“We Have Champagne And Caviar, Baby”: Chanel Accessories and Costume Jewellery in Francis Ford Coppola’s Life Without Zoe

If someone asked me the most important thing I’ve learnt since I started blogging (it was 2003 and I had a dial-up connection… Ah, memories), my answer would be simple: if you want to read something you really care about, don’t wait for others to write it, but just go and write it yourself. My blogging history is all about nurturing my own visual obsessions, doing some research and write something about them to take them out of my mind and reach another goal [1]. How silly of me to have goals which don’t imply money, freebies or fame but, you know, I’m an old-school blogger who still thinks culture in all its forms (and not money) will save the world.

The present post is the last of 2013, which I don’t think it’s a coincidence. It has a special place in my heart because I started thinking about it in the early 1990s, when I first watched New York Stories (1989), a weird experiment in three episodes by Martin Scorsese (Life Lessons), Woody Allen (Oedipus Wrecks) and Francis Ford Coppola (Life Without Zoe). The Allen episode is the best, in my opinion, but the most intriguing from a fashion point of view is Life Without Zoe.

vlcsnap-2013-12-26-23h06m33s131The protagonist is Zoe Montez (Heather McComb), a young girl who lives in an apartment at the posh Sherry-Netherland Hotel in New York. Daughter to a world-famous flautist (Giancarlo Giannini) and a photographer (Talia Shire, Francis Ford Coppola’s sister and Jason Schwartzman‘s mother), she loves painting, a passion which shows in the opening credits. Colourful words on a black background are framed by spiral-shaped and floral-inspired decorations and by interesting drawings which tell us a lot about Zoe’s fashion mania. A quilted chain bag and a pearl necklace are good clues, aren’t they?

vlcsnap-2013-12-26-23h06m41s186What about a camellia bow and a cap-toe pump?

vlcsnap-2013-12-26-23h06m54s85And a bottle of perfume plus another pearl necklace? Any bell ringing? At the time Sofia Coppola was only 17 but she had quite a role in it. She was credited as costume designer and co-writer, so we can say her short stint as fashion designer [2] and her career as a film maker started from here.

vlcsnap-2013-12-26-23h07m01s162A wide-brimmed hat and a black and white woman’s portrait are other two pieces to fit in our puzzle.

vlcsnap-2013-12-26-23h07m17s67A red lipstick is the last clue, but I think everybody has guessed the solution by now.

vlcsnap-2013-12-26-23h05m51s202In the very first scene, Zoe is painting a portrait of his father and of a mysterious Arabian princess. A huge bottle of Chanel no. 5 sitting on her desk is the ultimate clue telling us she has an insane passion for anything by the iconic French maison. I can’t blame her for that! In the screencap above you can also see she’s wearing a gold quilted headband and a black silk pajamas with gold lettering by Chanel.

lifewithoutzoe_chanelcarolbouquetadNow brace yourselves because the Chanel joyride is about to start. Zoe is a privileged girl but she’s a teenager, after all, so she likes plastering her room with pictures of her own heroines – Carole Bouquet, in this case. The French actress is one of the most famous Chanel testimonials: she was the face for Chanel no.5 in 1988, as you can see from the magazine ad Zoe has beside her bed.

vlcsnap-2013-12-26-23h14m50s236Now this is funny: a 12-year-old girl wearing a Chanel tweed jacket with matching mini 2.55 bag and huge wide-brimmed hat, paired to a white t-shirt with camellia and black bow decoration, cap-toe flats and ripped boyfriend jeans. The outfit is a bit baggy, an effect which I think aims at emphasizing the fact that she’s a young girl who likes playing dress-up 24/7 by raiding her mother’s closet (more about it later).

lifewithoutzoe_chanelcaptoeflatsClose-up on her white and black flats, one of the most classic Chanel accessories. In the late 1980s boyfriend jeans were not a trend, but Zoe sported her fashion-forward garment with grace.

lifewithoutzoe_chanelhatIn the film Zoe sports five outfits: in the screencap above [3] you can see the second, which includes a white long-sleeved top and a black skirt, worn with a chain belt. The sailor beret comes from her mother’s closet and is stunning. It’s an accessory from the Haute Couture fall 1987 collection: it’s decorated by a ribbon reading “Coco Chanel” and a red camellia on top; the birdcage veil gives it an Old Hollywood diva touch which contrasts with the girl’s young age.

lifewithoutzoe_chanelquiltedbagThere’s a strange relationship between Zoe and her mother. “I’m the daughter and you’re the mother”, says Charlotte in a Freudian slip during a conversation with the girl, a mistake which explains what’s going on between them. Charlotte is an artist who doesn’t really know what she wants in life, and her daughter is there to remind her what her real goals should be. There’s love and a bit of hate between them, but one thing is sure: Charlotte is Zoe’s first source of style inspiration. She wears Chanel head to toe, so it’s easy to see where Zoe’s obsession comes from. In the screencap above, for example, Charlotte carries a gorgeous patent quilted bag with chain strap and golden double C clasp.

lifewithoutzoe_chanelsatindressEven if this post doesn’t focus on clothes, I couldn’t resist writing about the awesome white satin dress worn by Charlotte in one of the last scenes. It’s a shirt-dress from the spring 1988 collection, with short sleeves, pleated skirt and bodice, embellished with a black tie and white camellia.

lifewithoutzoe_chanelstrawhatZoe doesn’t share a Chanel obsession with her mother only, but with her school friends, too. They attend the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, a private independent school in the Central Park area which is part of the Ivy Preparatory School League; they  come from wealthy families who can afford giving them expensive accessories to wear. Take the girl above, wearing a straw hat with black camellia and Chanel label ribbon from the spring 1988 collection.

vlcsnap-2013-12-26-23h17m03s27More Chanel  – the colourful beaded bracelet seen on the girl on the right or the white camellia on the pale yellow cardigan of the girl in the middle.

vlcsnap-2013-12-26-23h18m27s100Other Chanel sightings in the scene set in Central Park, when Zoe and her friends interview a new school mate, Abu, “the richest boy in the world” (Selim Tlili). One of them is wearing a straw boater hat with red ribbon and a spectacular pair of clover-shaped earrings made of enamel and pearls.

lifewithoutzoe_chanelcapearringsThe scene above is my favourite because that’s the moment in which my inner 12-year-old self wishes to be one of those girls. Zoe lives most of the time alone, so she often throws dress-up parties where the costumes are not traditional ones, but Chanel clothes and accessories from her mother’s closet. The sailor beret with birdcage veil is seen on one of her friends, who also wears quirky perfume bottle-shaped earrings [4].

lifewithoutzoe_chanellogocuff.jpgThe blonde girl is wearing a double-strand pearl necklace and two cuff bracelets, one of which is made of white enamel and is decorated with tiny double C logos. The lipsticks both of them are holding are – needless to say – by Chanel.

lifewithoutzoe_chanelno5earringsWhenever I watch this scene, my Chanel love explodes and reaches its peak with these clip earrings. Aren’t they amazing? The symbol of the maison – 5 was said to be Coco’s favourite number – is made of chains (another symbol of the brand) and put into a hoop shape. They’re kind of trashy, I know, but they’re so reminiscent of the 1980s Chanel style.

vlcsnap-2013-12-26-23h39m06s210The last two Chanel sightings happen during the party scene, in Princess Soraya’s apartment. The princess (played by none other than – shocker! – Carole Bouquet) is Abu’s aunt: she wears a Chanel pale yellow silk dress and her friends sport Chanel accessories, too. The blonde woman sipping champagne is wearing a black straw hat with satin ribbon and trims.

lifewithoutzoe_chanelbeltAnother woman from Soraya’s entourage is wearing a black trench jacket and a belt with square and round gold buckles from the spring 1988 collection. This is the last Chanel sighting and by the end of the film I can assure you haven’t had enough. I’m glad Sofia Coppola left her young, fresh and inexperienced touch in this episode, but I’m even more glad that she focused on her filming career and not on costume design, definitely not her thing. I’m grateful for this Chanel feast but let’s be honest: she simply raided the fall 1987/spring 1988 collections and that was it. When she was a teenager, she spent some summers in Paris interning at Chanel; she must have made a couple of phone calls and got what she wanted for the film. Hard work indeed! Despite this and the weak plot, Life Without Zoe is so filled with eye candy that watching it is always a pleasure.

[1] Some examples? Chanel and Mulberry sightings in Woody Allen films, or the infamous archive of swimming pools in Steven Klein’s photography (written in Italian).

[2] In 1994 she launched her fashion line Milk Fed. She went back to fashion design in 2008, when she started collaborating with Louis Vuitton on a bag collection.

[3] In this scene, Zoe and her parents were leaving the Russian Tea Room, one of the most famous New York restaurants.

[4] The same earrings were spotted on Miley Cyrus in June 2013.




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