Chanel and classical beauty are as formidable and recognisable a duo as carrots and peas, and Gabrielle Chanel’s powerhouse is an indisputable megalopolis – one which unifies haute couture, fragrance, and luxury make-up with a uniquely Parisian adhesive. Chanel’s velvety foundations, pearlescent blushes and seductive shadows have dominated the bourgeois dressing table and bank balance since 1924, yet I can’t help but wonder whether Chanel’s exorbitant prices and anachronistic beauty ideals can appeal to the Millennial girl.
For the woman who may forgo make-up in favour of night-before chic, for the professional who doesn’t feel the need to ‘dress to impress’ her manager, or her partner (if she wishes to have one at all, that is) and for the cost-conscious graduate saving for a home, Chanel surely fades into obscurity. In a defiant social climate where women are reclaiming their autonomy, their individualism and their appearance (buoyed by the majestic #metoo movement and Jameela Jamil’s ‘i_weigh’ phenomenon) those glistening powders and iconic compacts appear dated when modelled by statuesque, whitewashed mannequins who idealise the heroin-chic of yesteryear. Chanel compliments capitalist culture which offends the working woman – that was my internal monologue at least, until I bought into the worth of Chanel.
Since the age of fourteen I’ve worshipped at the altar of Gabrielle; spritzing Coco Chanel prudently as my signature scent before school and ‘intending’ to invest in several lipsticks for my boudoir – but that was the extent of my relationship with Chanel’s beauty collections. However, since Chanel is so convenient to buy in Paris (most shops are free from those pushy, endlessly smiling and intolerable consultants) I discovered how to peruse at ease and opened the door for my inevitable, unshakeable obsession. A few months down the line and my everyday routine is commanded by Chanel. My favourite products consist of the Les Beiges Gel Touch Foundation in N°10 – it feels like a porcelain butter on my skin and smells divine, and the Les Beiges Healthy Glow Lip Balm in Light – not only is it a highly moisturising balm but the colour is long-lasting and less garish than lipstick, creating a muted elegance. Les Eaux de Chanel are also gorgeous, exclusive scents and Paris-Deauville encapsulates everything I love about the Mediterranean in June. All in all, I am lock, stock and barrel into this Chanel thing.
The problem though– that uncomfortable, jarring issue that comes with Chanel beauty is the price tag; whether you adore luxury brands or not you’re likely to agree that a price of £44 for four 2g eyeshadows is ludicrous. Highly pigmented, gorgeously packaged eyeshadow is not all that you’re buying into though. The price is fundamentally not the beating heart of Chanel and that is why there will forever be room for elite beauty in the life (and bank statement) of the modern woman.
In The Allure of Chanel, Paul Morand states that when meeting Gabrielle Chanel for the first time in 1946 ‘a black bile flowed from eyes…beneath arched eyebrows increasingly accentuated by eyeliner, like sculpted basal; Chanel, the volcano from Auvergne which Paris was mistaken in believing was extinct…’. Chanel is elemental ferocity. She is an imperfect shade of black against a backdrop of white perfectionism, a perfection which had formerly extended to women of all class. Chanel represents the essential shift Gabrielle pursued from corseted, immobile womanhood to mysterious, imperfect femininity which moulded her as a fashion magnate. Chanel’s resistance transcended her own death in 1971 and extended to her fashion house – we are buying into the legacy of women celebrating themselves when we apply Chanel’s make-up and few brands can claim that sense of history and purpose in beauty.
While the incessant figures of those symmetrical, airbrushed creatures who model Chanel may be overbearing and demoralising, they are a consequence of the patriarchal, economic realities of beauty and if we allow Chanel’s legacy to become tainted by the Karl Lagerfeld’s of this world, and the men who are entrusted with her precious legacy, we are merely co-operating with it. Chanel is the sensory soundtrack to our feminism, and we should wear No°5 with pride and smile as we apply Chanel’s signature rouge on the tube – and if we need to go into our overdraft to do so, perhaps it is truly worth it to echo a volcano.