The story of original fashion influencer Coco Chanel

Friday: Coco Chanel Unbuttoned (BBC Two, 9pm)
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“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.”

So said Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, and many would suggest she achieved both.

She’s the subject of the latest in a long line of Arena arts documentaries on the BBC, a strand that’s been running since 1975, bringing viewers more than 600 episodes directed by a wide range of people, including Julien Temple, Alan Yentob and Martin Scorsese.

Coco ChanelCoco Chanel
Coco Chanel
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Over the years it’s won various Emmys, a Grammy, nine Baftas, six Royal Television Society gongs and numerous other awards. There may be more coming its way thanks to the programme’s recent output.

Suzy Klein, the BBC’s Head of Arts and Classical Music TV, announced a new batch of commissions in April by saying: “Arena is back with a focus on the icons, works, people and moments we think we all know, but where there are still rich and surprising stories to tell.

“I hope audiences will be as gripped by this latest series of films as we are, and I’m so proud to be working with some of the UK’s leading filmmakers at the height of their careers, championing the best of British documentary-making.”

Arena’s commissioning editor, Mark Bell, added: “Creativity is at the heart of Arena – and here we have some intriguing cultural subjects paired with a set of brilliant directors, and the resulting films are surprising, bold, and highly individual.”

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So far we’ve been treated to films on the likes of Little Richard and Karl Lagerfeld, and now it’s Chanel’s turn to take centre stage – something she was used to doing right up until her death more than 50 years ago.

Among the designer’s other statements was that “fashion is always of the time in which you live. It is not something standing alone. But the grand problem, the most important problem, is to rejuvenate women. To make women look young. Then their outlook changes. They feel more joyous.”

While many would agree that Chanel was right to say that women (or men, for that matter) are happier if they feel good, she perhaps wasn’t quite so correct in her estimation of fashion.

Okay, so in today’s throwaway society, trends are here one minute and gone the next, but when it comes to her own work, it’s timeless. We’re still wearing little black dresses and tweed suits, carrying chain handbags and dabbing on her iconic perfume.

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Despite such items being as instantly recognisable as her name, the real Chanel remains something of a mystery to the general public. Hopefully, this feature-length documentary will change all that.

It reveals her humble, impoverished origins, something she worked hard to conceal. It’s certainly a far cry from her eventual standing as one of the world’s wealthiest women with a string of glamorous lovers.

Sophie Marceau reads Chanel’s own words, while those who knew her, including her assistant, Lilou Grumbach Marquand and model Jackie Rogers, offer their views, alongside biographers Justine Picardie and Rhonda Garelick, and celebrity fan Jerry Hall and her daughter, Georgia May Jagger.

They paint a portrait of an extraordinary woman who, as she herself once said: “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster, but there is only one Chanel!”

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