Fashion Passes; Style Remains

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

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.

In 1936 a writer in the Los Angeles Times commented on shirtmaker dresses and drew a distinction between modes and style: 6

While all the fashion experts sit around and think up new modes for us moderns, the good old shirtmaker style goes on and on.

In 1965 Coco Chanel spoke her version of the maxim in an interview published in McCall’s magazine as noted previously in this article. In 1966 the France-based journalist Joseph Barry published “The People of Paris”, and he included a reprint of the interview he conducted with Chanel for McCall’s containing the aphorism: 7

Mode passes; style remains.

In 1966 the prominent playwright Tom Stoppard published a novel titled “Lord Malquist & Mr. Moon” which contained a satirical variant of the expression under investigation. The character Lord Malquist made the following pronouncement about Beau Brummell, a famously fashionable English dandy who died penniless: 8

You see, he understood that substance is ephemeral but style is eternal . . . which may not be a solution to the realities of life but it is a workable alternative.

In February 1969 the author Studs Terkel responded to a request from the editors of the New York Times Book Review with a short note about paperback books. Terkel’s note mentioned a version of the adage which he attributed to the architect Pier Luigi Nervi: 9

It’s something Pier Luigi Nervi said, a few years ago: concerning fashion and style. Fashion passes; style remains. Style is the mark of the artist. Too many fashion paperbacks; too many works with style neglected.

In November 1969 Newsweek magazine printed a cover story about a new musical “Coco” based on the life of Chanel starring Katharine Hepburn. Several quotations from Chanel and about her were included in the article: 10

She stayed retired until 1954, when she made her famous comeback. “I came back because women needed me,” she says. At first Coco was jeered for being old-fashioned. But her classic sense prevailed and in the next few years overpowered all opposition.

Mode passes; style remains,” says Chanel. Says Balenciaga: “She is eternal and we owe everything to her.” “Her last collection is just too beautiful,” says Diana Vreeland.

In 1972 an advertisement for a clothing store in Daytona Beach, Florida included a version of the saying that was very similar to the statement in 1929: 11

A modern gentleman knows a little about fashions. Fashions come and go, but style goes on forever.

In 1975 another famous fashion designer articulated an aphorism contrasting fashion and style. His words were placed in the “The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations”: 12

Fashions fade, style is eternal.
YVES SAINT LAURENT (b. 1936). French couturier.
Andy Warhol’s Interview (New York, 13 April 1975).

In December 1983 an advertisement from the Chanel Corporation included a version of the maxim though it did not precisely match the words used by Coco Chanel printed in 1965: 13

Chanel’s influence on the world of style is inescapable, extraordinary and enduring. Her success lay in her credo: Fashion passes, style remains”

Also in December 1983 the Metropolitan Museum of New York showcased the work of designer Yves Saint Laurent. A reporter spoke to Saint Laurent, and he delivered an instance of the adage: 14

Asked what he felt is his most important gift to fashion, Saint Laurent’s eyes twinkled behind his tortoise-rimmed glasses as he told this reporter unhesitatingly, “Putting women into pants.”

“And if you want to discuss fashion, I like to think that fashion passes but style remains. I am a classicist. I try to render clothing poetic, but one must preserve its dignity as clothing.”

In July 1986 a reporter in the business publication Barron’s included a version of the saying in an article about artificial fingernails: 15

In other words, to paraphrase the late, great Coco Chanel, Fashion passes, style is eternal.” And Lee Press-On Nails, perhaps, is nothing more than this year’s fashion.

In November 1986 the Boston Herald newspaper published an article about men’s clothing and printed the words of designer Alan Flusser who deployed a version of the aphorism: 16

“It’s important to make a distinction between fashion and style. Style endures. Fashion is fleeting.

In 1997 a short piece in the Chicago Tribune ascribed another version of the adage to Chanel: 17

The legacy of Coco Chanel lives on. As she once said: “Fashion changes–style remains.”

In 2012 a news website based in Indiana published an article that connected the noted fashion columnist and editor Diana Vreeland to a version of the saying: 18

Style is not fashion, as the late legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland used to proclaim; fashion comes and goes, but style goes on forever.

In conclusion, this saying has many versions and has been in circulation for many decades. “Fashion comes and goes, style goes on forever” was in print by 1929 and was credited to an anonymous beauty expert. Remarks after this date would arguably be conceptually derivative. Yet, Coco Chanel can be properly credited with a stylish expression of this idea in 1965: Mode passes; style remains. Chanel was born in 1883 and she may have used this expression earlier. Yves Saint Laurent can be also credited with presenting a version of the idea by 1975: “Fashions fade, style is eternal”.

(Special thanks to Victor Steinbok, Charles Doyle, and Chris Waigl for suggestions and citations.)

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)
  6. 1936 June 26, Los Angeles Times, Two Summer Shirtmaker Dresses Featured in Gay Colors and Touches of Handmade Lace by Sylva Weaver, Page A5, Column 1, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)
  7. 1966, The People of Paris by Joseph Barry, Chapter: At Home in the House of Chanel, Start Page 53, Quote Page 62, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
  8. 1968 (Copyright 1966), Lord Malquist & Mr. Moon by Tom Stoppard, Quote Page 145, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified on paper)
  9. 1969 February 16, New York Times, Section: Book Review, (Response to the editors from Studs Terkel), Page BRA31, Column 5, New York. (ProQuest)
  10. 1969 November 10, Newsweek, Volume 74, Kate and Coco by Hubert Saal, Start Page 75, Quote Page 77B, Newsweek, Inc., New York. (Verified with microfilm)
  11. 1972 December 17, Sunday News-Journal (News Journal), (Advertisement for the store Mister Robert’s in Daytona Beach, Florida), Quote Page 7E, Column 1 and 2, Daytona Beach, Florida. (Google News Archive) (The printed advertisement used “gentlemen” instead of “gentleman”.)
  12. 1993, The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, Edited by Robert Andrews, Quote Page 876, Column 2, Columbia University Press, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  13. 1983 December 5, Los Angeles Times, (Advertisement from Chanel and Robinson’s), Quote Page F3, Column 1, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)
  14. 1983 December 11, Trenton Evening Times, Yves Saint Laurent tribute at Met spectacular by Frederick M. Winship, (United Press International), Quote Page F2 (GNB Page 112), Trenton, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank)
  15. 1986 July 21, Barron’s National Business and Financial Weekly, Starting From Scratch: How To Make Real Profits From False Nails by Lauren R. Rublin, Start Page 13,  Quote Page 22, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest ABI Inform)
  16. 1986 November 29, Boston Herald, “What’s hot, and what’s not: Boston men loosen up” by Eleanor Roberts, Quote Page 33, Column 2, Boston, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  17. 1997 October 12, Chicago Tribune, Coco Chanel’s Chic Endures by Brenda Butler, Quote Page 10, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
  18. 2012 October 4 (date listed on website), Website name: nwi.com, Diana Vreeland: Style goes on forever by Marcia Froelke Coburn, Indiana, United States. (Accessed nwitimes.com March 15, 2013)