MONTREAL - It's Chanel-mania this fall as three separate films about the legendary French fashion designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel are set to be released.
Generating the most buzz is "Coco Before Chanel", a biopic chronicling the early years of the born-outsider who helped shape the idea of the modern woman.
The film's director Anne Fontaine says she's surprised Chanel wasn't brought to life on the silver screen before.
"It's a character that's incredibly rich," she said in an interview with The Canadian Press before the movie's red-carpet Montreal debut on Sunday.
"She incarnated the modern woman before her time. It's fascinating even today - at the time it must have been incredible, revolutionary. How could this peasant girl end up embodying elegance, eternal chic?"
Chanel was one of the first women to assert herself in a man's world, draping herself in their clothing and liberating early 20th-century women from corsets and complicated frocks.
"She was her own model, because she was so thin and androgynous before it was fashionable," said Fontaine.
"(Her peers) felt she was so chic and unique that they wanted to be like her."
Her menswear-inspired designs resonate today: The little black dress, the beige slingback with black toecap, the tweed suit, the jersey dress, the chain belt, the cashmere cardigan.
"She's the most complex, authoritarian and difficult woman - as well as the most brilliant - I've ever portrayed," said the film's star, French actress Audrey Tautou.
"She was so demanding, a perfectionist. And to accomplish everything that she did and to break down all the barriers she faced, you needed real character."
Chanel's rebellious creativity was born out of necessity.
As dramatized in "Coco Before Chanel," the designer had a troubled youth, which she battled out of by sheer force of will.
The film follows Chanel from her early years at an orphanage in the heart of France, to her nights as a mediocre cabaret singer, all the way through her troubled love affairs and refusal to marry, as she chose her art and independence instead.
"She fought against her destiny," said Tautou.
"It was in her very nature. She was a girl who wanted something different - she didn't just wish, she invented."
But her style was essentially selfish, noted Tautou.
"Coco didn't do anything for other women. She wanted to be free, she was her own laboratory."
Tautou, known to Canadian audiences from her roles in "Le fabuleux destin d'Amelie Poulain" and "The Da Vinci Code," personifies - physically at least - the famous couturier, with her dark hair, wide-eyes and diminutive build.
She said playing the founder of the iconic fashion house before she became lionized and legendary gave her more liberty to interpret the self-made, rebellious designer.
"You have to be careful not to fall into simply mimicking," she said.
"You need this story to understand everything she accomplished later in life."
"Coco Before Chanel" will be released in Canada Sept. 25.
"Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky", a film by French director Jan Kounen, will be showing at the Toronto International Film Festival this week.