Fontaine will helm the yet to be titled pic

Audrey Tautou will star as Coco Chanel in a $15 million biopic about the legendary French fashion designer.

Anne Fontaine will helm the yet to be titled pic, with French shingles Haut et Court and Cine @ producing. Films Distribution is handling international sales.

The film, which will focus on Chanel’s childhood and early womanhood, was specially conceived with Tautou in mind, said Haut et Court’s Caroline Benjo.

“Anne said she would only make a film about Chanel if Audrey was in the lead. They met and both liked the idea.”

Script, penned by Fontaine and Christopher Hampton, who is also creative consultant, was freely adapted from the Chanel biography “L’Irreguliere” by Edmonde Charles-Roux.

Pic is slated to shoot early in 2008.

A French thesp will play Etienne Balsan and an A-list Brit actor is being sought to play Englishman Arthur “Boy” Capel, two men in Chanel’s life when she was still a young unknown.

Said Benjo: “It isn’t really a biopic because it is about Chanel before she became famous, it is about the events and people that shaped her.”

The woman who invented French chic was born into poverty as Gabrielle Chanel, the illegitimate daughter of a traveling salesman, in 1883. After the death of her mother and abandonment by her father she spent seven years in a Catholic orphanage, where she learned to sew. But fashion wasn’t her first career choice. As a young woman, Chanel had ambitions to be a singer and it was while warbling “Who’s Seen Coco in the Trocadero” in a cabaret that she acquired the nickname Coco.

While working as a cabaret singer, she also took to sewing the stage clothes for the likes of French cabaret star Mistinguette before being taken under the wing wealthy Balsan. His chateau became Chanel’s home and her gateway to a new life.

Balsan introduced her to Capel, who played a crucial role in Chanel’s rise to fashion fame and fortune.

There are two other French Chanel project the works.

William Friedkin will helm one focused on the fashion diva’s relationship with Stravinsky, with “Lady Chatterley” thesp Marina Hands playing Chanel. Daniele Thompson is also writing a Chanel project.

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