1957 ~ Chanel “1957” Les Exclusifs de Chanel

 

1957

On Sunday, Chanel was the look. But on Saturdays, in 1957 in the town of Los Parros everyone dressed casually, unless of course you were going downtown or into Hollywood to see a movie. Then you dressed up. But on Saturday’s little boys wore blue jeans rolled up at the ankles and tee shirts. Little girls wore pretty much the same thing, freed from the flouncy petticoats and ribbons that were the fashion for school days. Dads wore casual slacks with silky Hawaiian or bowling shirts. Mom’s wore pastel peddle pushers and crisp white blouses with pearls.  But on Sunday, at church it was a fashion show.

Marjorie was determined to get this right. She was not very domestic, she could barely sew, was not too handy with a Hoover, and she had a very small repertoire for making dinner, but her husband Bob didn’t seam to mind, not yet at least. They were just married and had just moved to Southern California from Red Bluff for his work. She didn’t know any of her new neighbors yet. But since joining the Los Perros Southern Baptist church she had come to recognize a two couples from her street. Now into the second month of attending church they were on nodding terms. The wives were always dressed like movie stars. Sporting what looked to Marjorie like real Paris fashions. Dior, Balenciaga, and Chanel seemed to be the mode of the morning sermons. Marjorie who was astounded by their taste and style, just wanted to catch up and fit in with her new neighbors. Nobody in Red Bluff dressed like these women. She looked at the second-hand sewing machine setting on the kitchen table which Bob bought for her that very morning. She was determined to get it right.

 

She picked up the MacCall’s pattern and studied the image of the two women on the front of the envelope that held in its pocket the dress pattern. They wore two versions of a tweed suit in white with black braiding piping the cuffs pockets and running along the collar down the front and along the hem of the jacket. Classic Chanel, just like in the Vogue magazines Marjorie had been collecting since she was a teenager. She loved fashion but on the streets of Red Bluff there wasn’t much call for it. She chose the Chanel suit because it looked simpler to sew than the Dior or any of the other patterns, she had seen at the fabric store. She’d picked out a nice cream wool tweed and a simple black braid and some rather pricey gold buttons. She was determined to get it right.

It was well after midnight when she finished. Bob had made his own dinner and she had gone without, as she struggled with sleeves and darts and all manner of things that didn’t make sense to her. He had kissed her on the forehead sometime ago and gone to bed. Just exactly when that was, she wasn’t sure. She was too wrapped up in the pattern that looked like the plans for a rocket ship. It didn’t matter, she was determined to get it right.

She put on a nice but plain black silk blouse and shimmied her hips into the straight line of the wool skirt. She struggled with the zipper as it caught on her slip and then some loose thread on the inside of the lining. It jammed half way up.  Tears punched her eyes and shimmered there threatening to spill on her cheeks. As well as being stuck, the zipper was crooked. She pushed her arms into the sleeves of the jacket and took a deep breath and turned to look at herself in the mirror. Her tears broke over the bottom lids and cascaded to her chin. Her sob was so loud she covered her mouth to keep from waking Bob.

The hem of the skirt was wildly crooked, and the lining was peeking out on one side. The shoulders were lopsided, one being higher than the other.  One sleeve was an inch and a half longer than the other. Marjorie ripped the jacket off and tore the seam of the zipper to get out of the skirt. She was determined to get it right.

Bob found her the next morning at seven A.M. slumped over the table sleeping on folded arms, the crumpled suit her pillow.  They didn’t go to church that morning. Instead Bob drove Margorie into Hollywood. He bought her a wonderful lunch at the Brown Derby and took her to see a matinee of Funny Face at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Marjorie who had been sullenly quiet all morning burst into tears when Audrey Hepburn made her transformation from Greenwich Village bookstore clerk to Parisian fashion model in all those fabulous Givenchy fashions.

“Honey don’t cry.” Bob said as he put his arm around her, she crumpled into his shoulder.

“I should have bought the Givenchy pattern.” She whimpered.

 

***

 

1957 by Chanel from the Les Exclusifs line smells to me exactly like the 1950’s. You can bet your bottom dollar that I know what that smell is all about. It is soapy, clean and upstanding in it’s sparkling Madison Avenue glitz. For years I have expounded my theory that the smell of Palmolive dish shop was copied from No.5 in order to make it more appealing to the American housewives of the Suburban sprawl. I grew up in Los Angeles of the 1950’s and 60’s and Chanel was the aspirational brand then just as it is now. But back then that aspiration was pure and clean and dreamy. Not as it is today when many of us aspire to Chanel for all the wrong reasons.

In the fifth decade of the twentieth century soaps and hairsprays smelled of the influence of Chanel in America. It was as if the thought of Paris glamour could be found with in the bubbles that floated up from the kitchen sink after dinner. Chanel No.5 is locked into my scent memory as the fragrance of not only my mother, but my aunt and my grandmother too. They lived for Chanel.

1957 pops from soapy bubbles as it opens in its aldehydic and musky glory.  With a sprinkle of warm pink pepper like the pepper corns from the huge old sunburnt pepper trees of my Southern California childhood.  It is bright, clean and arrestingly comforting.

Orange blossoms from my youth in the Inland Empire waft across the middle of the fragrance with hints of Jasmine and honey. A very thin hint of honey like one would get from a fresh warm piece of toast with a thin layer of honey slathered over it on a Saturday morning during Summer vacation. Olfactory tendrils of jasmine drift in and out in a summery shimmery dance.  And the musk goes on and on throughout the mid-notes into the dry down.

Here in the last phases of the eau de perfume there is a dry powder supplied by a delicious orris root. That floats in the air just like fresh flour when a baker is making croissants. It mixes well with the white musk, a scrubbed clean cashmiran and a dry woody cedar.

Some have said that 1957 from Chanel, like the perception of the decade of the 50’s is boring. Bu to me it is not. Chanel’s 1957 is a melding of the American fascination of the French elegance of the fifties and the need make something as mundane as doing the dishes glamorous. Like all those commercials of my childhood where a housewife is dressed in her best pearls while she scrubs that greasy pan in a bubbling fresh sink that smells exactly like Paris in springtime.  The Paris born of the imagination, of Hollywood and of her dreams.

  • Blog Stats

    • 261,357 hits