In Judith Thurman’s article for The New Yorker, “Mother of Invention in Fashion” she tells of the life and fashion influence of designer Elsa Schiaparelli. The name may not be familiar to fashion outsiders but the Italian designer emerged around the same time period as the better-known Coco Chanel. While Chanel is most known for her simple cut clothing and classic designs, Schiaparelli is known for her courageous use of eclectic patterns and colorful zippers.
In a world of fashion where firsts are a rarity, Schiaparelli is recognized for innovations such as the overall, the power suit, colored hosiery and the wedge, a shoe that has yet to go out of style just to name a few. She had the boldness to design scarf dresses in bright fuchsia and mix and match sportswear in an array of knits. She was there for society during a time of adventure and outspokenness and through her daring designs she gave women an outlet to express themselves.
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During World War II Schiaparelli put designing on the backburner due to the political situation and instead used her popular influence to help raise funds for various French relief charities. She refused to design clothes at such a time of suffering and terror and through this act she showed her solidarity and strong ethics. Her rival, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was shacked up with a Nazi officer at the fancy Ritz while women were wearing her black designs to funerals for the many that were dying throughout the country.
As the war came to an end Chanel came back strong with her original designs as simple and as black as ever just what society needed-mindless outfits. This society who was once willing to work and try to stand out, now just wanted to blend into the sorrowful world that the war had turned life into, they didn’t want to think at all. In the time of pre World War II, society was willing to go out of their way for fashion, to strive to stand out and be bold, to try and to work for it. Schaparelli was a “poet of couture” as Thurman calls her, “she designed clothes for an emboldened and unbeholden New Woman”.
(Thurman, 1) Postwar the world was in a conservative state, the demand for fuchsia and graphic knitwear was not high, and “her work was out of tune with the tastes of a conservative postwar public”. (Thurman, 3) The innovative work of Schaparelli was recognized and at a time useful to the general public but its uniqueness was not good enough to stay in society’s minds and unlike Chanel, it did not become a household name. Women no longer wanted to be outspoken, they instead wanted their clothing to speak for them.
The little black dress practically invented by Chanel did just that-it spoke for itself. Throughout decades Chanel has created a following strong enough that in a sense it is its own category of style and has kept its affluent name throughout depressions and economic plights. The highest forms of royalty, the greatest icons and even the First Ladies of America clad themselves in the classic tweed of Chanel. The mindlessness of being able to rely on the classic cut, the clean lines and the dependent mix of grays and blacks are what makes Chanel a “go-to” for recognized and upper class women.
Chanel represents the adaptation of fashion, postwar women did not want to try, they did not want to “think too hard” or work for fashion. Chanel doesn’t want you to work at all, her clothing is meant to be worn and say enough for you, one of her classics, the little black dress symbolizes a woman putting on a dress that speaks for itself, it screams classy and timeless. Thurman writes, in reference to monumental breakthroughs such as “monotheism, penicillin, the little black dress, “history tends to remember those who have one big idea.
” (1) Chanel had big ideas, even if they were adapted from what was already invented, and those ideas were timeless. When one is wearing Chanel that is what is seen, it is not the women in Chanel that stands out but the Chanel on the woman. The little black dress which is casually referred to by today’s designers as the “LBD” has become such a staple that rarely will a woman’s closet be lacking at least one. A little black dress is hardly as exciting and conversational as a hot pink pantsuit or as daring as sportswear with animal shaped buttons, but its black simplicity is mindless.
It was exactly how society wanted its women to behave at the end of the 1940’s; the little black dress spoke for them because nobody wanted them to speak for themselves. A woman standing in the corner at a dinner party wearing Chanel does not need to be attended to, the fact that she is donning Chanel says just enough. She is wealthy, she is taken care of and anything she feels the need to say is being said by her Chanel outfit. One of the best known images of the little black dress is in Blake Edward’s film adaptation of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Audrey Hepburn plays the naive yet eccentric character of Holly Golightly and her look has become legendary. Her hair pulled tightly into a bun and a never ending strand of pearls wrapped around her neck all of which accessorize her classic little black dress and a long stemmed cigarette that she has, without fail, permanently in hand. Hepburn, frequently clad in Chanel, prances around the city as if it is her playground, nonchalantly yet tragically running with a different gentleman every evening.
It would seem that she enjoys their company but she refers to them as “rats” during her daily rants to her new companion and neighbor. This character remains unnamed in the book but through the film we learn that his name is Paul, although Holly finds him uncannily familiar to his brother and insists on calling him Fred. Holly Golightly’s behavior is eccentric and sometimes unprompted and in both the film and the novel the audience and readers are able to grasp this unpredictable aspect of her personality.
Edwards and Capote’s depiction of Holly is incredibly different in their respective portrayals of this wild character. Although the storylines differ each of their portrayals successfully convey Holly as the entertaining woman that she is. Capote’s version makes readers push themselves and question Holly as a character is she a phony? Is her behavior really past her? Does Holly not see what is going on? Readers are delving deep and thinking hard to understand the Holly Golightly in the text. We are looking deep into her character and trying to see her for who she is, to understand this seemingly complex woman.
But then there is something about the Holly Golightly that Blake Edwards has created, a facade that appears in part due to her memorable ensemble. The movie’s Holly Golightly is easier for the audience to understand and empathize with. There is no thinking involved, just a beautiful face and a simple little black dress. The Chanel-clad Holly allows us to look at her without really looking into her, we are satisfied with what we see and our judgment is left at that. The Chanel little black dress is speaking for Holly and it is giving off an impression that leaves the audience excusing her for her petty actions.
One of the most notable differences between the movie and the book is the ending that Paramount pictures completely changed from how Truman Capote first wrote it. Holly’s main eccentricity is that she is constantly traveling, never being able to settle in one place that she finds herself comfortable in. “I don't want to own anything until I find a place where me and things go together. I'm not sure where that is…”(Capote,) At the end of the novel Holly remains her true nomadic and the last readers hear of her is through a postcard sent from Brazil to the narrator, like expected she has not settled down.
Then there is the film version of Holly, a character who we choose to take for what she is, whatever that may be. In the film the narrator Paul/Fred, is able to convince Holly to stay in New York, as he departs from a taxicab ride with her the audience thinks this is the last time they will ever see each other and the narrator, a man who is clearly head over heels for Holly, gives her a peace of his mind, and a glimpse into his broken heart: “You know what's wrong with you, Miss Whoever-You-Are?
You're chicken; you've got no guts. You're afraid to stick out your chin and say, "Okay, life's a fact, people do fall in love, people do belong to each other, because that's the only chance anybody's got for real happiness. You call yourself a free spirit, a wild thing, and you're terrified somebody's going to stick you in a cage. Well, baby, you're already in that cage. You built it yourself…it's wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.
”(Breakfast at Tiffany’s) Then to reader’s surprise but to audiences content Holly returns the narrator’s gestures! The Holly in the book would have never settled for love and given in to one man Holly was a traveler never settling for one man or one address. The Holly in the movie has just been put in her place and audiences expect this of her and they accept it. Of course the lady in Chanel will fall in love in this fairytale-like rainy scene.
For a Schiaparelli wearing character we expect more, we don’t expect her to take such confrontation and to be told where she stands in the world, but the Chanel wearing woman will be swept off her feet and won over by her neighborly suitor. How is it that courtesy is given to the Holly Golightly in the film but yet the novel’s version of Holly would never be excused like this? Society, being the funny unpredictable way it is has the ability to turn its head at certain events or times.
In Thurman’s article we see that Schiaparelli and Chanel started off on equal ground but it is only one designer that is still around today: “Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli launched their fashion houses in the first decades of the last century like two rockets with equal payloads of ambition. Chanel settled into the lower and brighter-more visible-orbit, which the gravity of convention begins to erode. Schiaparelli exerts her influence like a distant celestial body on women and designers who may see hot pink when they free-associate her name, but who otherwise have no precise image of her work.
”(Thurman, 1) For such originality, Schiaparelli was merely lost in the times and is only a memory with no precise image attached to her name. Was she who we should have remembered? While Schiaparelli was working for a good cause during the war and using her resources to raise money for French charities, Chanel was holed up decadently with a Nazi officer living a lifestyle totally oblivious to the world’s events. Yet society turns its head and excuses Chanel’s actions just as quickly as they forget Schiaparelli’s heroic ones.
Schiaparelli might not have been lost in the times had she made it simpler on us, had she tended to society’s needs. We give Chanel the courtesy that we give Edward’s version of Holly Golightly and we give Schiaparelli no courtesy at all. Edward’s Holly Golightly makes it easy to fall for her quirky little expressions and disregard towards the real world, the fairytale ending we are left with is simple and does not leave the audience wondering and digging deeper and for that we love the simplicity and mindlessness of the film’s Holly Golightly.
It is the Holly Golightly in the film adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s that has become illustrious throughout the years; her timelessness has stuck around like Chanel’s while the original novella’s fame has fizzled out like Schiaparelli’s. Like Chanel, the film version of Holly Golightly is one that the audience does not have to work to understand. Readers are sick of working to understand Truman Capote’s original Breakfast at Tiffany’s like women were sick of working to understand Schiaparelli.
Sometimes it is the easy and the mindless that society not only wants but needs, and they are willing to throw all originality out the window for it. Works Cited Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Dir. Blake Edwards. Paramount Pictures, 1961. DVD. Capote, Truman. Breakfast At Tiffany’s. New York: Vintage Books, 1993. Thurman, Judith. "Mother of Invention in Fashion. " The New Yorker 27 Oct. 2003: 1-3. Print.
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