This is a fictionalized telling of the life of Coco Chanel, and it strives to give a complete picture of the legendary designer. I admit to knowing next to nothing about her before I read the book, and it was quite fascinating to read how she managed to rise from poverty to become an icon in fashion. Born Gabrielle Chanel, she and her siblings were split apart after the death of her mother and abandonment of her father. During her schooling by nuns, she realized her talent for sewing and this led to her first designs of hats that were elegantly simple as opposed to the overly ornamented ones in vogue at the time.
From there she goes on to create the stylish and elegant clothing that she became famous for. She had a vision and a drive to create clothing for women to give them a freedom from constricting corsets. Her “little black dress and pearls” would become a staple in many closets, and she also branched out into jewelry and of course perfume! While she had a succession of lovers, some married, some not, she vowed never to depend on a man to support her and in some ways she comes across as not very kind and rather selfish. She smoked like a chimney and loved to suntan, but you know that the qualities that made her successful would be lauded in a man, no matter what time in history we are talking about.
Once World War II begins, her world changes and life in Paris is not what it once was. As I said, I’ve not read any actual biographies of her life but in this book she is portrayed as doing what she had to in order to survive and keep her business going. It appears that she was cozy with some of the Germans, and even used some of the hatred for Jews at the time to gain control of her perfume (which was produced by a Jewish company). On the other hand, she used her home in the country to hide those trying to escape from France, so it’s hard to say exactly what her thoughts were at the time.
It was an interesting read, and she will always be remembered as the glamourous and intelligent woman that changed fashion. I feel the need to go out and buy some Chanel No. 5 perfume and pearls now!