Home » Book Biz » BOOK BIZ — Thanks to Mademoiselle Chanel, we have many fashion icons

BOOK BIZ — Thanks to Mademoiselle Chanel, we have many fashion icons

Few people have had the impact on the world of fashion that Coco Chanel had. Forty years after her death, she is still an influence and interest in her continues. Her rags-to-riches story is inspiring aside from the dynamic life she lived and the legacy she left behind. C.W. Gortner captures all of it in this novel.

At the end of the book, he lists the most notable characters — real people — and what happened to them in later years. Another appendage I liked was the detailed list of fashion factors we now take for granted that Chanel introduced. Most women probably associate her with the little black dress, the quilted leather bag and ropes of pearls. But readers may be surprised to learn that she was the first to introduce costume jewelry, separates and mass produced clothes from her designs. Her fashionable separates, which are now staples in every woman’s wardrobe, began because her first Paris shop — a hat shop — was in a building with a dressmaker. No other dressmaker was allowed to operate in the building so resourceful Chanel designed and made separates to get around the building’s rule.

This fashion icon was born Gabrielle Chanel into abject poverty. After her mother died and her father disappeared, Gabrielle and sisters were sent to an orphanage run by nuns. She was happy there because it was the first time she’d had enough to eat. The nuns taught her to sew, and recognizing her natural talent, gave her increasingly difficult sewing projects.

Chanel’s life outside the orphanage was dire for several years as she toiled for a seamstress by day and sang in a cabaret by night. A popular song she frequently sang about a little dog named Coco led to her nickname. She tried lifting herself out of poverty by making hats and made her way to Paris by way of several years with a lover and benefactor.

Readers will travel with her through the struggles to gain recognition as a milliner and then as a clothing designer. The Paris shop grew and shops were opened in other French cities. The way her signature Chanel No. 5 fragrance got its name and the meaning of her logo are revealed.

Many famous people move in and out of her life. Her World War II years in occupied Paris are a significant part toward the end of the book. Her questionable activities with the Nazis forced her to flee Paris for Switzerland, but she did return in 1954 and continued to design until her death at age 84

— Lynn Lofton, mbj@msbusiness.com

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About Lynn Lofton

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