Coco, Cindy and Susan

Posted on 29 September 2016


In September this year, I was invited by Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) to tell a story at the Cindy Sherman Up Late exhibition. The invitation had on me what I will now dub the ‘Louise Bourgeois effect’. When Heide Museum of Modern Art asked me to ‘respond’ to the Louise Bourgeois: Late Works exhibition in the summer of 2013, it made me, for the first time, look at my personal history and heritage in relation to my creativity. Meet me any other day of the week in my atelier and I will talk to you about my passion for tailoring.

I took the opportunity to attend the opening of Cindy Sherman Up Late in May to think about what story I would tell. I was well acquainted with Cindy Sherman’s history portraits (1988-90). These resonated with my Italian heritage and original ambitions to be a painter. So this could have been the basis of my story but these portraits were not in the exhibition. 

What I did discover was a room of Chanel portraits created with pieces from the Chanel archives – set against painterly landscapes that lingered in ambiguity somewhere between the Scottish moors and the American frontier. This was the obvious setting for my story! A story that begins when I was 14 years old watching a documentary on ABC TV about Coco Chanel. 

I remember being completely knocked out by this woman called Coco Chanel who was ‘inventing herself’ in Paris, France in the 1920s. Let me just put this into context for you: I was sitting in the living room with my family in a house on a vineyard in country town Victoria; pre-Internet, pre-pay TV. It was back in the dark days when country towns usually only had two television stations: the local one and the ABC, which went off the air around midnight and earlier on Sunday. The whole family watched just one single screen in the corner of the room. And on this night, on it was Coco Chanel, a woman who was hanging out with  artists and choreographers, dancers, singers, everybody who was interesting – politicians, writers and philosophers, and she was a fashion designer (not a dressmaker) who never married and who was sexually liberated, lived a long life and created until the end and it impacted on my mind like a meteorite!

I am pretty sure this Chanel documentary was the catalyst for my consequent decade of op shopping with the obsessive mission of finding an elusive 1920s beaded flapper dress. When I was preparing my story I realised it was time to depart from my teenage fan club mentality. And with Cindy’s inspiration,  to reconnect with Coco – a woman who turned every disadvantage into an advantage. In doing so, she created the iconic fashion house of the 20th century. Reconnecting with this original inspiration enabled me to also think about how I overcome some of my own challenges in building a House relevant for the 21st century in the age of the megabrand (the irony that Chanel is the biggest of megabrands is not lost on me either!).

I made a proposition to a friend with whom I share a ‘Coco crush’, Caroline Vosse @frenchictouch, that she join me at the Cindy Sherman exhibition to create a selfie campaign for MBP's 2016/17 Pre Collection to be launched in October, using an iPhone 6. She posed the question, “What do you think Coco would think of social media” 

You will be able to read more about the selfie campaign and see the 2016/17 Pre Collection here soon. Also, for more about my ‘Coco crush’, see Caroline Vosse’s interview with me @frenchictouch.

Susan Dimasi



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