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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel didn't just make beautiful clothes, she also advanced women's rights, says actress Audrey Tautou, who portrays the pioneering French fashion designer in a new film about her early life.
"Coco Before Chanel," which opens in the United States on Friday, tells the story of Chanel's early life growing up in an orphanage, trying to be a singer with her sister, then becoming wealthy man's mistress to pull herself out of poverty.
She then met the love of her life who helped her realize her design talent and funded the start of her fashion label.
"Her personality, desire to have the same freedom as men -- not to depend on them -- is exactly what we've been fighting for," Tautou, whose previous film roles include "Amelie" and "The Da Vinci Code," told Reuters.
"She was fighting for herself, but ... she changed, I think, many things for her and for us," she said. "She did things for herself first, she was not carrying a cause."
Tautou said she had been approached about a few different Chanel film projects, but chose director Anne Fontaine's movie because it focused on Chanel's early life. She also admitted she was nervous about portraying the designer.
"She was such a brilliant woman and so special and unconventional and so charismatic that I was nervous not to be able to express or to show how different and charismatic she was," said Tautou.
"I didn't want to do a movie about the whole life of Chanel. I didn't want to do something superficial or just illustrating the big events because I really think that Chanel's personality was so unique and unconventional, amazing, brilliant," she said. "I wanted to take off the veil."
Reviews for "Coco Before Chanel," which opened in France and other countries earlier this year, are mixed.
"Rather staid in its approach, this film is nowhere near as fascinating and unpredictable as its subject," wrote Wendy Ide of The Times newspaper in London. "But Tautou's performance brings class to an otherwise conventional film."
The Australian newspaper's Evan Williams wrote: "I like Coco a lot. Her love life was a mess, but there's no reason to feel sorry for her. She was 87 when she died, fabulously rich, in 1971. Fontaine's film is loving tribute to her memory."
The French film is one of two movies released this year that focus on aspects of Chanel's life and is the latest in a string of films and documentaries related to fashion to hit theaters.
"Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky," which closed the Cannes Film Festival in May, is directed by Dutch-born Jan Kounen and weaves together fact and fiction about a brief affair between Chanel and the Russian composer.
Also out this year is "The September Issue" documentary, which goes behind the scenes at U.S. Vogue to follow editor Anna Wintour, "Valentino: The Last Emperor," an intimate look at the Italian designer's final two years at the helm of his fashion house, while U.S. designer Tom Ford made his debut as a director in Venice this month with the movie "A Single Man."
"(Fashion) is the first way that people are going to judge you," said Tautou, whose first piece of Chanel was a handbag. "I like fashion when it expresses your personality, I don't like it when it's there to hide your singularity."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte