“Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”
(in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, 1923)
I’m feeling inspired by this notion… particularly after seeing Coco Avant Chanel this week.
Kanarie and I headed down to The Grand Cinema on a rare night off this holiday season, to see Audrey Tautou star in the newest telling of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s evolution from orphan to dressmaker to unlikely style-setter to the first and most lastingly prominent woman in fashion.
(I haven’t see the Shirley MacClaine TV-movie version–it’s on my Netflix queue. I wonder if it paints Chanel as such a social climber, albeit an endearingly if crotchety plain-speaking, witty, and recklessly insouciant one.)
As this movie tells it, Chanel’s famous words may have parroted/been inspired by her English paramour. Admiring Chanel’s radically un-frou-frou-ed evening attire, he said something like, “She’s perfectly right to choose simplicity. It’s more elegant.”
Oh, this is a lovely film to watch. Yes, the French country manors are gorgeous, and the seaside appropriately moody, but the clothes! The camera flits over the swirling crowds, bypassing the feathers and plumes and “too much of too much” in a blur. Instead, it zeros in on crisp-folded shirt collars, lace draped in moderation, and only just so, houndstooth checks, tiny brass detailing on saddles and boots.
We are, of course, meant to see with Chanel’s eye the bits of inspiration as she encounters them… small things that don’t need all the trimmings to be beautiful. To be elegant.
Funny coincidence: Directly after the movie, Kanarie and I visited the shoe section at Macy’s, where a dapper middle-aged salesman named Skip quoted me that exact morsel of wearable wisdom.
See, I’m coming to the end of a brief, but rather intense search for the perfect black pump. Believe it or not, I don’t have any. In fact, I have one pair of black shoes at all, and I haven’t worn them in two years. I’ve gone searching several times, but I always get distracted by the much prettier, much more glamorous and fun and colorful and yes, often impractical options (I have a real weakness for satin and suede, two materials that just don’t thrive in the northwest).
So. I finally decided to stick to my plan and buy the shoes I have often needed but never had: Simple, elegant, classic black leather pumps. …with a slim, nicely shaped heel of 2-3″, an almond toe, a slight platform, no toe-cleavage, a high and sturdy heel cup, and oh yes, comfortable, please. You see why it’s taken me a few years?
AMA and I found a lovely BCBG pair on Black Friday, but I wanted to be sure I wasn’t a) spending too much and b) settling. If I’m going to buy boring black heels, they darn well better be elegant and classic and perfect for the next 5 years!
So. Back to the moment of coincidence. I was swiveling my head from right to left foot– one encased in soft black leather from NineWest, the other in a black embossed crocodile from Alfani. Both classics. Skip was taking it all very seriously, and was clearly championing the plain leather. A sleeker line, less likely to fade out of trend, wear it with more…
I was still torn, and Kanarie really liked the croco-heels for their subtle punch… something she knows I gravitate to. But then, Skip drove it home. “Well, they do say elegance comes from simplicity.”
How can you dispute a clear sign like that?
Now, eventually I’ll decide which of the two pairs of perfect black pumps in my living room gets to have permanent residence. And yes, there is a difference between them. Subtle, but important.
Of course, we all know I’ll likely pair them with entirely too much frou-frou for Chanel’s liking… it’s a very likely thing that I will never truly grasp elegance via simplicity.
But I like to think there may be hope for me in another way.
See, there’s that other aspect of elegance Chanel didn’t name but which emanates from her legacy: Confidence in the choice to dress as you please. If you can find strength and assurance in your own style and take true pleasure from whatever things you find beautiful… what could possibly be more elegant?