In the September issue of Harper's Bazaar, the editors ran a cutesy feature titled 'What Would Coco Do?'. With the new film Coco Before Chanel due out this autumn, says the headline, "Bazaar wondered what the notoriously feisty Madame Chanel would say about the world after Chanel. So we asked [current Chanel designer] Karl Lagerfeld to channel the original fashion wit."
One of these exchanges goes like so:
Harper's Bazaar: Your clothing liberated women in the 1920s. Are you still a feminist?
Lagerfeld-as-Chanel: I was never a feminist because I was never ugly enough for that.
This quip rankled me on many levels: as a woman, as a fashion consumer, as a writer for both adult and young women. It is a spiteful, irrelevant observation: one's appearance has nothing to do with one's relationship to feminism. In my mind, a feminist is any woman who believes that women - like men - have the right to determine their own individual destinies, barred neither by law nor cultural convention from doing so. I am proud to count myself in that category.
That Madame Chanel did not consider herself a feminist is well-documented, despite the fact that in some respects she could be considered a feminist icon: an impoverished-orphan-turned-female-business-mogul who redefined the attitudes of her generation and those to follow. Her self-created persona, aesthetics, and empire were premised on the defiance of the rigid social constructs of her youth. She could hardly be considered a creature of demure Victorian subservience.
Whatever her reasons for declining to categorize herself as a feminist, her career provides much inspiration for ambitious women everywhere. That her successor chooses to mock a demographic of Chanel's consumers (not all of whom are buying his apparel with their husbands' Mastercards), and propagate this erroneous impression of feminism, is unfortunate and disenchanting.
This "ugly feminist" would expect more from the ambassador of a brand supposedly devoted to elegance.
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