Starring: Audrey Tautou, Alessandro Nivola, Benoit Poelvoorde
Directed by: Anne Fontaine (“The Girl from Monaco”)
Written by: Anne Fontaine (“The Girl from Monaco”) and Camille Fontaine (“Man of the Crowds”)

Whether you’re a stylish fashionista or someone who doesn’t know the difference between box pleats and inverted pleats (scoff), the biopic “Coco Before Chanel,” based on the life of fashion designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel before she became an iconic brand name, is a solid piece of work. It’s no haute couture dress, but it’s not a hand-me-down either.

Based on the book by former editor of French Vogue Edmode Charles-Roux, “Coco Before Chanel” begins in 1893 when young Gabrielle’s father boards her and her sister Adrienne at an orphanage. The two sisters grow up side by side and as they get older take on different ways of making money including sewing petticoats and singing at a local cabaret (she earns her nickname after performing a song about a dog named Coco).

Although Coco and Adrienne have short-term plans for their singing careers, Adrienne moves away with a baron she meets and leaves her sister to fend for herself. Without much thought, Coco packs her bags and moves to Paris to visit Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde), a wealthy friend who takes her into his mansion and ignores the fact that she overstays her welcome after a few weeks.

While she has grown to love the finer things in life, it is in Etienne’s presence where Coco finds her true passion. She starts off by making hats before she popularizes trousers and other men’s wear for women. The last thing an extremely independent woman like Coco would wear is something of high society like a corset. She is a free spirit and not someone who would let anything or anyone hold her down. At first she is given strange glances from other women who don’t understand why she refuses to wear hats adorned with feathers or shoes with heels, but soon enough her style catches on.

As the straight-forward biopic continues, so does the elegance and grace of Tautou, who is her generation’s Audrey Hepburn. While Poelvoorde and actor Alessandro Nivola (he plays Coco’s true love) give quality performances, it’s Tautou who steals most of the show dressed in drab grays and blacks.

There just something so delicate about Tautou that stands out in a film like “Chanel.” It might not have all the charming aspects of other Tautou films like “Amelie” or “Priceless,” but “Chanel,” a story about a woman who strays from the stuffiness of society to make her own path to become a great designer, is a sophisticated and empowering rags-to-riches tale.

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