Coco Chanel and Andy Warhol comparisons and contrasts

Fashion icons -Coco Chanel v Andy Warhol

July 28th, 2013 By Karen Elzinga

2oth Century fashion icons Coco Chanel and Andy Warhol - Comparisons and contrasts

The names Coco Chanel and Andy Warhol conjure sentiments of prestige, wealth, defiance and innovation. Both were well respected entrepreneurs in their field and although their career paths were very different, the comparisons between the two are evident. Through this blog post the twentieth century iconic status of both will be investigated. Discussed will be how they changed public perception of what was deemed normal and modern at the time, how their work was able to penetrate through to the average person who in turn cemented their celebrity rise. How the event of broadcast television heighten their celebrity appeal and the scandals and events that threatened to slow their rise to fame and fortune.
Andrew Warhola, more commonly known as Andy Warhol was born in the small town of Forest City, Pennsylvania in the USA on the 6th of August 1928. The son of Slovakian migrants, Warhol grew up with a keen interest in art. Elementary school proved difficult after being diagnosed with St. Vitus' dance, a disease that produces uncontrollable shaking caused by an attack on the nervous system. (Rosenberg, n.d.). It was during this time that he was inspired to do art. (Johansen Audy n.d.). Warhol's first foray into painting was based on comic strips and coke bottles in 1960. (Andy Warhol, n.d.). By 1961 he went on to paint Campbell soup cans and his favorite thing, money, for which he received critical acclaim. (Rosenberg, n.d.). In 1962 Warhol turned to silk screens wanting a more assembly line appeal to his work, his most famous pictures were of Marilyn Monroe. (Life as an artist for Andy Warhol. 1999).

Warhol's celebrity was on the rise, he worked from his own studio he named "The Factory" which became a place of gathering for famous and infamous celebrities who would stop by adding credibility to his own celebrity. (Wise geek, n.d.). On June 3rd 1968, Warhol was followed into his factory and shot by Valerie Solanis, the third bullet entered his right side exiting his back on the left side causing internal damage. She was later committed to a mental hospital whilst Warhol recovered in hospital for two months. (Life as an artist for Andy Warhol. 1999).

Warhol captured the famous Coco Chanel perfume named Chanel No.5 in a series of nine silk screens. The museum of Modern Art in New York procured them into their permanent collection in 1959. Chanel inspired by the collection reproduced the art posters as a limited edition box in 1982 and further utilized them for an advertising campaign in Paris in 1997. (Kassow, 2009).

Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel otherwise known as Coco was born on the 19th of August 1883 in Saumur, France. Chanel opened her first shop in 1910 in Paris, with the help of two financial backers. It was a successful millinery shop. Later she set up shops in Deauville and Biarritz and expanded her business into couture garments. (Inoue. n.d.). Chanel was a successful fashion designer and entrepreneur, she had strong views and wasn't afraid to voice her opinions often inspiring women with her words. She forged a reputation for innovation, elegance and style. (Johnson. n.d.). Chanel followed the lead of Paul Poiret, who was touted as being the first to showcase clothes without the corset, continuing to free women from the restrictive garments of the past by defining a woman's natural curves with comfortable fabrics and uncluttered lines, something that defined her in realms of public popularity. (Leight. n.d.).

How do Coco Chanel and Andy Warhol compare as fashion icons and celebrities of the twentieth century?
Coco Chanel and Andy Warhol were both entrepreneurs, their ability to revolutionize what the fashion and art industries considered normal was a credit to their forward thinking ability. Both were able to change with the times and pre-empt new and appealing concepts that captured the imagination of the consumer market. Both had vision and saw the potential for change, they saw a niche in the mainstream market and they took the risks that paid off. Chanel took a Jersey knit dress that she had fashioned to wear on a cold day and started a clothing empire based on it. "My fortune is built on that old jersey that I'd put on because it was cold in Deauville" she told author Paul Morand. Jersey knit fabric was more common to under garments at that time, but due to the World being at War fabrics had become so expensive and hard to come by that Chanel saw jersey knit as the perfect solution, it was cheap and in abundance. (Inoue. n.d.). Andy Warhol on the other hand was also changing people's perceptions of how things could look. He took ordinary everyday items such a Campbell soup cans and money; painted them and showed the art world and the ordinary person that anything can be transformed into something beautiful and interesting to look at. Warhol created a visual sensation and in effect a new art audience was born, people who were not particularly interested in art were paying attention to his new form of painting. (Johansen Auby, 2010).

Both Chanel and Warhol seemed to strike a chord with the average person, Warhol never wanted to become famous he simply wanted to sell his art, his radical concepts were not about pleasing his audience but through the idea of mass producing his work, he made it reachable and affordable for everyone, to him art was not just something for the wealthy art connoisseur. (Johansen Auby, 2010). He brought about a new sensation in art and defined the category of pop art (a style of art made famous in the mid to late 1950's, for its ability to challenge traditional thought processes) and through the mass production of his paintings it became rare for people to not have at least seen or known about a Warhol print. (Andy Warhol pop art. 2010). Chanel's love of comfortable wearable clothes definitely hit a plum note with women the world over, gone were the high maintenance fashion of the day, the corsets, petticoats, floor length shirts and dresses They were replaced with the legendary Chanel suit (a collarless jacket and well fitted shirt) that gave way to the natural shape of a woman's body and the little black dress that took the traditional colour of mourning and turned it into a grand colour for evening wear. Chanel was ruthless in her desire for independence and did everything she could to help emancipate women and in doing so earned the respect of women the world over. (Coco Chanel, n.d.)

Both Chanel and Warhol became even more famous after their respective deaths. Chanel died aged 87 in 1971. The company remained in the hands of her business partners Pierre and Paul Wertheimer who helped Chanel expand her business. The company fortune fell briefly after Chanel's death; it was Pierre Wertheimer's son Alain, who hired flamboyant designer Karl Lagerfield in 1983. He revitalized and breathed new life into the floundering house of Chanel. Lagerfield who worked under the Chanel branding took the original designs, but opted to turn away from the more traditional style of Chanel instead modernizing and turning them into flashier, and more risqué designs, that appealed to younger audiences. It worked and the Wertheimer's became billionaires and the name Coco Chanel became even more famous with her name constantly gaining media attention.(Coolidge, n.d.).

The invention of broadcast television in 1948 brought with it a whole new dimension for the average person, they could now see emerging fashions at their finger tips and a whole new love of fashion began, people could see what people on the other side of the world were wearing. Favorite soaps were able to influence what people wanted to buy, word was able to spread quickly and new fashion and their creators were now highly in the spot light like never before. (Zainbooks, n.d.). Movies were made about Chanel and even though Chanel never starred in them, her "celebrity" status continued to grow both in life and in death with the release in 1969 of the musical Coco which starred Katherine Hepburn. More films followed after her death when in 1981 "Chanel Solitaire" was release followed by "Coco Chanel" (2008) and two films in 2009 "Coco Avant Chanel" and "Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky". Many books were written about the life of Chanel and dozens of magazine articles, it was clear she made an impact of world. (Coco Chanel, n.d.).

Warhol died on February 22, 1987 after gall bladder surgery; the exact cause of his death remains undiscovered. (Life as an artist for Andy Warhol. 1999). Like Chanel, Warhol's popularity increased with the arrival of television, it became a very important instrument in raising his profile whilst alive, and forever immortalizing Warhol after his death. After his death Warhol left art work and assets worth an estimated 500 million dollars along with a will instructing that most of his estate be dedicated to the improvement and advancement of the visual arts movement. In the past decade the Warhol foundation has accrued more than $175 million dollars in sales from Warhol's remaining works left in his estate. This enabled it to become renowned as a major grant giver and scholarship facilitator aiding struggling artists all over the world, confirming his celebrity icon status. (My Andy Warhol. n.d.). Warhol continues to gain momentum every time one of his paintings fetches a huge sum like the 2009 sale of his canvas titles Eight Elvises (1963), it sold for $100 million dollars. (Fine Art London, n.d.).

Like Chanel, Warhol had movies made about him also, such as Basquiat (1996), The Doors (1991) and Factory Girl (2006). (Andy Warhol, n.d.) He also made over 600 films himself from 1963 until 1976 such as Empire (1963), Kiss (1963-64), Sleep (1963) and The Chelsea Girls (1966)). His movies went from 4 minutes in length to 25 hours long. With the Intent of raising his own profile he released numerous self published books in the 1950's, but the first book to be mass produced was Andy Warhol's Index (Book) published in 1967. Like Chanel after his death, books and films were made and released, so to was Warhol's book "The Diaries of Andy Warhol" which was posthumously published in 1989 and proved a scandalous best seller. (Amazon.n.d.).

Both Chanel and Warhol had an uncanny business prowess, both were remarkable in their ability to forecast the future and the direction of their individual talents was clear. But dress making and painting alone did not bring about their fortunes or their overall success. Chanel understood that to grow her empire she needed to expand not only her fashion range but her business base. In the 1920's Chanel expanded into four enterprises, she had her original fashion house, a textile factory, but also chose to venture into the fragrance market opening a perfume factory and in 1922 she produced an artificial blended fragrance that did not conform to the normal feminine shaped bottle previously on the market. She called it Chanel No.5, today it is still one of the highest selling perfumes on the market selling an estimated 1 bottle every 55 seconds somewhere around the world. (Shapland, K., 2009).

Chanel had an innovative eye for detail and a real intuition of what women wanted and were ready for, Chanel no 5 went on to support her empire in both good and bad times throughout her career. (Baudot. 1999)
She went into the cosmetic jewellery market creating pieces that comprised of taking imitation gems and mixing them with real gem, she created costume jewellery that had high end jewelers reeling especially when she decided to charge the same or more for her imitation designs. (Lewis. n.d.).

In 1967 Warhol likewise business minded recognizing that he could not make enough money from art or diversifying his various business ventures such as managing a rock band called the Velvet Underground (1965) and a club called the Exploding Plastic and his love of film making alone and so decided to run his factory as a more business like structure. In 1970 Warhol had planned a retrospective of Warhol art, it was received well but there simply was not enough money in it so he decided to paint pictures that could be copied and mass produced in print form and sell them as signed copies. This brought the price down considerably and allowed the average person to enjoy his art. Between 1973 and 1975 Warhol began to make big money, the long awaited success of his magazine called Interview, began to gain momentum and took off, and he also started getting commissions from wealthy people the world over allowing him financial freedom, although no matter how much money was in the bank he still feared he never had enough. (Life as an artist for Andy Warhol. 1999).

The level of scandal and intrigue surrounding Chanel and Warhol lent itself to wide spread speculation and their ever growing popularity came along with a certain notoriety. In 1939 at the beginning of World War II, Chanel chose to close her shops and live at the Hotel Ritz in Paris during the German occupation. Chanel was criticized for an affair with Han Gunther von Dincklage a Nazi and spy. (Sischy, 2008). In 1943 Chanel invited Lombardi (cousin to Winston Churchill) to come to Paris to renew their work. This was a cover for "Operation Modellhut" directed by Nazi spymaster Walter Schellenberg in order to get close to Churchill. Chanel was arrested as a British spy by the Gestapo but was later charged as a collaborator, she never went to trial because the British Royal Family came to her aid. (Charles-Roux. 1975). When Chanel reopened her shop at the age of 70, Parisians did not warm to her, believed by many due to her relationship with the Nazi's during the war. Her clothes however sold largely in America and England and her brand is still heavily entrenched in those countries. (Shihaan, n.d.).
Whilst Chanel faced persecution after she reopened her shop, so too did Warhol. In 1953 Warhol entered into his first homosexual relationship. His admission of being openly gay both helped and hindered his artist aspirations. Many museums refused to take him seriously even though many artists of the era were seen as openly gay. In 1955 Warhol befriended David Mann who had his own gallery, he helped Warhol giving him a showing space and aiding his inception into the gay celebrity scene. (Life as an artist for Andy Warhol. 1999).

In conclusion it is fair to say that both Coco Chanel and Andy Warhol lived immensely intriguing lives and certainly entertained adequate drama for any good script writer to deliver a highly interesting and functional account of what made these two innovators so prevalent to the past and indeed to the present. Many fashion designers and artists past and present study and implement the successful designs of their portfolio of work. The mix of genuine talent, future vision, and the ability to turn everything they touched to gold in the eyes and minds of admirers is an inspirational mix. Cross reference that with the scandals and persecution both received in their lives and it is easy to see why they made headlines the world over. It was the television that brought about the information revolution; these two formidable artists would not have generated the sales or statue they have received without the ability of the television to bring the happenings of the world and indeed these two lives into every lounge room across the world. These immortals have defined the twentieth century in more ways than any essay, documentary, book or movie could portray, however one thing is clear, the ambition, drive, innovation and pure talent of these individuals needs to be told to the world for many generations to come.


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Karen Elzinga (Copywrite 2010)


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