But it hasn’t affected her design legacy. This has much to do with the work of Karl Lagerfeld, whose collections endlessly refer to the history of the brand, providing a seasonal recognition of just how enduring Coco Chanel’s work has proved over time. (Lagerfeld has, at this point, been at the house practically as long as Chanel herself.) Tweed jackets with round collars and quilted handbags with golden chains are still worn by women of an astounding range of age and circumstance. And the story of Coco—the pearls, yes, but the warts too—is constantly being told. Tautou is not the first actress to portray Chanel—Katharine Hepburn played her in a Broadway musical, Shirley MacLaine had a go on Lifetime television, and Anna Mouglalis stars in a film about an affair between the designer and Igor Stravinsky, which debuted at Cannes a few months ago. Demi Moore has reportedly been attached to a Coco script, and there are more biographies and photo essays and books of whimsy about her than one could reasonably be asked to count. She fascinates because of her life, of course, but also because such clarity of vision is so rare.
The cleanest thing to be said about Chanel, who died in 1971 at age 87, is that she was modern, arguably more so than any designer before or since. Perhaps the most striking fashion moment in the film is its final scene: a runway show featuring many of Coco’s greatest hits culled from the archives. Each piece is so precise, so unfussy, so elegant, it could easily have been shown last week. It would have gotten a fantastic review.