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Interview with Gretchen Lerach, the Director of the Chanel Boutique in

the Mall at Short Hills.

(EM: Elly Meister, GL: Gretchen Lerarch) Gretchen gave me a book to
read before the interview called Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life,
which is what we are referring to throughout the interview.
EM: Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to speak with
you about Coco Chanel.
GL: Oh, its no problem at all. You did a really great job keeping in
touch with me and making the initiative to get this interview all on
your own. It really says something about the kind of girl you are.
EM: Thanks. I was just really looking forward to this because we get to
talk about something that were both interested in. I have about twenty
questions for you that Id like to ask you and then Ill just write down
your answers as best I can. But first, I just would like to know what
your job position with the company Chanel is and how you got such a
great job.
GL: I knew what I wanted to do and I just worked really hard to get
where I am. Ive been working at the Short Hills Mall for about ten
years. I was the director of the stores Dolce & Gabbana, and The Gap.
Every month there are letters written about to employees at each store
that are given to the owners of the Short Hills Mall. I worked my ass off
and made sure that my name was mentioned and noticed by the
owners. They mentioned my name to a Chanel recruiter and after
several interviews and phone calls; I became the director of Chanel in
the Short Hills Mall. Ive been the director for about two years now and
I couldnt ask for anything more.
EM: I am so envious of your position. Ive always loved fashion because
I think its the best way people can really express themselves without
having to articulate who they are in words. Anyways, I am in a
magazine writing class this year. One of our first assignments this year
was to create a website that includes some of our writing about a
particular topic of interest. Of course I chose the little black dress as
my main topic. I figured since youve been at Chanel for so long and
know so much information about the company, Gabrielle Chanel, and
her history you could definitely offer me some information that would
enhance my understanding of Gabrielle Chanel.
GL: Now as for the questions youre going to ask me, Im going to
answer as many questions and share as much information as I can
because there are going to be things Im not allowed to say.

EM: My first question is do you think there is a particular reason why

Chanel didnt tell the whole truth about her childhood?
GL: Thats a hard question to answer. She told a lot of lies and different
versions of stories. Some say it was because she had a hard time
facing the truth and that she was a whore for controversy and others
say she was just evasive and rude. I read a thing that once said that
she got bored of telling the same old story. Also, I have to just tell you
that the world knows her as Coco Chanel, but those who know and
understand her refer to her as Mademoiselle.
EM: So its not correct in the fashion industry to refer to Coco Chanel as
GL: Nope, refer to her as Mademoiselle.
EM: Okay, now what do you think the importance of the train was to
GL: Ah, thats an interesting question. I havent really heard a lot about
trains pertaining to Mademoiselles life. But I do know that in one of
Chanels recent fashion shows, particularly the Paris Bombay Show,
there was a train that was included in the fashion show. Im not really
sure but if you look that up Im sure youll be able to see what Im
talking about.
EM: Yes, in the book it said that the train was significant in
Mademoiselles life as a child because it was part of her life while her
mother was carrying her in her womb. Trains symbolized the unknown
destination of Mademoiselles journey.
GL: The train is a perfect example of that way of going back to the
pillars of the brand and keeping the brands vision tight and relevant to
keep it inspirational to young women today.
EM: Do you think there is any one event that occurred in Chanels
childhood that lead her to become the woman portrayed in the book?
GL: Mademoiselle was many women all in one, but her father
abandoning her and her sister was probably the single most traumatic
thing that ever happened in Mademoiselles childhood.
EM: Do you think Gabrielles reading of romance novels inspired her in
any particular way?
GL: It inspired her that romance is something that every woman wants.
She concluded that romance can be interpreted in fragrance, clothing,
and it can add a depth to those things that can be personal to a
women, but I dont think it necessarily melted her heart.

EM: While I was reading the book I realized that Mademoiselle wasnt
really one to be so emotional.
GL: She wasnt at all. She didnt usually like to get emotionally
attached. She would rather be composed and keep her emotions to
EM: What do you think the color black symbolized for Chanel?
GL: Some think black is a lack of color, but in her eyes she saw black
as nurturing and warm. Now remember that she didnt have a mother
or a father, so at the orphanage, she was raised by nuns who were the
most consistent loving and motherly figures in her life. And the
significance of that is that the color nuns typically wear is black.
EM: Do you think the fear of the one Chanels loved leaving her
couldve held her back early in her life?
GL: In my personal opinion, the fear of being alone effected her
decisions. In later years, the reality of being truly alone affected her
outlook and disposition and some of her decisions having to do with
her personal life, and her successful company.
EM: I love this question because I loved reading about Mademoiselles
love life in the book. Why do you think Chanel found Capels
nonchalance to be attractive?
GL: Because he wasnt a very romantic and romanticized person. They
could talk about business and he saw who she really was and he knew
her hopes and dreams. He fell in love with a woman of opinion.
EM: In the book it said that he babied her, is that true?
GL: He was the only one her lovers who was romantic with her. He
bought her camellias, which are extremely rare and bloom in January.
Theyre symbolic because theyre an unscented flower and theyre
black and white. So he didnt necessarily baby her, he just treated her
like the strong independent woman she was.
EM: What do you think Chanels cutting off her hair meant to her, or
the society around her at the time?
GL: More of dont judge me. Im going to build power and walk my own
road. She was dykey, running around in mens clothing, with short hair.
She was defining sexy a different way because she never wanted one
thing to be defined in one way. Different was sexy.
EM: Did Boy Capels death influence Chanel positively or negatively in
your opinion?

GL: She became more focused on her success and her vision but it was
also incredibly devastation. As a result of her terrible loss, she threw
herself into her work.
EM: What do you think about Chanels anti-Semitism?
GL: I cant talk about that one the record. I dont believe she was an
anti-Semitic. She was living in a tough time period just like everyone
EM: Was Chanel mostly looking for love or financial security?
GL: In Mademoiselles eyes they were the same thing. She was a
businesswoman and she believed that there wasnt a separation
between love and money. She wanted to find a man who believed in
her vision and wanted to help her make her dreams reality. She didnt
try and romanticize financial security in any way because thats not
who she was.
EM: In the book on page 213 it said, at last, she cried. Why was this
so astonishing?
GL: Simply because Mademoiselle didnt believe in excess emotion.
EM: How did the war affect Chanels work in Paris?
GL: The House of Chanel was closed down during World War II.
EM: That didnt let that stop her, right?
GL: No, but she didnt show any collection during World War II, but if
you want to know more about the war, I would definitely read the book
Sleeping with the Enemy.
EM: Ill definitely look into that. After reading this book you gave me, I
would literally read anything about Mademoiselle Chanel.
GL: Ive probably read almost every book about Mademoiselle, thats
why I know so much about her and her life. I also know a lot about her
because in order to get the job Im maintaining right now, I had to
know as much as I could. It was such a great experience getting to
where I am today. I went to Paris for months at a time with all of the
directors of the Chanel stores in the United States, which is about 25.
We visited the House of Chanel, Mademoiselles apartment on Rue
Cambon, and her apartment in the Ritz as well.
EM: Id give anything to do that. Im actually going to Paris this
summer so maybe Ill get to see the House of Chanel.

GL: Its really a great city. I can already tell that youll love it. Whats
not the love about the fashion capital of the world!
EM: Exactly. Now next question, a reoccurring theme throughout the
book is that Chanels lovers leave her for other women and get married
but Chanel remains their mistress, or her loved ones die. Why do you
think this is?
GL: I think again, she never could be as close to anyone again and risk
the hurt and loss just like Boy Capel. No body ever reached that level
in Chanels life as Boy did.
EM: Do you think that Chanel used her experience in her life in her
clothing and designs to remind her of everything she went through to
become the infamous Coco Chanel?
GL: Yes, everything from her fine jewelry collection to the chains on her
bags, and ropes for her costume jewelry line. Her first five jewelry
collections, you can see stars and constellations which are from the
orphanage because they were designs on the floor. And at the
orphanage, her job was to scrub to floors. So, stars and constellations
were used in the collections as symbols of her up bringing. Also, black
and white meant a lot to Mademoiselle. Black was the nuns habits, and
the nuns also wore keys around their necks which was where Chanel
got the idea of long ropes of pearls for her jewelry collections.
EM: Without becoming well known in the United States, do you think
that her business would still be as successful as it was then and still
remains to be?
GL: Yes. Currently Asia is the number one market for Chanel and
Chanel N5 is the number one fragrance in the United States and in the
entire world.
EM: Why was Chanel N5 a break through for Chanel in terms of her
GL: It was the first fragrance created that was a complex creation of
scents. At the time, perfumes were a single note perfume. Meaning
that perfumes were made of only one scent, like jasmine. Chanel N5
had more than 80 different notes like iris roots, jasmine, and rose de
EM: How do you think Chanel revolutionized clothing for women?
GL: Mademoiselle made the purpose of fashion to be functional and
practical versus a grandiose display of romanticism. She once said,
there shall never be a pocket without a purpose. She believed that
fashion shouldnt be frivolous; there should be a purpose. She wanted

to create functional clothes for functional women. Clothes were made

to show people how they wanted to be perceived. During the war when
fashion needed to be changed to fit the role of women, she changed.
But when it wasnt important for her to change, she didnt. Change for
the sake of change is foolish.
EM: Do you agree that Chanel helped women become more active in
society? How did Chanels clothing help women in the war efforts?
GL: Mademoiselle had the insight of how she wanted women to be, and
where she wanted women to go and when history took them there; the
House of Chanel had the clothes for them to wear. She already said
you should be wearing pants. When everyone woke up and said shit, I
need pants; she was like duh, thats why I made them five years ago.
EM: Also, the material of jersey was mentioned multiple times being
that the clothing Chanel created was made out of jersey. What is the
significance of her clothing being made of jersey?
GL: Thats a very important aspect of her clothing because jersey was
a material that Chanel chose because of its flexibility and how
comfortable it was when worn. She knew jersey was a comfortable
material for clothes to be made out of because at the time jersey was
used to make mens underwear. Since Mademoiselle got most of her
inspiration from mens clothing, she knew that jersey would be a great
material to use for womens clothing as well.
EM: My thesis for my whole entire essay is that Mademoiselle helped
women become more active in the war efforts during World War I and
World War II. From what youre telling me I think you agree, right?
GL: Yes. I agree completely.
EM: Is there anything else that you think I should include in my
research paper? Or just any other information I should know about
GL: I think you need to understand how sacred the company of Chanel
is. Its not owned by any other public company like Louis Vitton, or
Prada. It is an exclusively owned company. Thats the main reason why
the House of Chanel is one of the most infamous fashion houses in the
world. It hasnt changed since the second it was established.