Fictional Letter from Jean Cocteau to Coco Chanel: June 20, 1925

My Dear Coco,

Your success in both the fashion and the art world caught my attention., Your work is “…’a kind of miracle’, ‘[you have] worked in fashion according to rules that would seem to have value only for painters, musicians, and poets’.“1  Your simple, clear, and elegant stylings fit perfectly with my idea of true French style, and your work influenced the art music community as well, especially through Igor Stravinsky.

Ideals true to French culture are simplicity, elegance, and clearness. In my Cock and Harlequin, I stated that Erik Satie, who exemplifies essential Frenchness, “…clears, simplifies, and strips rhythm naked…Satie leaves a clear road open upon which everyone is free…”2 I do believe that the essential French style that I seek in all mediums is apparent in your work, my dear Coco.  Vogue, on February 15, 1923, was spot on saying that the your watchwords are youthfulness and simplicity straight line is the medium of your expression.3 The straight lines and simple style of your designs are evidence enough that you, Coco, exemplify true Frenchness.

Pablo Picasso said that you are “…the woman with the most sense in Europe”. I completely agree. Your work-a-day-inspired clothing evokes a sense of simplicity and body-conscious naturalism.  The values of restraint and elegance are juxtaposed with aspects of freedom and fun; these are the values that true French culture are based in! After the war, as you know, fashion pleaded for a fresh new start, and you gave that to the women who “took the metro, dined at restaurants, drank cocktails, played games and showed their legs.”4 Women wore your little black dress almost as a uniform; your style aestheticized the post-war industrial distributive market. The ‘Ford signed Chanel’ was a trademark of the French ideals of elegance, accessibility, and simplicity.5

Stravinsky’s musical decisions parallel with your style and fashion philosophy. His compositions included those influenced by the everyday people and popular style, especially Three Pieces for String Quartet., Ragtime for Eight Instruments., L’Histoire du Soldat, and Piano-Rag-Music. Chanel’s philosophy that “fashion must come from the streets” brought workaday clothing into the world of haute couture. She made straight-lined dresses that were functional as well as supremely elegant: the exemplar of the French national style. Stravinsky, inspired by her methods, brought musical ideas from the streets, jazz clubs, and music halls into art music.6 Something about the elegant atmosphere must have influenced Igor’s productivity, because he completed many of his pieces, including his Octet, during his months at your elegant home in Garches.7 Your simple, elegant, and clear fashion philosophy had a direct impact on Stravinsky’s compositions.

Stravinsky’s stripped-down style was weighed in by master composition teacher, Nadia Boulanger, with the descriptors of his work: precise, simple, and classic lines.8 Neoclassicism in Igor’s work was described in the same manner of my Frenchness as well as the Parisian style that you created. The phrase simple lines without decoration could be applied to either your emblematic style or Stravinsky’s neoclassical works such as Pulcinella.9 There is no doubt that your work in the fashion world had an influence on at least Stravinsky’s music.

You also financially supported the French modernist style through your personal friendship with Diaghilev.  I know at the Hotel Continental, you anonymously gave Sergei 300,000 francs to underwrite his post-war reboot of the Rite of Spring. In an interview with Paul Morand many years later, you said, “I have not prevented Diaghilev’s ballets from shipwrecking.” Ballets Russes was struggling both financially, and aesthetically after their wartime inactivity.  You aided their cause directly and artistically by influencing Stravinsky’s neoclassicism, and your gift to Sergei.  While I know you do not regret giving him the money, but why didn’t you want any credit for the successful reincarnation of the Ballets Russes in French modernist style?10

Your direct involvement and activity in the art scene began when Diaghilev invited you to work on his 1924 play, Antigone, as the costume designer. Incredible!  Vogue headlined a review of the piece as such: “Chanel Goes Greek While Remaining Chanel”.  Antigone was your direct ‘in’ to the avant garde art scene. This showed that your fashion transcended into the art world and also into the world of philosophical thought. From the impact of your personal relationships to your advocacy, influece, and eventually contribution to the modern musical style that emerged in this decade, you have been a force in defining the new sound I described as ‘music on which one walks’.”11

Have a beautiful day my dear Coco,

Jean Cocteau


1 Davis, Mary E. Classic Chic: Music, Fashion, and Modernism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

2 Cocteau, Jean, and Rollo Hugh MYERS. [Le Coq Et L’Arlequin.] Cock and Harlequin. Notes Concering Music … Translated … by Rollo H. Myers. With a Portrait of the Author and Two Monograms by Pablo Picasso. Egoist Press: London, 1921.

3 “Fashion: Silhouettes which Inspire the Spring Mode.” Vogue 61, no. 04 (Feb 15, 1923): 27.

4 Davis, Classic Chic, 153.

5 Troy, Nancy J. Couture Culture a Study in Modern Art and Fashion. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003.

6 Davis, Mary. “Chanel, Stravinsky, and Musical Chic.” Fashion Theory: The Journal Of Dress, Body & Culture 10, no. 4 (December 2006): 431-460. EBSCO MegaFILE, EBSCOhost (accessed September 29, 2015).

7 Davis, Mary E.. Ballets Russes Style : Diaghilev’s Dancers and Paris Fashion. London, GBR: Reaktion Books, 2010. Accessed September 27, 2015. ProQuest ebrary.

8 Nadia Boulanger, “Concerts Koussevitsky,” Le Monde Musical., November 1923,365.

9 Davis, “Chanel, Stravinsky, and Musical Chic,” 451.

10 Morand, L’allure de Chanel, 85.

11 Davis, Classic Chic, 155.