The hardest part of being the model image of Chanel, says Ines de la Fressange, "is having to get permission to cut my hair. Even just one centimeter," she laughs. But the popular French model, who is the model for Chanel clothes, accessories, cosmetics and now even the new perfume COCO, is not complaining, really. "There is no impresario. They trust me completely." The contract says that de la Fressange, who was the pet model of Jean-Paul Gaultier, Azzedine Alaia and others before she signed this contract, will wear only Chanel clothes.
But she really wears what she wants. In fact, Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld often spins off ideas for Chanel designs from what de la Fressange is wearing or what she wants to wear. "At one moment I told Karl I wanted a taffeta suit . . . pants and a jacket. Karl made a drawing and asked me if it was what I imagined. It was better than I imagined." Another time she asked for a dress done like a shirt. "I admit it is a boring idea but in Karl's hands it would be special. And it was." Both the dress and the suit were eventually added to the Chanel collections.
De la Fressange, who says she's between 20 and 30, started to read about Chanel when she was offered the prestige assignment. "I know she wore sweaters in the city, that she was the first with huge, fake jewelry, loose hair and wore trousers and flat shoes. And now, if she was 30, she would wear sneakers and pants in the city as I do. She was a Leo and I'm a Leo and I think all Leos look a little alike."
But she stopped reading about Chanel. "If I thought always about what she did and what she didn't do, I wouldn't do anything," she says. She prefers the modern Chanel interpretations by Lagerfeld. "For Chanel's time, her jackets were very comfortable but today those old jackets are not comfortable. It would be stupid to confine yourself to those old jackets if there is a more comfortable way today." De la Fressange is sure Chanel would approve.
She would undoubtedly approve of all the young women wearing Chanel in France today, much as de la Fressange wears it, mixing T-shirts, jeans and street jewelry with pure Chanel, de la Fressange thinks. She'd approve of the model's penchant for wearing mannish sweaters, tailored trousers, long pearls and flat shoes, even if they don't always have the Chanel label. And she would like the new, spicier fragrance COCO, packaged in the same crystal bottle Chanel originally chose. (COCO was introduced at Garfinckel's this week.)
De la Fressange has an idea for a Chanel backpack, but other than that, she leaves the designing to Lagerfeld. "I sometimes put sketches down on white paper but everyone laughs at me. That reminds me that I am not Coco Chanel."