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.
- 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) ↩
- Entry for “mode”, noun, Oxford English Dictionary, Third edition, September 2002; online version June 2011. (Accessed at oed.com on August 15, 2011) ↩
- 1889, Sketches from the Mountains of Mexico by J. R. Flippin Standard publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Google Books full view) link ↩
- 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 ↩
- 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) ↩