Shirley MacLaine gets into spirit as Coco Chanel

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

IF SHIRLEY MACLAINE and Coco Chanel fought over a parking spot, pearls would roll. “She was tough and she never backed down,” says the Academy Award-winning actress, who’s known for her own flammable personality and eccentric philosophy. The Parisian style icon died in 1971 at age 87. MacLaine, 74, plays her to the hilt in the Lifetime movie “Coco Chanel,” airing Saturday.

Recently, MacLaine -- who’s sharper than a great horned owl -- chatted about the designer, the role and senior style:

What did you find most fascinating about Coco Chanel?


Her contradictions. Her conflict between love and ambition. She never married. She was rude, hurtful. Many men were in love with her -- though I don’t know why, because she was impossible. She was 73 when she got so popular, and she was always reinventing herself. I like that.

Were you already a Chanel fan?

I started wearing her clothes -- but they were knock-offs -- when I was in my 20s and 30s because they worked for daytime or nighttime. I had knock-offs of everything she made and wore them everywhere. Audrey Hepburn turned me on to Chanel, and she told me that I should play Coco too.

What did Hepburn see in you?

I think she saw this high spirit in me. Someone who does whatever she wants, no matter what anybody thinks. If anything interferes with my inner peace, I will walk away. Arguments with family members. All that stuff. None of it matters. Before, I would try to understand or win the argument.

Are you getting smarter as you get older?


No. I’m getting tired.

Describe your personal style.

I like senior-forgiving sloppy pants. I still wear sweat suits. I look like a real bag lady when I go to Starbucks with my dog and get my chai. I am so grateful that I now have a small hunk of Chanel wardrobe from the film that will go anywhere.

I must say, you don’t strike me as someone who wears logos.

Ha! No! But all the 12-year-olds know what type of bag you have these days. I couldn’t tell you what a brand was when I was that age. I’ve still got these big glasses from “Guarding Tess” and these little girls stop me on the street and scream, “What is the brand?”

Do you like the new Chanel styles?

I like the real classic stuff. The simple black pants, the flats. Even the suits. They make rayon-cotton blends now. But a lot of that frilly stuff I saw down at the Chanel store is not for me.


Have you met Karl Lagerfeld?

I have not. He wanted me to come to Paris for a fitting, but I am sorry. No. If he takes off his sunglasses and the gloves, maybe I’ll go to Paris.