September heralds the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. To the fashion crowd this September is a celebration of the enduring legacy of and fascination with Coco Chanel, the French couturier, and arbiter of style and grace. Sony Pictures Classics debuts Coco Avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel) starring Audrey Tautou on September 25, 2009. Karen Karbo’s The Gospel According to Coco Chanel is just out from Skirt Publishing. But true to the spirit of its subject, Coco Chanel Three Weeks 1962 by Douglas Kirkland from Glitterati Publishing, is a gorgeous coffee table book that has both style and substance.
Douglas Kirkland writes in his introduction, “This is about who she was, who I was and how she affected my life.” At age 27, Kirkland, a photojournalist on assignment for Look Magazine, met Chanel, who was 79 at the time, and chronicled three weeks in her life in 1962.
Through a series of black and white photographs that are as luscious, mannered and utterly Chanel-esque, Kirkland opens the readers’ eye to behind the runway scenes and rare personal moments.
Kirkland writes of this brief period in Paris from a personal perspective reflecting on his conversations with the revered Mademoiselle Chanel. There are many parallels between these two disparate souls. Both arose from humble origins, Kirkland from a tiny town in Canada and Chanel who was raised in an orphanage 200 miles from Paris.
Both artists pay attention to detail and eliminate the superfluous resulting in extraordinary beauty and simplicity. Chanel’s goal was to design clothing that showed off a woman’s figure while taking into account that women move, in and out of cars, up and down from chairs and so forth. It was imperative for Chanel that form and function be inherent in her designs.
Kirkland writes of his disciplined approach to his photography, “Is the exposure right and the focus? Am I at the best angle and in the right place?” As with Chanel’s dedication to recognizing the desire and needs of her clientele, Kirkland believes in listening and being “sensitive” to his subject as he peers through his viewfinder looking for the “perfect” frame. Designer and photographer both honor the heart of their work with a shared and determined goal – the love of their subject and desire to create absolute beauty.
In six short pages of text written 50 years after the meeting, Kirkland reflects back to 1962 and packs his paragraphs with an intense amount of biographical information about Chanel. He writes of her interest in horse racing and gossip. He reminisces of lunch at her apartment at The Ritz and a visit to Versailles. And then the reader turns the page to begin the photo essay with Chanel, dressed in signature style, walking to her Paris atelier.
Judith Thurman, literary critic for The New Yorker magazine and biographer of Colette and Isak Dinesen, has penned an elegant foreword, worthy of the designer and photographer. Her words capture the essence of Chanel and Kirkland and the intersection of their worlds. “…Their art is tender. It keeps faith with an ideal of beauty, which they refuse to fetishize.”
Coco Chanel’s words of wisdom have been repeated through the decades, many hold true today. Just before leaving one’s home, Chanel advised one to remove the last thing one put on, as it is generally unnecessary. Coco Chanel Three Weeks 1962 is pared down to its very essence and yet offers up a sublime and deep look into the work and lives of two extraordinary artists.
About Douglas Kirkland
Douglas Kirkland has been named “Photographer of the Year” (PMDA) and “Mentor of the Year” (Fotofusion). He was a photojournalist for Look and Life magazines capturing on film such alluring women as Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, and Marlene Dietrich. A resident of Los Angeles, California, Kirkland is married to Françoise to whom the book is dedicated.
Coco Chanel Three Weeks 1962
Published by Glitterati Inc.
ISBN # 978-0-9801557-1-6
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