Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life

I finally delved into the biography of Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life by Justine Picardie.

It is as honest an account of her life as can be achieved from the various versions of her life that abound. Much of this is due to half-truths and lies aimed at creating the variety of myths which surround this woman, who was responsible for most of them. Adept at creating couture which has stood the test of time (think the bobbed haircut, little black dress, the Chanel suit), she was a master of illusion within her own life, as Picardie discovers.

The result is that Picardie will often relate details of Chanel’s life from different sources, which offer different versions. It is like seeing one of those jigsaw puzzles which have no corners- it can be quite hard to see where the truth emerges from the fantasy.

The extensive research into the Chanel and private archives also shed  light on aspects of Chanel’s life which were little-known, largely her relationship with the Duke of Westminster and her friendship with Winston Churchill, a close friend of the Duke’s. Her relationship with a German officer during World War Two, in which Chanel chose to remain in Paris is also documented.

Her business relationships are also revealed, which makes for interesting reading. The creation of Chanel No. 5 and the subsequent battles for control of the fragrance line reveals more about Chanel’s character as a person driven to control on her terms.

In the end, Chanel emerges as a not particularly likeable individual, but a woman who had drive, ambition and a tenacity that should be respected and admired.

For fashionistas, a very enjoyable book!


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