Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History Info

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NATIONAL BESTSELLER
Certain lives are at once so
exceptional, and yet so in step with their historical moments, that they
illuminate cultural forces far beyond the scope of a single person.
Such is the case with Coco Chanel, whose life offers one of the most
fascinating tales of the twentieth century—throwing into dramatic
relief an era of war, fashion, ardent nationalism, and earth-shaking
change—here brilliantly treated, for the first time, with
wide-ranging and incisive historical scrutiny.
 
Coco
Chanel transformed forever the way women dressed. Her influence remains
so pervasive that to this day we can see her afterimage a dozen times
while just walking down a single street: in all the little black
dresses, flat shoes, costume jewelry, cardigan sweaters, and
tortoiseshell eyeglasses on women of every age and background. A bottle
of Chanel No. 5 perfume is sold every three seconds. Arguably, no other
individual has had a deeper impact on the visual aesthetic of the world.
But how did a poor orphan become a global icon of both luxury and
everyday style? How did she develop such vast, undying influence? And
what does our ongoing love of all things Chanel tell us about ourselves?
These are the mysteries that Rhonda K. Garelick unravels in
Mademoiselle.
 
Raised in rural poverty and orphaned
early, the young Chanel supported herself as best she could. Then, as
an uneducated nineteen-year-old café singer, she attracted the
attention of a wealthy and powerful admirer and parlayed his support
into her own hat design business. For the rest of Chanel’s life,
the professional, personal, and political were interwoven; her lovers
included diplomat Boy Capel; composer Igor Stravinsky; Romanov heir
Grand Duke Dmitri; Hugh Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster; poet Pierre
Reverdy; a Nazi officer; and several women as well. For all that, she
was profoundly alone, her romantic life relentlessly plagued by
abandonment and tragedy.
 
Chanel’s ambitions and
accomplishments were unparalleled. Her hat shop evolved into a clothing
empire. She became a noted theatrical and film costume designer,
collaborating with the likes of Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and Luchino
Visconti. The genius of Coco Chanel, Garelick shows, lay in the way she
absorbed the zeitgeist, reflecting it back to the world in her designs
and in what Garelick calls “wearable personality”—the
irresistible and contagious style infused with both world history and
Chanel’s nearly unbelievable life saga. By age forty, Chanel had
become a multimillionaire and a household name, and her Chanel
Corporation is still the highest-earning privately owned luxury goods
manufacturer in the world.
 
In Mademoiselle,
Garelick delivers the most probing, well-researched, and insightful
biography to date on this seemingly familiar but endlessly surprising
figure—a work that is truly both a heady intellectual study and a
literary page-turner.
Praise for Mademoiselle

 
“A detailed, wry and nuanced portrait of a
complicated woman that leaves the reader in a state of utterly
satisfying confusion—blissfully mesmerized and confounded by the
reality of the human spirit.”The Washington
Post

 
“Writing an exhaustive biography of
Chanel is a challenge comparable to racing a four-horse chariot. . . .
This makes the assured confidence with which Garelick tells her story
all the more remarkable.”The New York Review of
Books

“Broadly focused and beautifully
written.”The Wall Street Journal

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History:

4

Nov 01, 2014

My ARC courtesy of Random House/NetGalley; much thanks!

Biography of a fascinating and complex, though not very nice, woman. Focuses on the woman, rather than the fashion (which comes up; it's just not the focus).

For a further review: http://susannag.booklikes.com/post/11... .
4

Oct 14, 2014

This detailed and meticulously researched biography of Coco Chanel is certainly both readable and endlessly fascinating, with a wealth of information about Chanel herself and the times she lived in. The author has left no stone unturned to find out everything she could, but the result is a book that is in fact overly long and occasionally repetitive, with perhaps just too much detail. This is a shame, as the subject matter is so intriguing. The book is also marred by the use of (usually This detailed and meticulously researched biography of Coco Chanel is certainly both readable and endlessly fascinating, with a wealth of information about Chanel herself and the times she lived in. The author has left no stone unturned to find out everything she could, but the result is a book that is in fact overly long and occasionally repetitive, with perhaps just too much detail. This is a shame, as the subject matter is so intriguing. The book is also marred by the use of (usually anachronistic) American slang, which is out of place in a serious biography. (The text is peppered by expressions such as “women would spring for her perfume”, Cocteau could now live closer to his buddies”, many people seem to have “savvy”, Chanel “dates” Grand Duke Dmitri, and it seems unlikely that Chanel ever said, even in the original French, “a country that understands only comfort is screwed”.) The author also seems to be confused about the British Royal Family. “…the pro-Nazi branch of the British royal family, many of whose members participated in other Anglo-German strategies to end the war on German terms”. We all know about the Duke of Windsor having pro-Hitler sympathies, but he hardly constitutes a “branch”. Nor was Chanel’s former lover the Duke of Westminster a member of the royal family. And did Churchill really personally pay for the Paris flat of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, against British law? Such inaccuracies detract from an otherwise excellent biography, and for me at least made it less enjoyable than it could have been. A bit of healthy editing wouldn’t have come amiss either.
Nevertheless, overall this is a full and compelling biography and one which kept me reading to the end.
...more
3

Jan 22, 2017

Received Chanel No. 5 as a gift and curious to the hype about it, googled it, which took me to the woman behind, her rags to riches story and the controversy regarding her being a Nazi spy. I was captivated. She had my attention and I had to read a biography of this legendary woman.
This is the 1st book I picked up and I think it captures all what is to know about Coco Chanel. It is a very detailed and comprehensive book, extremely well researched. I am very impressed by the efforts the author Received Chanel No. 5 as a gift and curious to the hype about it, googled it, which took me to the woman behind, her rags to riches story and the controversy regarding her being a Nazi spy. I was captivated. She had my attention and I had to read a biography of this legendary woman.
This is the 1st book I picked up and I think it captures all what is to know about Coco Chanel. It is a very detailed and comprehensive book, extremely well researched. I am very impressed by the efforts the author has put in to compile this book as it contains information not only about Chanel but details of all the people she had in her life.
For me, the problem while reading this book was it was too lengthy and kind of dragged in between, repetitive at times. The flow of the book was interrupted by too much detail of the life and political ideologies of her lovers and general political scenario of her time that on few occasions it gave a history text book feel and I felt that where is Chanel in all this. I kept loosing interest in between which made it difficult to finish.
Nevertheless, this is a good book and I got to know a great deal about this fascinating, innovative lady who was a fashion game changer and gave a sense of freedom to women by her comfortable, realistic clothing. ...more
4

Jul 22, 2014

Thank you to NetGalley.

Although Chanel has been the subject of several books and films in the last few years, this biography promises to top them all. For the most part, it delivers. Garelick manages to position Coco Chanel as the central icon of the 20th century, connecting the dots between everything from women's suffrage (down with corsets!) to the seductive allure of Nazism (the sexy uniforms did for men what Chanel couture did for women!) and even the Kennedy assassination (Jackie's Thank you to NetGalley.

Although Chanel has been the subject of several books and films in the last few years, this biography promises to top them all. For the most part, it delivers. Garelick manages to position Coco Chanel as the central icon of the 20th century, connecting the dots between everything from women's suffrage (down with corsets!) to the seductive allure of Nazism (the sexy uniforms did for men what Chanel couture did for women!) and even the Kennedy assassination (Jackie's bloodstained raspberry wool boucle suit!).

Garelick shows a deep understanding of European and American culture, language, psychology and history as she draws these connections in a way that had me fascinated. Most Chanel biographies touch on Coco's life, loves, successes and subterfuges. The couple I've read were by people who knew her and were willing to keep her secrets. "Sleeping with the Enemy" by Hal Vaughan confines itself to exploring Chanel's activities in Paris during the Occupation and establishes that she was living in the Nazi-occupied Ritz and having a relationship with Hans von Dincklage. But "Mademoiselle" puts all this together, digging deeper than any of these other sources. Garelick deals rationally and evenly with the less savory aspects of Mademoiselle's life, including her documented anti-Semitism and her possible drug addiction. It's fascinating.

One outstanding piece of reportage is Garelick's description of visiting Chanel's salon and trying on her clothes. Whatever magic Chanel possessed, it is probably still in those clothes, and the author senses it. It is a delicious moment in the book.

My favorite passage is the account of Chanel's last act of "kindness" at the death of her best friend, or possibly "frenemy," Misia Sert. Chanel asked to be left alone with the body. When the doors were opened, hours later, Misia looked gorgeous, and about 20 years younger. "Chanel had...performed a bit of makeshift plastic surgery, expertly pulling back Misia's jowls and loose facial skin, which she secured--like so much excess fabric--behind her ears with dressmaker's pins--a designerly gesture of mingled love and cruelty perfectly summing up the thirty-year friendship of two eternal cocottes."

The above--plus the whole chapter devoted to analyzing the appeal of the Nazis--truly took my breath away.

For me, this book was a delight, mingling cultural and women's history with couture, my favorite subjects. But I think anyone interested in 20th century history and culture would enjoy this biography.
...more
4

Jul 02, 2014

Garelick possesses a straightforward effective writing style, every word serves a detailed purpose, part of the draw to this extensive biography.

An extremely comprehensive overview of the enigmatic Coco Chanel. I have read several books pertaining to Chanel, all revealing more or less similar information. Nothing was a revelation in this book, although fascinatingly entertaining nonetheless. No matter how much I read of this intriguing creature I am always captivated by her many flaws and Garelick possesses a straightforward effective writing style, every word serves a detailed purpose, part of the draw to this extensive biography.

An extremely comprehensive overview of the enigmatic Coco Chanel. I have read several books pertaining to Chanel, all revealing more or less similar information. Nothing was a revelation in this book, although fascinatingly entertaining nonetheless. No matter how much I read of this intriguing creature I am always captivated by her many flaws and artistic gift. There will never be another Chanel, not even close, I find this both a blessing and a curse.

Throughout the book there were numerous quotes, some from Chanel, others from various people close or familiar to the icon. I'm on the fence with their placement, at times they were distracting, other times their placement was perfect. Perhaps a dedicated area or strategic placement would have served this reader better, their intended impact would not have been lost due to awkward insertion.

Garelick was thorough, not only in regards to Chanel but her intimates as well. I appreciated the fine details of others, in fact it provides a deeper understanding of Chanel but at times it was a bit heavy, especially since my focus was all about Chanel. I understand Garelick's purpose in leaving no stone unturned, however, at moments less would have been best.

I enjoyed the images included, they were numerous, again it provided a more personal feel for Chanel along with the reading journey, plus it was exciting to see images of the past. I wish I was reading the paper copy as opposed to digital copy to relish the images in greater detail.

Garelick provides one of the better biographies I have perused, her details indicate her passion for capturing her subjects intimately, leaving no detail, rumor, or fact undocumented to her audience. Her nonsense writing style will keep your attention. Fans of fashion or of Chanel will savor this panoramic biography of an unforgettable fashion legend. ...more
3

Jul 17, 2014

Provided by Netgalley.

This book had so much information, perhaps too much. I learned so much about Coco, especially about her early life. I found this book to be a bit repetitive; after reading the first chapter, we know that Coco lied to everyone about her upbringing and dislike people writing things about you. I don't need to hear it every other paragraph. Overall, I enjoyed the information and the integration of quotes from the Mademoiselle herself. I think the book was too long. 500+ pages Provided by Netgalley.

This book had so much information, perhaps too much. I learned so much about Coco, especially about her early life. I found this book to be a bit repetitive; after reading the first chapter, we know that Coco lied to everyone about her upbringing and dislike people writing things about you. I don't need to hear it every other paragraph. Overall, I enjoyed the information and the integration of quotes from the Mademoiselle herself. I think the book was too long. 500+ pages is a bit much, especially considering that most the info is rehashed unnecessarily multiple times and drawn out. I think the book would have worked better if the info was more concise and less repeated. I liked that this book attempted to demystify Chanel a bit; it's easy to lose the women behind the idol. I skimmed a bit (the details about Coco learning how to sew/detail/hat make where way too draw out). I liked the wrap up at the end where it pulls Chanel into the future and generally appreciated the author's admiration for Coco Chanel. ...more
3

Apr 15, 2019

Vacationing in France for a few weeks, I was looking for something of that country and biographical to read. This book filled the bill on both counts. Even though I have no background and almost no interest in the fashion industry, I'm glad I read it. On the positive side, it was amazing to me that this seamstress-turned-designer became so prominent and successful, particularly during the first 50 years of the 20th century, and that she had such an impact on the styles of that era. (In that Vacationing in France for a few weeks, I was looking for something of that country and biographical to read. This book filled the bill on both counts. Even though I have no background and almost no interest in the fashion industry, I'm glad I read it. On the positive side, it was amazing to me that this seamstress-turned-designer became so prominent and successful, particularly during the first 50 years of the 20th century, and that she had such an impact on the styles of that era. (In that sense it truly is a good rags-to-riches story.) By almost any measure, Coco's was a fascinating life. On the negative side, the book was too long for my taste -- I'm a reader who often subscribes to the theory that inside every "big book" there is a "little book" trying to get out -- but it was easy to skim those parts of it where the author is surmising, speculating or otherwise falling in love with her own voice. Also, the subject was not someone I found myself rooting for -- she wasn't an exemplary individual -- and the author, I thought, bent over backwards trying to put the best face on things. (In my experience, authors who write biographies tend to "fall in love" with their subjects, which was the case here.). However, overall it was a worthwhile read and falls in the general category of a GOOD. BIOGRAPHY. ...more
5

Feb 17, 2015

Mademoiselle coco chanel and the pulse of history by Ronda K Garelick

THE BLURB
Certain lives are at once so exceptional, and yet so in step with their historical moments, that they illuminate cultural forces far beyond the scope of a single person. Such is the case with Coco Chanel, whose life offers one of the most fascinating tales of the twentieth century—throwing into dramatic relief an era of war, fashion, ardent nationalism, and earth-shaking change—here brilliantly treated, for the first Mademoiselle coco chanel and the pulse of history by Ronda K Garelick

THE BLURB
Certain lives are at once so exceptional, and yet so in step with their historical moments, that they illuminate cultural forces far beyond the scope of a single person. Such is the case with Coco Chanel, whose life offers one of the most fascinating tales of the twentieth century—throwing into dramatic relief an era of war, fashion, ardent nationalism, and earth-shaking change—here brilliantly treated, for the first time, with wide-ranging and incisive historical scrutiny.

Coco Chanel transformed forever the way women dressed. Her influence remains so pervasive that to this day we can see her afterimage a dozen times while just walking down a single street: in all the little black dresses, flat shoes, costume jewelry, cardigan sweaters, and tortoiseshell eyeglasses on women of every age and background. A bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume is sold every three seconds. Arguably, no other individual has had a deeper impact on the visual aesthetic of the world. But how did a poor orphan become a global icon of both luxury and everyday style? How did she develop such vast, undying influence? And what does our ongoing love of all things Chanel tell us about ourselves? These are the mysteries that Rhonda K. Garelick unravels in Mademoiselle.

Raised in rural poverty and orphaned early, the young Chanel supported herself as best she could. Then, as an uneducated nineteen-year-old café singer, she attracted the attention of a wealthy and powerful admirer and parlayed his support into her own hat design business. For the rest of Chanel’s life, the professional, personal, and political were interwoven; her lovers included diplomat Boy Capel; composer Igor Stravinsky; Romanov heir Grand Duke Dmitri; Hugh Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster; poet Pierre Reverdy; a Nazi officer; and several women as well. For all that, she was profoundly alone, her romantic life relentlessly plagued by abandonment and tragedy.

Chanel’s ambitions and accomplishments were unparalleled. Her hat shop evolved into a clothing empire. She became a noted theatrical and film costume designer, collaborating with the likes of Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and Luchino Visconti. The genius of Coco Chanel, Garelick shows, lay in the way she absorbed the zeitgeist, reflecting it back to the world in her designs and in what Garelick calls “wearable personality”—the irresistible and contagious style infused with both world history and Chanel’s nearly unbelievable life saga. By age forty, Chanel had become a multimillionaire and a household name, and her Chanel Corporation is still the highest-earning privately owned luxury goods manufacturer in the world.

WHAT I SAY
I just loved this book i had it of net gallery to review but paul brought me a hard back copy for christmas as i loved it so much i read it twice now
It tell you the life one of the most successful world conquerors
Gabrielle Coco Chanel is a corporate brand she was or i should say is a symbol of feminism her iconic outfits she still is now one of the most successful fashion bands of all time
She conjured up the little black dress , bobbed hair ,trousers for women , her contemporary chic
No5 was the first synthetically create perfume and still is now one of the world best selling perfume now every 3 seconds a bottle is sold
The handbag are still a best seller too
Rohonda done a wonderful job of writing this book
The research that gone into this most of took hours it so in depth i still feel coco Chanel remains something of a enigma
The book just fascinating account of her life i did feel she was part of her sister death what did you think?
She seem to like married men a lot too she mixed with some very high class people she loved her riding her horses
You feel as though you know her , her glamorous world of paris and le beau monde
I loved hear about her early life her sewing for her aunt
The book tell you all of her life from being born in the poor house to being rich
I enjoy hearing about the linked C in her logo a lot of people do know that her instals
We hear about the tweets to number 5
The book just brings Gabrielle
CoCo Chanel alive to me her journey was fascinating i did not know she was a singer and dancer she did sew as a bit of spare cash
It just so excellently documented i enjoyed hearing about all her achievements she will also ways be a legend to me
I still not sure of all chanel amazing life she seem to tell a lot of lies and half truths she like to fantasy about he life i still not sure why
I did feel so part were a lit bit long winded and a bit over description but i was just hooked on the story i just wanted to find out about her she just fascinated me and still does

The mystery around her still there now but i loved hearing about her rags to riches tale
Coco chanel was a very strong women she made her way up she battled all kinds of setbacks , problems and disappointed
But eventually she became a household name she a luxury products that we all loved
A must read book for any fan i just love it
It a very interesting book her story very sad but she was also very inspirational the book extraordinary i loved it
She had just such a fascinating life she was a amazing women i loved the start of her journey her hats sounded so good was that the start of chanel you got to read to find out just a great book to read and keep
5 dolls


...more
1

Sep 20, 2017

I did not care for the style of this book. If it was meant to be a biography, there was a lot of conjecture to Chanel's life! A streamlined "story" more along the lines of historical fiction would have been much more interesting. Also, there was too much background/focus on other people and political actions. I would have preferred a better focused, and thus more interesting book.
5

Feb 26, 2019

Sweeping, definitive, meticulous; Garelik's portrait of the fascinating Chanel is astute and revealing. The forces at play in twentieth-century Europe are not shied away from, illustrating how the rise of this fashion icon owes much to time in which it took place. This book condemns Chanel when it should, praises her if it must, but maintains a refreshingly objective perspective. The elegance of Chanel is palpable within these pages. The writing is stylish and utterly engaging. For fans of Sweeping, definitive, meticulous; Garelik's portrait of the fascinating Chanel is astute and revealing. The forces at play in twentieth-century Europe are not shied away from, illustrating how the rise of this fashion icon owes much to time in which it took place. This book condemns Chanel when it should, praises her if it must, but maintains a refreshingly objective perspective. The elegance of Chanel is palpable within these pages. The writing is stylish and utterly engaging. For fans of fashion, history, and French culture, this book is a must-read. ...more
5

Sep 04, 2014

Mademoiselle by Rhonda K. Garelick was the most riveting biography I have read in a long while. Chanel's stranger-than-fiction life, her unique vision, and her many lovers alone make for fascinating reading. But Garelick's biography probes deeper and delivers a complex portrait of the 20th century's most distinctive fashion voice.


Chanel was driven by a need for legitimacy and power, willing to do what it takes. She was a dictatorial and unsympathetic boss. She romanced friend's husbands, her Mademoiselle by Rhonda K. Garelick was the most riveting biography I have read in a long while. Chanel's stranger-than-fiction life, her unique vision, and her many lovers alone make for fascinating reading. But Garelick's biography probes deeper and delivers a complex portrait of the 20th century's most distinctive fashion voice.


Chanel was driven by a need for legitimacy and power, willing to do what it takes. She was a dictatorial and unsympathetic boss. She romanced friend's husbands, her friendships were fraught with competitive tension, and she could change alliances as it suited her. Yet men and women were charmed by her, attracted to her like moths to a flame.

Chanel's greatest creation was Chanel. She shed her past and rewrote it. She bought off and distanced her relatives in an effort to reinvent herself. Born to in the lowest class, she found work as a chorus line coquette. She became attached to in a playboy's harem where she learned the ways of the upper crust and met her true love, Boy Capel. Boy support Chanel's nascent millinery business which grew into her Chanel brand clothing.

Chanel knew the great avant garde lights of the 20s and 30s, artists of all disciplines. She lost her true love and a fiancée, had many lovers, but never achieved the one thing she desperately wanted: marriage--preferably to a titled man.

I had not realized that every 20th c. fashion trend started with Chanel: the boyish sleek dresses, the bobbed hair, the acceptance of costume jewelry and fake furs, the use of jersey for day wear (previously used for men's underwear only!), the bathing suit, the cardigan sweater, the sailor blouse, the pleated skirt, the little black dress, beach wear loose pajama pants, and even her legendary Chanel No. 5, a complex perfume that was not overtly floral.

Chanel believed clothing should enhance the natural body, have impeccable fit that allowed full range of motion, with an elegance of style.

Because larger, older women did not look well in Chanel clothes, the cult of youth was also her doing. Chanel herself proudly kept her figure and muscle tone.

Chanel was anti-Semite and supported the philosophy of the rising Nazi regime. Henry Ford, Charles Lindberg, The Duke of Windsor Edward and Wallace Simpson were all sympathetic to fascism. Chanel closed her house in 1939. During the Nazi occupation of France she became involved with an SS officer and was part of a clandestine mission to broker peace with Churchill, offering peace for capitulating to Germany's demands. Was her motivation political or was she doing what it took to survive? Her nephew, perhaps son, was imprisoned and she was desperate to have him released.

When Christian Dior's "New Look" returned to corsets and padding Chanel reopened her house to battle what she saw as a return to the overwrought styles she had reacted against in her early career. Jackie Kennedy wore a Chanel suit when President Kennedy was assassinated.

Garelick's style and presentation of the material is accessible and a pleasure to read. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good biography, is interested in fashion or history, or is fascinated by complex characters. I can not say I like Chanel as a human being, but I enjoyed every page of this biography.

I appreciate NetGalley and Random House allowing me access to the prepublication e-book. ...more
5

Nov 19, 2014

Jacqueline Kennedy was wearing a Chanel suit on the day her husband was assassinated. Marilyn Monroe famously adopted Chanel No. 5 as her scent. Even earlier, Hollywood clamored for Chanel to design its productions. Producer Samuel Goldwyn tried several times (unsuccessfully) to secure her cooperation for a biopic. Finally, Katharine Hepburn brought her to the stage in the musical “Coco.”

To say that Coco Chanel (1883-1971) brought fashion into the 20th century is no exaggeration. She had the Jacqueline Kennedy was wearing a Chanel suit on the day her husband was assassinated. Marilyn Monroe famously adopted Chanel No. 5 as her scent. Even earlier, Hollywood clamored for Chanel to design its productions. Producer Samuel Goldwyn tried several times (unsuccessfully) to secure her cooperation for a biopic. Finally, Katharine Hepburn brought her to the stage in the musical “Coco.”

To say that Coco Chanel (1883-1971) brought fashion into the 20th century is no exaggeration. She had the figure of a gamine and turned the 19th-century world of bustles and corsets into a streamlined outfit that millions of women wore with pleasure and ease. Chanel invented the little black dress and its infinite variations. She became iconic because she designed clothes — and so much else — for herself, and in the process made women wish to be similarly equipped.

One reason for Chanel’s success ran counter to what most of her rivals in the fashion industry considered axiomatic: A designer’s clothes ought to be unique and zealously protected from knockoff artists. Chanel alone realized that she would command the market and become wealthy by doing the opposite, allowing all kinds of manufacturers to replicate her style. The closer these imitators came to genuine Chanel, the more her own brand prospered, making her a very wealthy woman.

Rhonda Garelick takes her place in a long line of biographers who have told the Chanel story. What is so satisfying about Garelick’s book is that she acknowledges her predecessors and works their discoveries into her own narrative, demonstrating how over time biographies accrue in value. At the same time, she provides fresh interviews with Chanel’s friends and co-workers. Especially noteworthy is Garelick’s lucid explanation of Chanel’s involvement with the Nazis in German-occupied Paris. Chanel was no dupe. As someone attracted to power and uniforms and to claims of superiority, she welcomed Nazi hegemony. And her hold — not only on French fashion, but on the modern imagination — was so profound, she never apologized and never suffered the kind of collaborationist opprobrium that dogged other artists such as filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.

Even though Chanel — born in rural poverty and the product of a broken family — designed clothes for a democratic, mass-produced world, she was at heart a royalist, Garelick reveals. Chanel treated her own employees like serfs and committed them to a totalitarian regime that conceded nothing to the rights of workers. And yet, as Garelick also shows, Chanel’s influence on the democratic understanding of style — that it can be the possession of millions — remains an enduring part of her legacy. ...more
2

Aug 27, 2014

When I saw this biography on netgalley, I was intrigued because I know the name, but not the person behind the name. Unfortunately, I didn't like Mademoiselle as much as I thought.

It was very interesting to how she got into fashion, and what her early life was like. It did get very repetitive at times- it was tiring to read that Chanel wanted to re-write her own life over and over and over. Mademoiselle was very detailed and had a lot of information- too much information for me. There were times When I saw this biography on netgalley, I was intrigued because I know the name, but not the person behind the name. Unfortunately, I didn't like Mademoiselle as much as I thought.

It was very interesting to how she got into fashion, and what her early life was like. It did get very repetitive at times- it was tiring to read that Chanel wanted to re-write her own life over and over and over. Mademoiselle was very detailed and had a lot of information- too much information for me. There were times when I skimmed the book (mostly at the end of the book), just because I couldn't take in any more details. For me, there was so much detail that nothing really stood out to me. Sometimes it felt like names and events were thrown at me. And it felt much more like we got all of the different people and events that had an influence on Chanel personally and professionally, and not a lot about Chanel. I know that they all had a big impact on her life, but I wish I walked away with a better sense of Chanel.

I did like that there were photos and quotes from Chanel herself scattered throughout the book. It made Chanel much more real to see her own words throughout the book. It also seemed like a very objective look at Chanel's life, but as a result, it seemed a little dry, and I would have liked the little something extra that seemed missing. I do think anyone who's curious about Chanel and anyone who's into fashion will like this book.

Let's Rate It: Mademoiselle got a little too detailed and was a little too repetitive at times, which made it okay for me. It's still an interesting look at the person who started this huge and iconic company. Mademoiselle gets 2 stars.

*I received Mademoiselle from netgalley.com in exchange for a fair and honest review ...more
4

Jul 11, 2014

One of the most influential women in fashion. I have to admit that I do not own anything made by Chanel but it doesn't mean that I don't like the brand. The book goes through Gabrielle, the woman better known as Coco's life from her birth into poverty, through her rise in the fashion industry until her death. Although the author has included a chapter on the brand today.

As a budding historian on mainly European history, I found it fascinating to see how Coco Chanel had managed to influence One of the most influential women in fashion. I have to admit that I do not own anything made by Chanel but it doesn't mean that I don't like the brand. The book goes through Gabrielle, the woman better known as Coco's life from her birth into poverty, through her rise in the fashion industry until her death. Although the author has included a chapter on the brand today.

As a budding historian on mainly European history, I found it fascinating to see how Coco Chanel had managed to influence history, particularly in the Nazi Party. The author has created an interesting biography on such a remarkable woman whom I believe will still be well known by generations to come. Coco Chanel is the perfect example of the rags to riches story that many of us love. I would urge anyone who has an interest not only in fashion but in European history to read this amazing book. ...more
5

Sep 17, 2014

Garelick's biography of Chanel is well-researched and well-written. She occasionally throws out a tidbit based more on speculation than fact, but you can forgive Garelick because of the chutzpah with which she does it; the amount of interesting new information she's uncovered; and the stunning (but entirely plausible) interpretations of Chanel's behaviour distilled from new eyewitness accounts, newly released top secret government files, and Garelick's own vast knowledge of her topic. Coco would Garelick's biography of Chanel is well-researched and well-written. She occasionally throws out a tidbit based more on speculation than fact, but you can forgive Garelick because of the chutzpah with which she does it; the amount of interesting new information she's uncovered; and the stunning (but entirely plausible) interpretations of Chanel's behaviour distilled from new eyewitness accounts, newly released top secret government files, and Garelick's own vast knowledge of her topic. Coco would have been proud. And very, very angry. ...more
4

Jul 08, 2014

I really enjoyed this biography of Chanel. It is really well written. The book details the entire life of Chanel and the Chanel brand. It is a rags to riches story. I always enjoy biographies and movies about Chanel. This one is particularly exceptional. I would recommend this to anyone that enjoys a good biography or is interested in fashion.
4

Feb 07, 2015

This is a comprehensive look at Coco Chanel's live with an intriguing focus on how she shaped and was shaped by certain historical events, including her involvement with the Nazis. Chanel was a mysterious, multifaceted character and I'd hazard a guess this book is the closest we'll get to understanding what drove her and why she made some of the decisions she did.
4

Mar 07, 2016

Oops, finished this a while ago and forgot to mark it! I learnt so much fascinating (and horrifying) information from this book, and it was superbly researched. The one thing that annoyed me was sometimes it felt like the author was trying to make connections were there weren't necessarily, but this was a really thorough, engaging look at the life of Chanel.
0

Jan 28, 2017

i was fascinated. (no, not "fashionated" :)) It's a detailed and sober biography of a famous and complicated woman. Much of it is tragic, and some is disturbing. It's a worthwhile read.
4

Dec 10, 2018

This was an incredible book—it gave me exactly was I was hoping its title implied, an engaging story of a life coupled with a detailed account of its context and cultural currents. All biographies should follow the model Garelick has given us with ‘Mademoiselle.’

While the book is a bit unkind to its subject, there’s nothing here which indicates that a more delicate summation would have made for a better analysis of Chanel’s more controversial alliances. Yet, ‘Mademoiselle’ is not some simple This was an incredible book—it gave me exactly was I was hoping its title implied, an engaging story of a life coupled with a detailed account of its context and cultural currents. All biographies should follow the model Garelick has given us with ‘Mademoiselle.’

While the book is a bit unkind to its subject, there’s nothing here which indicates that a more delicate summation would have made for a better analysis of Chanel’s more controversial alliances. Yet, ‘Mademoiselle’ is not some simple shocking expose… rather, Garelick’s skill in placing Chanel’s work and relationships in context does well to help us understand Chanel, even if we do not pardon her.

Chanel’s style flourished in concert with a world whose strictures of morality and decorum were increasingly absurd given the flux and destruction which marked the beginning of the twentieth century (and the end of the long nineteenth). Women were ready for a style which fit their broadening purpose in society which increasingly went beyond their being homemakers. What this would require was a style of dress that allowed for movement, both societal and physical…


“She saw clothes and bodies in organic relation to each other, and knew how to cut garments to maximize movement. For Coco, the back, shoulders, and arms needed to be accorded their gull range of motion.”


This freedom of motion is what defined Chanel’s career. Freedom was also extended to what could be considered material for high fashion. Her bold use of jersey fabrics and low-class furs like rabbit defied convention, thereby democratizing style. But this democratic move was not uncomplicated. Due in large part to the cult Chanel managed to build around herself, Chanel’s vision was one of the first which made youth itself as a “desideratum of fashion.” Garelick wields the phrase “internalizing the corset” to illustrate what this meant—the regiments of diet and exercise as integral to exhibiting oneself fashionably sees its first steps in the 20th century here. Garelick observes that,


“Chanel’s clothes did not flatter older women, or women with fuller figures, whose curves transformed into something more like lumps under Coco’s sleek styles.”


There was more still that was implied in this youthful look in that it was the look of Chanel *herself* that was being promoted as the standard for the modern women. Wearing Chanel required that one *look like* Chanel, otherwise the ensemble simply wouldn’t shine—she *was* the garconne. The modern woman would use clothes to accessorize her silhouette… though that thin and androgynous silhouette was Chanel’s own. Garelick notes that Chanel’s somber and restrained stylistic motifs were ones she maintained throughout her career, paralleling the feeling of her own war-torn times, and poetically evoking the androgynous anonymity of her look to the anonymity of the modern “individual” as well as that of the fallen soldier whose death occurs just out of sight of the general population…

With her simple lines and clean approach, Chanel was not just clothing women, but reinventing them, in a weird way eliminating the murkiness of the feminine. Garelick demonstrates sharp perspective when she points out that underlying the picture of the liberated woman implicit in Chanel’s designs was a woman who was less and less feminine… that is, one which was more visible, more present. To use Lacan’s sense of the term, more along the lines of the “masculine principle.”

In her costuming for Cocteau’s production of ‘Antigone’ for instance, Chanel’s choices are praised for their masculinity and virility as against other “effeminate” earlier productions of the play which apparently did not capture the gravitas of Sophocles characters. Garelick makes the case that there is something in the simple and bold masculine character of Chanel’s work which reveals her attraction to fascism, the masculine political philosophy par excellence.

This bold presence in women’s dress was not just avant garde, but writ large. ‘Vogue’ in 1926 compared Chanel’s “little black dress” to the Ford in its universal appeal, “that ubiquitous, infinitely reproducible, infinitely chic garment […] the frock that all the world will wear.” Reflecting on this, Garelick writes that this was an apt description as both the automobile and the little black dress,


“[…] conferred mobility upon women both could be manufactured on a mass scale, and both would soon be indispensable.”


But these democratic choices in style and material also masked an elitism synonymous with the designers own pretensions. Chanel’s elitism was one which was, for lack of a better term, played off intuition, not inherited and not exactly earned. While noble birth and inherited wealth were not required, the inheritance of race and bodily stature played a role in the figure of the Chanelesque garconne. Garelick makes the interesting observation that the claims of racial elitism which underlie so much of Chanel’s life and work was ideal for a woman whose girlhood was spent at such a disadvantage and certainly came in handy for flattering her organic and untutored artistic longings as well as serve to provide a apologia for fascism itself. Chanel’s elitism remained democratic insofar as one needn’t do much else besides don the outfit and branding with their attendant cult of personality and magical aura.


“Fascism’s ingenious use of aesthetics resembled the inner workings of the fashion world to a startling extent […] fascism at its core was a phenomenon for the masses, designed to appeal to and manipulate enormous crowds. Fascism worked a special, transformative magic upon crowds, granting them shape and purpose and conferring upon their thousands of participants—even those of the humblest social station—an ennobling sense of transcendence and belonging.”


Furthermore…


“These phenomena all draw on the same elements: the lure of a privileged group of insiders; an insistence on youth, fitness, and physical beauty; a distinctly recognizable style; and powerful charismatic personalities. Fascism, as Susan Sontag famously pointed out, was sexy.”


The murkiness of the feminine was being exchanged for a picture of woman which was clear and universalized. The woman here was less a distinct figure than a unit of conformity…


“Chanelism actually inducted millions into a kind of parallel army, stamping them with and aesthetic image, not the ideal of the fascist woman, but of *the fascist man.* Even as Chanelism countermanded principles of traditional womanhood as preached by the fascists, it simultaneously led women matching in lockstep to the aesthetic template of fascist masculinity, creating what amounts to an odd mirroring, the ‘fascist look’ for men through the looking glass of women’s fashion.”


In her own life, Chanel borrowed from many narrative trappings of fascism, even cultivating her own origin myths which served to mask her true biography, just as fascism uses history as a tool rather than drawing sustenance from any sort of meaningful interpretation of stories or events.
After about a 15 year hiatus which began at the beginning of the Second World War, Chanel began to design once again in 1954. In the meantime she had been busy dating Nazis and playing diplomacy on their behalf. She even tried to use Nazi anti-Jewish legislation in her favor through trying to rid herself of her longtime business partners, who were Jewish (they proved to be one step ahead of her…).

While France was a little tired of Chanel by her 1954 comeback, favoring Dior’s more frilly and hoopy offerings which seemed to harken back to a simpler time, America was ready to take the mantel. With their democratic sense of style and desire for comfort, Chanel’s work was ideal for the American woman, even as Chanel’s own circle of luminaries diminished. The questions of icon, image, conformity, and mystique remained, and continue to remain two decades into the twenty first century. The questions raised through examining Chanel’s life are still remarkably relevant to our own. Garelick raises these questions with incredible intelligence, giving the reader a remarkable biography of a truly remarkable life. ...more
2

Jul 07, 2014

To delve into Chanel's life, relationships, and influence during the mid- to late 1930s, as war grew closer, is to approach volatile territory, to enter the debate about whether Chanel spent the war not merely as a Nazi sympathizer or collaborator, but as an enemy agent, a Nazi spy. Loc4175

By 1930, when Chanel was forty-seven, she employed 2,400 people and was worth at least $15 million, close to $1 billion in today's currency. To this day, every three seconds a bottle of Chanel No. 5 is sold; To delve into Chanel's life, relationships, and influence during the mid- to late 1930s, as war grew closer, is to approach volatile territory, to enter the debate about whether Chanel spent the war not merely as a Nazi sympathizer or collaborator, but as an enemy agent, a Nazi spy. Loc4175

By 1930, when Chanel was forty-seven, she employed 2,400 people and was worth at least $15 million, close to $1 billion in today's currency. To this day, every three seconds a bottle of Chanel No. 5 is sold; it is the most successful perfume in history. Loc90

I believe my first time ever having read something specific about Coco Chanel's life was in Flapper: A Madcap Story... (I could be confusing two books set in that time, however). I was surprised to discover that Chanel suffered a poor childhood, including being an orphan for a large portion of it. The fact that she rose up to be worth $1 billion in today's money by 1930 is astounding. I always knew of Coco Chanel, more as an entity of the fashion industry than anything else, but I never thought her personal story would prove so interesting. I honestly do not think I have owned a single Chanel item in my life, but the combination of loving history and a Project Runway fan somehow prepared me for the story of Chanel's life. Yes, I still recall a contestant on Project Runway from one or two seasons ago somehow NOT knowing who created the little black dress, I was surprised they did not kick the person off right there. That is a sacrilege in the fashion world, is it not?

The author vacillated between seemingly being enamored with Chanel and disturbed by her. In some regards this vacillation is warranted. While Chanel's rise from orphan to worldwide fame and fortune is commendable especially considering it did require talent, it is quite overshadowed/quelled by Chanel the individual. Chanel, to be blunt, appears to have been a rather despicable person. Between her pro-Nazi stance and subsequent spying, her consistent affairs with married men and her apparent despising of her own gender makes he rather irredeemable in my eyes. (Her propensity for having affairs with married men was too often to be purely coincidental and her distaste for her own gender made her quite ungrateful for the position other women buying her clothes had put her in.) Yes, she created an empire but much like the author describes, she was the dictator at the head of it all and who loves a dictator?

Overall I found the subject matter interesting but ultimately too repetitive. The author frequently commented on Coco's style as coming from her being a tomboy, having limited money, contrary to society and so on and so forth. The author would often used the same exact phrasing many times in the book. Ultimately the repetitions in addition to the unnecessary information added a considerable amount of pages that were better left out.

The author often seemed to note Coco's childhood as a cure-all salve for Coco's awful adult behavior. So at no point is an adult responsible for their own actions? Childhood is a get-out-of-anything free card? Good to know. Overall I would have preferred more neutrality from the author, she was clearly a fan of Coco's despite all she included about the woman. But as I said, she did seem to vacillate between disturbed and adoring.

When it came to the writing overall I would say it was good, however, it needed an editor. I also found the author to be prone to use words that did not feel authentic in the flow of the book, as if a thesaurus had been consulted unnecessarily. Also, numerous people in the book were referred to by multiple names and it would have simplified everything to refer to individuals by one name. It made the book feel even more crowded that it already was.

Overall Mademoiselle was an eye-opening account of the founder of one of the world's still major fashion brands. I feel as though this is likely to be one of the more well-rounded biographies on Coco, seeing as the author included a considerable amount of despicable behavior. Will I be buying a Chanel item anytime soon? No, especially now knowing what I know of the founder. Yes, she is long-dead but I see no need to support a brand with a disturbing history.

Coco on women

Despite her sixty-year career devoted to dressing women, Coco claimed to hold her sex in very low regard. “A woman,' she declared, 'equals envy plus vanity plus chatter plus a confused mind.” Loc2688

”The function of a woman is to be loved. My life is a failure,” she told Claude Delay. “Women must show their weakness, never their strength. A woman needs the regard of a man who loves her, without this gaze a woman dies.” Loc6247

”Women are becoming crazy. Men are living off them. The women are working and paying. It’s ridiculous. Women are becoming monsters because they want to be men.” Loc6249


Coco and her personal political involvements:

But Coco, with the rare exceptions of Boy Capel and Pierre Reverdy, was attracted by men who espoused the most antidemocratic, racially driven politics. Loc3331

Vaughan's access to previously classified intelligence documents provided long-missing, specific evidence not only of the extent of Chanel's involvement with the Nazis but also of how 'official' her status really was, she even received a Nazi code name and agent number. Loc4187

Coco and her behaviors:

In their later years, Misia and Coco fell into the shared habit of injecting themselves with morphine. According to some accounts, Chanel made only limited use of this opiate, in the form of physician-prescribed Sedol, to help her sleep. Other sources insist that Chanel was seriously dependent on the drug as well. Loc2835

Despite her much-touted patriotism, and her recent tricolore fashion palette, only three weeks after war was declared, she fired all 2,500 of her employees without warning and closed all her workshops. Loc5001

In his memoirs, Jacques Chazot reported a dinner party at which Coco indulged her animus against Jews, addressing herself to a female dining companion: [She said], “My dear, do you know why Jews love and understand painting so much better than they do music?” The woman was mutely astonished, a general silence fell. Chanel returned to her subject, sure of her dramatic effect, “Paintings sell better.” She then continued along in the same vein: “Don't forget either that there are three categories: the Jews, who are my friends that I adore and I have proof of this! The Israelites, whom you must be very wary of and avoid like the plague, and the Yids, who must be exterminated altogether.” Loc5458

Near the end of his life, in 1990, Faucigny spoke to a journalist who asked him about Chanel. His response was a blend of anger tempered with psychological insight: “She was such a nasty woman, a horrible woman! And she conducted herself very badly during the war. I recognize that she was very generous. She [was] a strange mixture of a woman, nasty, envious. She had every kind of success, everything one could imagine, and yet she was very ill at ease [mal dans sa peau], keeping a sort of resentment and bitterness toward people, which came from her difficult youth. Loc5494

”We left our concerns outside, our sorrows, our personal losses. She would not tolerate that!” What, then, did Chanel talk about? Often, her low opinion of others. Betty Catroux is one of many who remember Chanel's bitter view of the world. “She taught me to hate people and to trust no one,” Catroux says. “Everyone except her was at fault,” wrote Cecil Beaton. “When she talked about other people, it was always to speak ill of them,” says Gisle Franchomme. “She would say, 'Oh that one, she's horrible,' or 'She's an idiot,' or 'What a moron!' Things that nowadays are completely banal to say. But for an old woman, it was startling [to hear].” Loc6524

Disclosure: ARC received from Netgalley & publisher in exchange for an honest review. (They may regret this.) Any and all quotes were taken from an advanced edition subject to change in the final edition.
...more
3

Jan 14, 2019

3 STARS OUT OF 5
A fascinating biography for any fan of fashion, history, or fashion history. Do not be daunted by the page number - it's actually only 429 pages. The rest is the bibliography and index! A testament to Garelick's stupendous research abilities.

This is a thick biography for anyone who isn't a massive fan of Chanel the person, or Chanel the brand. There are meandering descriptions of the lives of the people Chanel encounters that go on for pages. It is a testimony to the amount of 3 STARS OUT OF 5
A fascinating biography for any fan of fashion, history, or fashion history. Do not be daunted by the page number - it's actually only 429 pages. The rest is the bibliography and index! A testament to Garelick's stupendous research abilities.

This is a thick biography for anyone who isn't a massive fan of Chanel the person, or Chanel the brand. There are meandering descriptions of the lives of the people Chanel encounters that go on for pages. It is a testimony to the amount of work Garelick did researching this book, but also a testimony to the amount of labour needed to get through this for anyone who isn't intrinsically fascinated by every minute detail of Gabrielle Chanel and her choices.

The pages-long detours are both the worst thing about this book and the best thing. Often times you will find yourself learning about the history of European countries and the political movements within them and completely forget you're reading a Chanel biography. Other times, there's a detour through the history of fashion - with some philosophical takes on the French's fascination with and identity to it. There's brief psychoanalysis of the characters involved in Chanel's life, too, and it all comes together to paint a VERY DETAILED picture of Chanel's life, personality, mental machinations, and political inclinations.

The part I found most interesting was the chapter that delved into Chanel's relationship with far-right, bigoted, and fascist ideologies. Her relationship with France's occupying Nazis and the espionage committed for the Nazi's were mostly brushed aside in her lifetime but in this book it, and her fascist ideologies, are all on display. You learn how Chanel turned on her Nazi friends in order to save her behind in the months leading up to WWII ending and an imminent Allied victory.

You learn how she destroyed almost all personal and familial relationships, and the misery this imparted on her in her later years. You are shown that above all, Chanel existed to survive, conquer, and thrive. She blended feminist modernity with conservatism and fascism to create a fashion style that could defeat the social limitations of her time period and yet stood beside it as a reflection of the norms of the day. She blended charismatic charm and empathy with cold, calculating sociopathy and manipulation to create a larger-than-life personality that permeated the very fabric of her clothing, perfume, and accessories.

The author did a very good job of making sure Chanel's actions are painted in the correct light - that her actions against and mistreatment of people are not brushed aside or painted in anything but a disparaging light. Especially Chanel's disdain for Jewishness is explored in earnest. There are a few moments in the book that claim we live in a world in which fascism has vanished - which is endearingly naive in this current political climate. However, it also imparts vital wisdom as to how fascists can manipulate large groups of people.

Chanel was not a kind person to most people and her brand's identity merging with that of progressiveness in fashion history was more accidental that on-purpose - although Chanel claims differently. This book created a fascinating picture of the miserable, sad, charismatic, intelligent woman Chanel was, and not the all-powerful, all-controlling, ingenious, mythical being she portrayed herself as. ...more
3

Apr 26, 2018

In this 585 page book (I read the Nook version), Chanel's biography ends on p. 393. That gives some insight into the detail of this book. I enjoyed the parts about Gabrielle, how she came to be Coco, and reading about the people with whom she was involved. But the author included so much information on many of those individuals that I skimmed a number of chapters about counts, poets, musicians, artists and aristocrats. Coco was from a poor family, and was raised in a convent, which affected her In this 585 page book (I read the Nook version), Chanel's biography ends on p. 393. That gives some insight into the detail of this book. I enjoyed the parts about Gabrielle, how she came to be Coco, and reading about the people with whom she was involved. But the author included so much information on many of those individuals that I skimmed a number of chapters about counts, poets, musicians, artists and aristocrats. Coco was from a poor family, and was raised in a convent, which affected her behavior and personality throughout her life. She was always seeking a way to be accepted into the higher levels of society, but for a woman of a working class background - and she herself was a "working girl" on occasion early on, as she struggled to pay bills any way she had to - that proved to be impossible. Her talent for fashion was her own, but the money on which she began her empire , starting as a milliner, came from wealthy men who were enchanted with Coco's beauty and independent ways. She usually got what she wanted (except for the title of wife and mother), and it becomes clear to the reader she was a hard working businesswoman who expected her workers, down to the models who stood for hours while she fit her designs to their bodies, to devote their lives to Maison Chanel. There is too much one could share about her life in this paragraph. In sum, I would say Coco Chanel wanted fame and fortune, which she eventually achieved. But happiness? She lost her one true love in a tragic accident, and even her dalliances and affairs, her chateau costing millions of francs, along with her friendships and connections with the likes of Picasso, Dali, and Stravinsky did not satisfy her. An eye opener for me was her anti-Semitism and fascist leanings. So strong was her pro-Hitler stance that after the war ended, she and others removed themselves from Paris to Switzerland, where she semi-retired. Over a decade later, coming back to the fashion world necessitated a new business arrangement with stores like Nieman Marcus in the United States, and this allowed Chanel to sweep her past under the rug (for the most part) and eventually reclaim her footing in the Paris fashion world. She was active into her eighties, unwilling to "turn over the keys to the kingdom" (p. 389) to the likes of YSL and Dior. Up to the end, Maison Chanel employed thousands of people and provided her the means to maintain her lifestyle of living at the best hotels, drinking champagne, and entertaining the best known names in society. ...more
3

May 02, 2017

The author writes well, and she brings the times in which Chanel lived and the people with whom she associated alive off the page. The book is informative, well researched, and the facts and conclusions are set forth clearly, allowing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

In general, I dislike books that glorify business practices that were detrimental to the workers because someone eventually got rich. I appreciated that the author made every effort not to let her celebration of The author writes well, and she brings the times in which Chanel lived and the people with whom she associated alive off the page. The book is informative, well researched, and the facts and conclusions are set forth clearly, allowing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

In general, I dislike books that glorify business practices that were detrimental to the workers because someone eventually got rich. I appreciated that the author made every effort not to let her celebration of Chanel's work, and the impact Chanel had on fashion and women's lives, bleed into hagiography. There are moments in the book, though, when this does happen. Two stuck out for me: the description of Chanel's collaboration with the Nazis (more extensive than I had realized) and the description of Chanel's relations with her workers.

Chanel certainly worked her way up from nothing, although through the largesse of rich lovers, and the author notes that her luck in being able to leverage this never seemed to make her more empathetic towards others. Her creations and conception of fashion continue to hold us today to a degree that I had not realized until reading this book.

However, I would have liked to have seen more examination of the way Chanel treated the women who worked for her. There are passages where Chanel is characterized as a "bad boss"--temperamental, nasty to workers personally--but it's couched in her "creativity" and implicitly excused as "diva" sort of behavior which is to be expected from someone as creative as she. Particularly since she was starting her fashion house in the pre-World War I years, a time when labor was fighting for rights all over the world and her rise coincided with the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York--it would have been helpful to have seen some examination of the sweatshops she ran in that context. The author certainly brings in history when it comes to the romantic figures in Chanel's life and when it comes to the rich and famous with whom she socialized. For me, it would have been more meaningful to have read about the labor history going on at the time and Chanel's working conditions in it.

(as an aside, there were parts where I disagreed with the historical analysis the author set forth--particularly with the Russian Revolution--which made me wary of her other historical analyses, although I lacked as much background to assess them as deeply).

The author goes into more depth with Chanel's collaboration with the Nazis--which is horrifying, particularly how she attempted to use the laws of the Nazis to take the perfume business from the two Jewish men who helped her make her fortune. After reading this book, particularly this part, it's hard for me to buy into the mystique any longer. I don't think I'll ever buy anything from Chanel.

There are two final aspects of the book where I would have been interested to see more development. With respect to the impact Chanel had on the fashion world, I would have been interested to see more analysis of how she influenced the way that women manipulate their bodies. The author makes some passing comment about how the voluptuous women who were the height of fashion in Belle Epoque France started to diet to be more like the willowy Chanel. But this seems superficial in comparison with the Cult of Thinness that has been cultivated all over the world ever since. The scandals about how thin models have to be and the new rules in the fashion world that have been instituted to keep from requiring extreme dieting and health consequences get no comment. Are they the consequences of Chanel's popularization of the thin, boyish figure?

In addition to the above, I gave this book 3 stars because I never felt I quite got to know Chanel. The author makes many efforts to show her as a full person--warts and all--yet, I never felt I understood the reason that she turned as bitter as she did. The author makes many conclusions about the reasons for the turns in her life with which I disagree. It's a strength of this book that the author lays out the facts so that the reader can draw his or her own conclusions. The author clearly feels that Chanel became bitter over her inability to find a life partner, but it's not clear to me that this is what caused her to be bitter. Her bitterness seems to start when her first love rejected her for a woman of higher class.

I do recommend reading this book. For me, it gave me an incentive to continue to explore the themes that the author did not. ...more
2

Apr 06, 2018

I struggled for a bit between giving 2 or 3 stars - the book is clearly well researched and for the most part, well written. The book could (perhaps should) have been condensed more, but there is a large swath of history contained in the pages.

When I first posted I was reading this book, a friend expressed surprise, since I could not have even told you what the Chanel logo looks like. Although uninterested in fashion, I expected to read a story about a strong, pioneering women who paved a path I struggled for a bit between giving 2 or 3 stars - the book is clearly well researched and for the most part, well written. The book could (perhaps should) have been condensed more, but there is a large swath of history contained in the pages.

When I first posted I was reading this book, a friend expressed surprise, since I could not have even told you what the Chanel logo looks like. Although uninterested in fashion, I expected to read a story about a strong, pioneering women who paved a path for others to follow, and get a great history lesson to boot

The latter expectation was met; I found the view of history through the lens of a number of social and artistic personages to be interesting. The story of Coco, however, I found to be disappointing. Beyond the fact that her character as portrayed was not one I respect, the number of times that she was linked with a "man who made her success" annoyed me to no end, as it directly contrasted what I had hoped to be the crux of the story.

And this is where the author walked a fine line in her writing - though she presented facts and also some speculation, she clearly tried to make Coco more sympathetic and brush over the less attractive truths in order to compliment the fashion genius of the icon. Toward the end of the book, I definitely had the sense the author had more facts than she conveyed due to restrictions placed upon her. In the end, it was this "spin" which led me to give 2 stars rather than 3. ...more

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