About the book-
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 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.
I remember the very first bottle of perfume I bought. I was 19 and I was in Paris with my parents and siblings, in awe of all of the romantic surroundings and at the most amazing shopping center I had ever seen. I wanted to buy something quintessentially French, but something different than the norm. I knew I wanted Chanel because what girl doesn't want something Chanel in her house? I chose a very spicy scent called Coco. I still have a tiny bit left in the bottle 13 years later because it is such special purchase for me, my first Chanel perfume! There is just something so classy about the Chanel brand, so when I saw this book I wanted to learn more about this woman and how she came to be one of the most famous fashion icons of all time. I absolutely did not know a thing about her. Her life, especially her young life, were full of sadness. That is clear by the fact that she constantly was lying about where she was from and making up stories about her young life. She clearly wanted to create a different life for herself and with determination, individuality and the right people, she managed to do just that. Her style was quite risque in her younger days, in a time when everyone was wearing frumpy long, constricting dresses, Coco wanted to wear pantsuits. Even in that time period she wasn't well known but made a name for herself by word of mouth really. I absolutely loved learning about the girl with the humble beginnings turning into this person that will be talked about for centuries to come. Her life story is interesting, one I think even someone that isn't interested in the Chanel brand would enjoy reading. There are some parts that made me extremely sad for her, but in the end, I think she was exactly who she wanted to be and I think that is her legacy. I recommend this book to anyone interested in Coco Chanel, French history,or who enjoys reading biographies about iconic figures.
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