Tuesday, March 17, 2015


One of five children born to a penurious laundry woman in 1883 Chanel and her siblings are sent to orphanages following their mother’s death.  She and her sisters had the good fortune to be taken in by nuns where Chanel’s skill with a needle was first recognized.  As the story is related in the first person we are privy to not only historical data but Chanel’s imagined thoughts,  dreams and desires.  She was a relentlessly driven woman whose ambition would carry her to the top where she would become one of the most controversial and influential women of the 20th century.

Her life was peopled with fascinating folk and we meet them all - Cocteau, Picasso, Stravinsky, Churchill.  There are also her lovers, primarily financially successful men who would believe in her and assist her in building an internationally famous business with shops throughout the world as women fought for her “little black dresses” and collections designed to free women from their current “corseted” days.  Her fragrance Chanel No. 5 was sought after then as it is today.

Once old enough to leaves the care of the nuns Chanel first worked in a millinery business but soon tired of that and tried her luck as a chanteuse in a café with the stage name of Coco.  She soon met Balsan who became her lover and launched her into the fashion world where she designed hats for his wealthy friends and their courtesans.  It is through him that she is introduced to Arthur Capel known as “Boy” who was to become the love of her life.  He took her to Paris where with his help she opened an atelier.  She was off!

The author also touches on her life during the German occupation.  She had been living in an apartment at the Ritz Hotel where she met a high-ranking German officer who became her lover.  Hence, questions arose about her loyalties during World War II.

Whatever the case she was and remains one of the most fascinating figures known - strong,  captivating, a couture icon whose influence remains with us today.  Gortner has given us a well-written, historically accurate study of this remarkable woman, as well as a delicious read.


- Gail Cooke

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