel is one of the most fascinating women in history and so is the Chanel suit that has outlasted her legendary life of rags to riches and high society. Her extraordinary influence on the way women dressed in the 1920s and 1930s evokes an image of elegant simplicity and a modernist approach to fashion. No wonder, the Chanel suit reappears today as an all-time classic. Honors are pouring in across the country and with the opening of the film, "Coco, Before Chanel" at the Paris Theater, moviegoers learned the truth behind the Coco legend. But don't expect this movie to be all about the celebrated designer's famous Haute Couture days of wine and roses and high society. It focuses on her early days singing at cabarets, plying her dressmaking skills and finding romance with the wealthy male benefactors who provided financial aid and abetted her meteroric rise to stardom and high society. All aboard, Saks Fifth Avenue's windows paid homage to Chanel and invited viewers to take a vicarious trip on the Chanel train with the CC logo, pulling out all the stops with Chanel suits and accessories. Attention to detail made the Haute Couture Chanel jacket quite a different breed of garment from the traditional tailored styles. The Haute Couture version was hand-made in exquisite tweeds and boucle fabrics and the lining, printed or plain, matched the coorinating blouse, collar and cuffs. A delicate gilt chain sewn to the hem of the jacked added just a bit of weight so the jacket did not ride up. Now that is a classy suit, par excellence and it is said that if Chanel was not satisified she would rip off the sleeve of the Chanel suit time and again to get the perfect fit. The end result was that despite fashion's frivolity this was a suit that would last for years and still look chic.
Notorious as a born romantic, her name was linked with celebrated men of the era. Idle hours on the Duke of Westminster's yacht did not stop Chanel's imagination and from the crew's uniforms she developed jersey yachting fashions and sportswear. Polly dishes the dirt that so many biographers have tended to hide about this amazing woman. After her romantic attachment to a German officer during WWII she fled to Switzerland and only returned to Paris to open her Couture House after the largesse of the French population forgave her dalliance.
Chanel is the trademark for fashion, accessories, perfume, cosmetics and all sorts of lovely things. If it isn't an authentic Chanel suit, do not use terms in your writing such as Chanel-ed, Chanel--issim or Chanel-ized. Lawyers positively detest them.
Bio: Polly was a fashion reporter when she was sent to cover the House of Chanel collection for the trade publication, bible of the fashion industry, Women's Wear Daily and had the great pleasure of meeting Madame herself. As a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology she became a recognized fashion historianon on the subject of the Chanel suit. Visit Polly at

Thursday, October 22, 2009


By Polly Guerin, Fashion Historian

The world's most legendary fragrance and the House of Chanel's most famous perfume, Chanel No. 5, is not the first perfume to ever have emerged on the fashion scene. Poiret, the fashion designer who freed women from the corset and created slim hip sheaths that were all the rage in the Jazz age, was also the first fashion designer to create a perfume. He worked with chemists to concoct mysterious, Oriental scents. In the l920s/1930s he created the "Poiret" woman with Le Fruit Defendu, Nuit de Chine, L'Etrange Fleur, even Borgia.
However, perfume has a prolific history because women have been known to douse themselves with aromatic scents throughout the ages. The Egyptian women knew a thing or two about beauty as did women of the French court who used perfume to dispel unpleasant body odor. Amazing these noble women did not all bath. Then Victorian women had their fainting spells and scented vials of aromatic arousal came to their rescue.
However, the legend still holds Chanel No. 5 up as the number one perfume that has been on sale since its introduction in 1921. The House of Chanel claims that a bottle is sold worldwide every 30 seconds.
Parisian couturier Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel commissioned Ernest Beaux, one of the most celebrated perfumers of the era, and as we know today these men are called the "Nose" of the industry. Well, Beaux' nose was inspired by his military sojourn above the Arctic Circle during World War in which the perfume attemps to capture the scent of extreme freshness of the northern lakes under the midnight sun. At that time the most expensive perfume oil was jasmine and Chanel wanted to create the most costly perfume in the word, and as a result No. 5 relies heavily on jasmine. There was not one but several formulas presented by Beaux and No. 5 was the one chosen out of a series of ten perfumes presented by Beaux. Cocurrently Chanel was presenting her couture collection on May 5 of that year and the iconic No. 5 was born to a destiny of unrivaled success.
Chanel No. 5 did not take off immediately. Being a woman of unprecedented marketing vision Chanel introduced it first to her friends on May 5, 1921 and it was given to preferred clients free at her salon. Making the scent more recognizable, the fitting rooms of her establishment were scented with No. 5, which as you know, is a tactic imitated by retailers today. Although not the first fragrance to use snythetic floral aldehydes as a top note, it was Chanel's theory saying "I want to give women an artificial perfume. Yes, i do mean artificial, like a dress, something that has been made so that it would make a woman's natural beauty more precise."
Famous spokesmodels for the fragrance have included movie start, Marilyn Monroe, whose mystic boosted its popularity. In 1953 when asked what she wore to bed, Monroe famously replied, "Why, Chanel No. 5., of course." Chanel herself declared, "A woman should wear fragrance wherever she expects to be kissed."
French film sensation, Catherine Deneuve also became the iconic image of the Chanel No. 5 woman as were Nicole Kidman and actress Audrey Tautou who also appeared in the short firm for the fragrance introduced on May 5th, 2009 in honor of the creation of Chanel No. 5. introduced on May 5, 1921.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The Legend of the Minaudiere: by Polly Guerin, Fashion Historian

Everybody knows that accessories make an outfit, and it seems you can never have too many evening bags, especially a Minaudiere. The French word describes an elegant but small, highly jeweled hard metal case that one can nestle in their hand. These charming little handfuls are more an art form than anything else and placed on the dinner table or worn at a gala event these minaudieres look like portable art. "Bubbles," the late Beverly Sills had hundreds of them and mostly as gifts or bought from Judith Leiber the famed handbag designer who produced animal, avant-garde and whimsical shapes all jeweled and emblazoned with eye popping colorful Sahworski crystals. Among Bubbles' collection, auctioned at Doyle, were a Doctor's Bag Minaudiere, A Shell Minaudiere, an Elephant Deity Minaudiere and a wide assortment of Faberge Egg Minaudieres. Minaudiere in its original sense was a charming way to describe a coquette, a person with affected manners.
Contemporary minaudieres are just that coquettish but their incarnation is ascribed by Deborah Chase, in her book, "Terms of Adornment," The Ultimate Guide to Accessories (HarperCollins), as having been created by Van Cleef and Arpels in 1930 when Charles Arpels noticed that one of his clients was using a metal Lucky Strike box as a purse. He adapted the look and named it after the wife of his partner, Estelle Van Cleef, who was "minaudiere" (charming). At first minaudieres were made of gold plated or silver metal and encrusted with genuine gems, but the look was too delicious to remain exclusive. Within a decade you could find the dainty purse on female arms throughout America. Imitatators of the iconic jewled minaudere cover designs with colored rhinestones, which is how Judith Leiber's minauderes started in the first place. In a Women's Wear Daily, trade newspaper interview Leiber said,"I was making metal bags, but they were getting tarnished. To cover it, we put each rhinestone on with a flat back and a little glue." However, if one wants to have the 'real thing,' Deborah Chase recommends that "You look for vintage mother-of-pearl, petit point, or beaded minaudieres in flea markets and antique stores and to modernize the minaudiere change the short wrist strap for a long chain so that you can hang the small bag from your shoulder."
Mad about a certain book cover? Your own, of course! Have it immortalized on a square-shaped minaudiere. That's the concept behind a magical new line of limited edition minaudieres by Paris-based, Olympia Le-Tan, evoking first-edition covers of 21 classics. The collection is handmade in France, using canvas, embroidered flet applique and silk thread, with a brass strictire. Each minaudiere book retails for $l,500 and the boutique Colette is the exclusive Paris distributor for the collection. 213 Rue Saint-Honore, 7500l; +33-1-55-35-33-90.
Terry Mayer, jewelry designer, takes it one step further and creates book miniatures in silver or another alloy, and imprints the title of a book on the cover so you can wear the little jewelry book on a chain, front and center.
At age 88, Judith Leiber is still enthralled about handbags. She reflects on her life and career in accessories in a new self-published book by Jeffrey Sussman, "No Mere Bagatelles," Telling the Story of Handbag Genius Judith Leiber & her Modernist Artist husband, Gerson Leiber.

Bio: Polly Guerin's first job in journalism was as Accessories Editor at the fashion bible, the trade newspaper Women's Wear Daily where she honed her skills on writing about accessories and later as professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology she lectured on Product Knowledge explained how accessories were made and manufactured. Polly is also a vice-president of Romance Writers of America/New York Chapter. Visit her at with links to her Internet PollyTalk column and blog