Channeling Chanel

Art critic John Russell once quoted his aunt's advice to a bored friend: “Go to the public library, sign up, and get yourself another life.” And what another life! It is a life in which I get to hobnob with the likes of Rosamond Bernier through her memoir Some of my Lives.

The memoir begins in the shallow end of the pool as Bernier recollects a childhood with such luminaries as Leonard Bernstien, Leopold Stokowski, and Aaron Copeland who visited her childhood home,  but the essays that come at the deep end are a wonder. Bernier writes about art in an immediate and informed and sensual way that must be the reason her talks at the Met were such a hit. 

But her February 1954 article “Listening to Chanel” for both the American and French issues of Vogue was the most fun. Chanel, a chic and bird-like Miss Haversham sitting bejeweled in a Paris apartment over her salon that remained unchanged since the war, was poised at 70 to make a comeback with her timeless and legendary style.

I like to imagine I’m in Chanel’s Parisian apartment  as she imparts advice that is just as relevant in 2014 as it was in 1954. 

A woman’s figure:
“”I want mannequins with bosoms and hips, with a real shape…they must have elegance....To diet and be underfed in order to lose weight – then one looks sad!  What difference do a few kilos make? To be good tempered and young in spirit is what counts.’”

“’An eccentric [fancy] dress doesn’t make an eccentric-a woman is just as dull in an eccentric dress if she is dull without it. ..Women’s clothes must be more glamorous, even Romanesque. Dresses are never gracious and flattering enough…What is Fashion? La mode est un meteir and not an art – it is a don and not du genie. We keep hearing this word genius-everything has genius-a handbag, a pair of shoes. I tell you there is no genie to this business but don and taste…A dress isn’t right if it is uncomfortable, if it doesn’t ‘walk’ properly. A dress must function or on n’y tient pasElegance in clothes means being able to move freely, to do anything with ease.’“

“'Real elegance means elegance in manners too…Yes elegance in living is very important.'”

How to Age Well
‘”Aging is a state of mind, one must keep enthusiasm and curiosity. I said to a twenty-five-year-old friend of mine, ‘My poor girl, how very old you are! She wasn’t interested in anything. Americans are are wrong to overestimate very young hirlgs-these are not the only beautiful women; for me, women become interesting after forty…
The most important things are health and joie de vivre.'"


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