Chanel in Hollywood

Posted by Christina Stewart March 27, 2013 1 Comment 28551 views

Coco Chanel in Hollywood, you say? Well, of course, Chanel’s been to Hollywood, everyone’s been to Hollywood!

In 1931, after three years of persuasion and wooing, Samuel Goldwyn finally secured the famed Parisian designer to a $1 million contract for designing high fashion costumes for his production company. Not only was Chanel to design the costumes, but according to The New York Times, “She will reorganize the dressmaking department of United Artists studios and anticipate fashions six months ahead, solving thereby the eternal problem of keeping gowns up to date…Thus, Madame Chanel may reveal the secret of all impending changes and the American women will be enabled to see the latest Paris fashions, perhaps, at times, before Paris itself knows them.”

Still image from "Coco Chanel"

Coco Chanel, ca. 1930’s

Coco’s time in Hollywood was short lived and she only worked on three films. She came late into the production of Eddie Cantor’s Palmy Days (1931), creating only a few garments for the film. Gloria Swanson’s Tonight or Never (1931) with Melvyn Douglas was Coco’s first fully designed production. Gloria’s pregnancy during filming created a strenuous relationship between the two women, due to the constant costume adjustments needed. For her last film, Coco created thirty complete outfits for The Greeks Had A Word For Them (1932), also known as Three Broadway Girls, with Ina Claire, Joan Blondell, and Madge Evans.

Still image from "Palmy Days"

Eddie Cantor and Charlotte Greenwood in Palmy Days, 1931

Unfortunately, the story of Chanel in Hollywood didn’t have a happy ending. When Coco decided to leave Hollywood, Sam Goldwyn didn’t try to dissuade or stop her. Her experience in the land of sunshine didn’t live up to her high standards and she described Hollywood as, “infantile” and “as the capital of bad taste.” The New Yorker speculated that, “they told her, her dresses weren’t sensational enough. She made a lady look like a lady. Hollywood wants a lady to look like two ladies.” Either way, Coco designed some of the most beautiful outfits and gowns in Hollywood.

Decide for yourself and if you’d like to see some of Chanel’s creations on the big screen, the Toronto Film Society will be screening The Greeks Had A Word For Them as part of their Pre-Code Weekend coming up in May – so mark your calendars!

Still image from "Tonight or Never"

Gloria Swanson in Tonight or Never, 1931

Still image from "Tonight or Never"

Gloria Swanson wearing one of Chanel’s creations from Tonight or Never, 1931

Still image from "Tonight or Never"

Gloria Swanson modeling a Chanel gown from Tonight or Never, 1931

Still image from "Tonight or Never"

Gloria Swanson modeling a Chanel gown for Tonight or Never, 1931

Still image from "Photoplay"

A Photoplay magazine article about Chanel’s gowns for Tonight or Never, January 1932

Still image from "Photoplay"

Still image from "Three Broadway Girls"

David Manners, Madge Evans and Ina Claire in The Greeks Had A Word For Them, 1932

Still image from "Three Broadway Girls"

Ina Claire and Joan Blondell struggle with a wedding veil in The Greeks Had A Word For Them, 1932

Still image from "Three Broadway Girls"

Ina Claire shows how easy it is to lounge in a Chanel gown in The Greeks Had A Word For Them, 1932

Still image from "Three Broadway Girls"

Ina Claire modeling a sleek Chanel gown for The Greeks Had A Word For Them, 1932

About Christina Stewart

A film archivist by day and a film buff by night. What more needs to be said?

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