Saturday, September 22, 2012

Channelling Chanel by Bobbi Mumm

Bobbi Mumm is a mystery and thriller writer in Saskatoon, Canada where she works half-time as an event planner at the University of Saskatchewan. On the speaker’s bureau for UNICEF, Bobbi delivers presentations at dozens of schools every year. She speaks French fluently and continues her language studies. Married to a nuclear physicist, she has four children, two of whom are college-age. The twins remain at home.

Bobbi wrote her first novel, Cream with Your Coffin, and signed with a U.S. literary agent who is now (still) pitching Cream with Your Coffin to New York editors. Almost finished her second novel, thriller De Rigueur Mortis, Bobbi is already planning the second 1954 Paris thriller and thinking about a research trip.

Channelling Chanel
By Bobbi Mumm


As I do final revisions to my 1954 Paris thriller, De Rigueur Mortis, I spend a lot of time thinking about Coco Chanel.  The novel’s adventure revolves around Chanel and her Rue Cambon atelier and boutique. In 1954 Coco Chanel presented her first collection in fifteen years – she’d closed her premises when war was declared. She already had superstar status along with notoriety as a probable Nazi collaborator.  It took her very little time to regain her position as the premiere designer of haute couture. So what is it about Chanel that keeps us fascinated? Why do we still talk about her, a full hundred and two years after she opened her first hat shop in Paris? I think the legend that was Coco Chanel has three roots:

1)      Chanel’s Drive and Personality

From the age of twelve, Coco Chanel was raised in an orphanage where her father had abandoned her upon her mother’s death. The nuns taught her to sew, demanded self-discipline, and placed her in her first job at a hosiery shop. As well as these skills taught by the nuns, Coco Chanel had a natural energy and unnerving charisma that swept everyone along with her in the pursuit of her dreams.

2)      Chanel’s Talent and Vision

Coco Chanel revolutionized fashion. She proclaimed that clothing should be comfortable (an unfashionable idea) and that men should not be dressing women. Among Chanel’s many firsts:

Sunbathing: Chanel sported a sun-kissed visage in 1920. Until then, most women prized a milky-white complexion.

Trousers for women: Coco Chanel borrowed her lover’s trousers and wore them in public, naturally in the most chic manner possible.

Little Black Dress: Chanel, in 1926, released the first “Little Black Dress” as it came to be known.

Lipstick in a Swivel Tube: Before Chanel’s 1920’s innovation lipstick was in a pot. 

Quilted handbags, fake pearls, chains as jacket hem weights and as a visible accessory, knitted, comfortable fabrics for women, ballerina pumps… The list goes on.

3)      Chanel’s Notoriety and Scandal

Chanel lived for two things, love and her work. Her passion for the men in her life led her several times deep into scandal and, once, near-imprisonment. As a young woman she lived in the world of the demi-monde, the lover of a succession of several rich play-boys, some of them married. Later, during WWII, Chanel’s very public affair with a German officer and agent runner in Paris led her to be arrested after the war on charges of collaboration. Scholars have never agreed as to Chanel’s involvement as a spy, either only for the Germans or, as a double-agent, working for the French and British. I choose to believe the latter.

It is Chanel’s wartime activities that were of great interest to me as I wrote De Rigueur Mortis. In 1954, alleged wartime wrongdoing was still extremely divisive in Paris society. Throw into the mix the start of the Algerian revolution, France’s loss of Indo-China, and the throngs of young American’s seeking their muse in Paris and I had a lovely, tumultuous canvas on which to paint this mystery thriller.

Thank you to Kaye for this chance to write about what I love. So tell me, what do you find most interesting or inspiring about Coco Chanel?


Eve Barbeau said...

Fascinating Bobbi! I didn't know about all the intrigue around Coco Chanel. Fabulous potential there for any storyteller.

What I did know was that she designed fabulous suits for women and that her namesake perfumes are wonderful and beyond my reach, price-wise. I look forward to reading De Rigeur Mortis.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Bobbi, Hi! Welcome!!!

Oooooh - I am charmed and intrigued by all things Coco.

What I wish would be to have ropes and ropes and ropes of pearls like she did. I would wear them every day with everything. Jeans and boots? YEP! PJs - you bet! I have always been smitten with all her pearls. (I am the most shallows person you know).

I cannot WAIT to read De Rigeur Mortis!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

and I can't even spell "shallow." sigh.

Unknown said...

Eve, thanks for stopping by. She was an amazing woman. It seems her one weakness was her intense love for the men in her life. She went through torment and heartbreak many times because of these guys, most of them married cads. Her German lover, the spy-runner, Hans Gunther von Dincklage, was a user of people, and yet Chanel stayed with him for many years. Even spied for him (they say).

Unknown said...

Kaye, it's such a pleasure to be here. Thank you. I'm with you on the ropes of pearls. And they'd go perfectly with your red boots. That's another Chanel ground-breaker: costume jewelry.

You know, Kaye, your unstoppability and your charm make you an inspiration, as well. We love watching your novel emerge. And, who knows, it may turn out to be the "little black dress" of literature!

Peggy West said...

I love the idea of trousers and of looser clothing after the earlier years of such fitted clothing and years of the nightmarish bustles and wide skirts and cinched waists. Women have to be able to move and Coco knew it.

Anonymous said...

Kaye - Thanks for hosting Bobbi.

Bobbi - What a fascinating and way-ahead-of-her-time person Coco Chanel was! I love the way her views about clothes, makeup, relationships and so on all worked to empower women. She was a true fashion innovator too. Thanks for this closer look at her influence.

Unknown said...

Peggy, it's amazing that women put up with the clothes that they did for so long. Wouldn't you love to be a fly on the wall in the early days of Chanel's atelier, when they were breaking all the rules? She had a great quote, remarkable for the age: "A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.”

Unknown said...

Margot, thanks for visiting! You're right about Chanel empowering women. I love her moxy, too. I once read what Chanel said, when asked why she didn't marry some Duke or another. She said (paraphased), "Why would anyone want to just be just another wife of the Duke of ___ when they could be the one and only Coco Chanel?" And this was well before she even had a business!

Eve Barbeau said...

Hmmm, Hans from Dinklage. I think there was a hint in that. I'd have stayed away from Hans. :-)

kyla earle said...

Wow! I had no idea that I had Ms. Chanel to thank for wearing yoga pants to the grocery store, although I HARDLY think this is what she envisioned with her quest for fashionable trousers. Thanks for the information and I am with all the others who are eager to read your book!
Kaye, I look forward to perusings your musings.

Gail said...

My favourite thing is that she freed women from uncomfortable clothes and the hour glass silhouette. I didn't know all the fascinating details about her personal life. I look forward to your novel Bobbi.

Janet A said...

I love her perfumes. So fresh, so exotic, but never over powering. You always know a Chanel. The look is perfection.

Unknown said...

Kyla, thank you! You're not far off about the yoga pants. Coco Chanel was the first to start using soft fabrics with 'give' to make clothing for women.She started around 1914. She used jersey, which until then was only used for men's underwear.

Unknown said...

Gail, I appreciate your support. Yes, after all my research about her and her incredible drive I've come to believe that she may not have been the nicest person but she was the best.

Unknown said...

Janet, I adore her perfume, too. We can't get Chanel at Sephora here in Canada but they say that is soon changing. Sephora's my favourite perfume store. I have an addiction to trying perfumes. I have N°5 on my Christmas list. You're right about the clothing. I've loved learning about the work that goes into a couture garment. Hundreds of hours in many cases.:-)

Unknown said...

And, Eve, yes Hans was living up to his name. :-)

Peggy West said...

Some of today's clothes look awfully uncomfortable even though all of that stretch in garments supposedly makes them more comfortable. I find stretch in pants to be hot and ugly and have made a vow against buying new clothes until they remove or improve the stretch. I've written to women's clothing manufacturers telling them so. I wonder what Coco Chanel would say to all of this discomfort. Perhaps she would say, "Welcome back to bustles and hoops." (Don't get me started on those shoes!)

pam said...

Ahhh COCO. I only splurged on perfume ONCE in my life. It was in Paris and it was a bottle of COCO.

I would do it alllllll again.

And I too am a HUGE fan of... comfy, stylish, trousers.

Great post, Bobbi.
Thanks to you too, Kaye.

go easy -pam

Unknown said...

Peggy, yes, and the stretch, if it goes into the dryer by mistake is a disaster. I know what you mean about hot. Today I was on a long walk, wearing jeans with stretch and my legs were cooking.

Unknown said...

Hi Pam. Sigh... okay you've made me want to go to Paris to get a bottle of Coco. How lovely. :-)

Unknown said...

I forgot to mention that Coco Chanel, in the portrait near the top, was 52 years old. She was beautiful. All commentators say her beauty reached its pinnacle in her fifties. And these were the days before Retinol and plastic surgery and major photo retouches.