Red, white, blue…and stripes.

(A re-do of a 4th of July post I did for Nashville style blog, Stella Shops.)

In a long list of French fashion standouts, the striped sailor’s shirt hasn’t changed much in over 150 years. And like so many French classics, we have the independent style revolutionary Coco Chanel to thank. In 1917, she started carrying these striped shirts in her shop in the elegant seaside resort of Deauville—popularizing the French navy’s uniform item as de rigueur apparel for the vacationing chic.

I’ve love all the recent derivations of this striped wonder. But really, the original is where it’s at. After all, it was good enough for Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Bridget Bardot, Andy Warhol and the Ramones….

Since 1871, these striped classics have been manufactured by a small French company that shares the name of the Normandy town where it’s based—Saint James. The original Saint James contract was with the Marine Nationale, the French navy. A government act degreed that sailors all wear striped shirts as part of their uniforms—the better to spot the unfortunate guy who fell overboard. The earliest version had exactly 21 stripes, one for each of Napoleon’s naval victories against the British (or so it’s said).

Saint James now produces a dizzying array of these classics, in varied weights, colors and styles (including some pretty swank collaborations like the one launched last year on Bastille Day with nightlife impresario André and The Standard—and completely sold out, btw).

I vote for the original model, though. Along with red lipstick, ballet flats, a cigarette, and an independent point of view.

Coco Chanel. Not so pretty.

It’s Coco’s birthday. The woman who gave us the little black dress, the pop of faux pearls (lots of ’em), the iconic quilted handbag, and that I’d-know-it-anywhere jacket. Not to mention the famous perfume. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was born 128 years ago today, and her imprint on fashion remains strong, pervasive and very lucrative.

This week, though, Chanel’s making news in a different vein. A new biography just released — Sleeping With the Enemy by Hal Vaughn — claims that the German military intelligence officer she was involved with was a Nazi master spy who reported directly to the infamous Joseph Goebbels, that Coco herself was a genuine operative involved in a number of clandestine missions, that she had her own code name (Westminster), and that she was fully and completely a German collaborator—with all the perks thereof.

I’m no Chanel expert. But reviews of the book’s research are compelling (though it’s not all new news). It is not a pretty story. And as you’d expect, its publication caused significant heartburn for the House of Chanel, with the usual statement of rebuttal issued. Continue reading