Monday is “Grab Bag” day here at Entertainment Legends Revealed, with each Monday featuring a different area of the world of arts and entertainment (that is not featured on the other four days of the week, that is). They’ll eventually repeat, but for now, we’re still on the initial installments of each of the various “Grab Bag” legends!
This is the first in a series of examinations of legends related to fashion and fashion designers and whether they are true or false.
FASHION LEGEND: Kenneth Cole came up with a rather…enterprising way of getting his product to the masses at Market Week when he began his company.
Kenneth Cole was not yet 30 years old when he formed his company in 1982. Cole had spent a long time (and basically all of his money) in Europe designing and producing shoes and now he had a ton of shoes, a company name, Kenneth Cole Incorporated, and that’s about it.
He had no money for a storefront and no real in road at getting his new shoe company out to the people.
However, upon returning to New York in 1982, he knew that he was going to try to make his splash at Market Week. He just wasn’t sure how.
Through a friend, Cole acquired a large trailer truck. So his plan was to basically park his truck two blocks from the Hilton Hotel (in front of a fancy shoe store) and sell his shoes during Market Week out of the truck.
The problem is that you’re not allowed to just park trailers next to the Hilton Hotel during Market Week.
Exceptions, though, were made to utility companies (obviously, as they’d have to park there to do utility work) and production companies (for those filming the event).
Well, that was just the in Cole was looking for, and very quickly, Kenneth Cole Incorporated became Kenneth Cole Productions. Cole applied and received a permit for a feature-length film titled, outrageously enough, “The Birth of a Shoe Company”.
Thus, the trailer was decked out with “Kenneth Cole Productions” painted on the side of the trailer along with a velvet rope only allowing a certain amount of people into the trailer at a time, with models/actresses, cameras and a director.
In two and a half days (while filming the whole thing, naturally), Cole sold 40,000 shoes and his company was born.
Nowadays, Kenneth Cole Productions (the name stuck) is major fashion house in the United States.
It’s always fun to see interesting ideas pay off in such a manner.
FASHION LEGEND: Coco Chanel had two legendary retorts to a marriage proposal by the Duke of Winchester and to a query by Poiret.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
If you went looking for the best example of the “cult of personality,” you could do a lot worse than picking Coco Chanel.
An icon of style – the Chanel that Chanel No. 5 is named after, Chanel was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century.
Part of her imposing position on the world stage is that stories tended to be written about Chanel, whether they were true or not.
This was something that Chanel herself fostered, as she was known to come up with some good ones on her own (like dropping ten years from her age or inventing a childhood spent with spinster aunts in a story that sounded like out of Cinderella).
Chanel was a great lover of men, and enjoyed affairs with a great many notable men.
One such lover was Hugh Grosvenor, the 2nd Duke of Westminster.
Here they are together…
According to legend, when the Duke proposed to Chanel, she turned him down, stating “There are already three Duchesses of Westminster, but there is only one Coco Chanel!”
Pretty much every Chanel biography believes the story is bogus, and I tend to agree with them, although the GENERAL idea is most likely correct. She did, indeed, turn down a proposal of marriage from the Duke, as she turned down proposals from Russian Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, French poet Pierre Revedy and French artist Paul Iribe. But the way she did it is pretty clearly the stuff of legend.
An even more egregious tale is the story of when Chanel first met Poiret.
Paul Poiret was one of the leading fashion designers of the early 20th Century.
Poiret designed elaborate dresses that were designed to basically just LOOK good, they were not the most functional of dresses.
Chanel, meanwhile, like many other designers of her era, pushed functionality. Chanel’s main contribution to the world of clothing design was the “little black dress.”
Her dress, while certainly not as artistic as Poiret’s dresses, was a great deal more functional, and it soon became all the rage.
Poiret, meanwhile, saw his star wane and by 1929, his store was closed and he was bankrupt.
So it is against that setting that a 1928 chance meeting between Poiret and Chanel on the streets of Paris allegedly took place.
They see each other and Poiret queries, “For whom, madame, do you mourn?” to which Chanel replies, “For you, monsieur.”
It’s a great retort, but again, so good that it is almost certainly false.
For one, Chanel never said she said it. Poiret never mentioned it. Again, all the Chanel biographies that I have read have come down on the side of “it’s made up.”
So could all these stories be totally true?
It’s possible, but extremely unlikely, which is why I’m going with false.
FASHION LEGEND: Hugo Boss produced uniforms for the Nazis
Hugo Ferdinand Boss started his first clothing business in the early 1920s, when Boss was in his early 40s.
By 1930, Boss was forced to declare bankruptcy.
In 1931, Boss joined the National Socialist party.
When the Nazis took power in 1933, Boss soon found himself contracted to produce the uniforms for the Nazi Schutzstaffel (their paramilitary force from 1925 until 1945).
And damned if they did not do a very nice job making snazzy uniforms for the Nazis.
These uniforms were mass produced in factories often manned by Prisoners of War.
Boss, naturally, did not do so well after the Nazis were defeated, but he was allowed to continue to run his company and in the years following the war, the company re-geared itself as a designer and producer of men’s suits.
And after Boss’ death in 1948, the company hit a boom period in the 1960s and 1970s and Hugo Boss is now one of the most successful clothing company in the entire world.
The company, admittedly, has done a nice job, I’d say, of cooperating with any inquiries into their past – they’re as ashamed as anyone else, but what can they do?
Still, it’s pretty striking to think about the often-tainted history of some of these German companies.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org