Category Archives: Coco Chanel

The Secret to Creativity Is Knowing How to Hide Your Sources

Albert Einstein? C. E. M. Joad? Nolan Bushnell? Coco Chanel? Conan O’Brien? Franklin P. Jones? Charles Moore? Bruce Sterling? Joe Sedelmaier? Anonymous?

coco07Dear Quote Investigator: I have a difficult challenge for you. Here are three versions of a popular maxim:

1) The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.
2) Creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.
3) The key to originality is hiding your sources.

These expressions are usually attributed to the famous scientist Albert Einstein. However, no one bothers to supply any supporting references. Somehow the true source has magically disappeared, it seems. Would you please help to uncover the accurate provenance?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein ever made a remark of this type. It is not listed in the comprehensive collection “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

QI hypothesizes that this maxim evolved from a statement made in 1926 by a prominent English commentator and broadcaster named C. E. M. Joad. The initials abbreviated the full appellation Cyril Edwin Mitchinson Joad. Below is a dated series of phrases outlining the transformational process:

1926: the height of originality is skill in concealing origins
1933: originality is little more than skill in concealing origins
1938: originality was merely skill in concealing origins
1953: originality has been described as the art of concealing origins
1970: originality is the art of concealing your source
1985: creativity is the art of concealing your sources
1989: the secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources

In 1926 Joad published “The Babbitt Warren” in England, and the following year “The New Republic” magazine printed a review. Joad evaluated the United States harshly in his volume, and the reviewer reprinted a sampling of his critical remarks including a precursor of the adage under investigation. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

Whereas in Europe the height of originality is genius, in America the height of originality is skill in concealing origins.

In no country is personality valued as it is in America, and in no country is it so rare.

Joad was pleased with this expression, and he developed multiple variants which he placed in his later writings. As the saying continued to evolve it was attributed to Franklin P. Jones, Albert Einstein, Coco Chanel and others. Detailed citations are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Examined on paper)
  2. 1927 March 9, The New Republic, Raspberries from England by Robert Littell, (Book Review of “The Babbitt Warren” by C. E. M. Joad), Start Page 74, Quote Page 74, Column 1, The Republic Publishing Company, New York. (Verified on microfilm)

Fashion Passes; Style Remains

Coco Chanel? Yves Saint Laurent? Diana Vreeland? Pier Luigi Nervi? Tom Stoppard? Anonymous?

Chanel02

Dear Quote Investigator: The fashion designer Coco Chanel was brilliant and innovative. I am interested in a motto that she may have originated:

Fashion passes; style remains.

When did she say this?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match for this phrase known to QI appeared in an interview of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel conducted by the journalist Joseph Barry in McCall’s magazine in 1965. Chanel was primarily a speaker of French, and the phrase she used in 1965 did not employ the word fashion; instead, she used the word “mode” which is both French and English:

Mode passes; style remains.

Here is an excerpt from the interview which took place when Chanel was an eminent 81-year-old. Boldface has been added to some excerpts: 1

INTERVIEWER: Apropos copying, you are probably the most copied dress designer in the world. Does it bother you?

CHANEL: I suppose it is a kind of flattery. Someone said I dress eighty per cent of the well-dressed women—and the not so well-dressed, I’m afraid—whether they know it or not. But style should reach the people, no? It should descend into the streets, into people’s lives, like a revolution. That is real style. The rest is mode. Mode passes; style remains. Mode is made of a few amusing ideas, meant to be used up quickly, so they can be replaced by others in the next collection. A style endures even as it is renewed and evolved.

The word “mode” has several meanings in English including the following which is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary: 2

A prevailing fashion, custom, practice, or style, esp. one characteristic of a particular place or period.

Both Chanel and her interviewer were able to speak in French and English, and it is not clear whether Chanel spoke the aphorism in French or English. If she spoke it in French then she probably said:

La mode passe; le style reste.

This expression can be translated into English in more than one way. One possibility is:

Fashion passes; style remains.

Adages that contrast the longevity of fashion and style have been in circulation for many decades. In 1889 a precursor was printed that presented part of the idea, i.e., a particular style can have a long life: 3

The natural inconvenience resulting from such a style of dress, it would appear, would induce a change in the fashion plates, but while the seasons change this style “goes on forever.

In 1904 a variant of the motto was employed in the architectural domain: 4

The fashions of architecture—they perish. Style endures.

In 1929 a Springfield, Massachusetts newspaper printed an excellent example of the maxim under investigation using a different phrasing. The newspaper article discussed a trend that had swept through New York and had reached Springfield. The trend did not involve garments or accessories. It was based on the skin: the “sun tan”. The article author contended that the “sun tan” was a fad among women that was fleeting. The story referred to “beauty officials” who claimed that the peak of the fad was past, and it was unlikely to return the next summer. The overall report was humorously wrong-headed, but it did include an interesting version of the adage: 5

As one philosophical beauty expert put it, “Fashion comes and goes, style goes on forever.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1965 November, McCall’s, An Interview with Chanel, [Interview with Gabrielle Chanel conducted by Joseph Barry], Start Page 121, Quote page 170, Column 4, McCall Pub. Co., New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. Entry for “mode”, noun, Oxford English Dictionary, Third edition, September 2002; online version June 2011.  (Accessed at oed.com on August 15, 2011)
  3. 1889, Sketches from the Mountains of Mexico by J. R. Flippin Standard publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Google Books full view) link
  4. 1904 American Renaissance: A Review of Domestic Architecture by Joy Wheeler Dow, Quote Page 155 Publisher William T. Comstock, New York. (Google Books full view) link
  5. 1929 August 25, Springfield Republican, America’s Great Skin Game That Has Coated Femininity with Sun Tan Wanes, Section: Magazine, Quote Page 1 (GNB Page 45), Column 3, Springfield, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)