Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life

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Author: Justine Picardie
ISBN: 978-000-731-7615
RRP: $45.00

Chanel is a name synonymous with fashion and fine perfume even today though the woman behind the name passed from this world very nearly 40 years ago. My first thought on finishing this book was that it should have been released on the 10th of January 2011, on the 40th anniversary of Coco Chanel’s passing.

The legend that is Coco Chanel lives on. There have been other biographies before though none, I’m sure, as thorough and detailed as this one penned by Justine Picardie.

coco chanel: the legend and the life

This biography follows Chanel from the birth of the lady behind the legend and the inception of the brand that revolutionized fashion – twice – right up until her passing. It is thorough and detailed in a way that is quite surprising considering so much of her early life has been shrouded in mystery or been deliberately left inconclusive by Mademoiselle Chanel herself.

Justine Picardie has written an insightful and interesting biography of Coco Chanel and all of the major characters that shared in her life. The men that Coco shared affairs with are introduced with complete back stories so we feel that we are really getting to know them as well. Friends and family that helped to shape the lady that Chanel was to become also feature, of course, with detailed accounts of their lives prior to and away from Coco Chanel.

Born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on 19thAugust 1883, a date that Chanel later tried to erase, in circumstances that have been retold with differing details multiple times it is hard to be certain of much to do with Chanel’s early life. Throughout her childhood she was known as Gabrielle, it wasn’t until later on that the name Coco Chanel was created; again in un-confirmable circumstances.

Throughout this biography there are many reminiscences and remembered conversations with friends. Heavily featured is Paul Morand; a writer Coco tried, and failed, to tell the story of her life and Claude Delay, an eminent psychoanalyst.

Like women the world over I am familiar with the name Chanel but I never gave much thought to the origins of the brand. This has given me a clear picture of the trials and obstacles that Mademoiselle Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel faced and overcame to become the legendary figure she is today.

Justine Picardie has brought to life the places most important to Chanel. The opening chapter: Mademoiselle is at Home is a description, in minute detail, of the House of Chanel. The vivid descriptions bring the House of Chanel to life, if you were to close your eyes the rooms would appear in full colour in front of you.

The spirit of Mademoiselle Chanel lives on in her work and in the hearts of all who knew her and all those still working in the House of Chanel. Justine Picardie’s words tell of places so alive with her memory that she can still be felt, at any moment it would be no surprise for her spirit to enter a room or her footsteps to be heard on the staircase.

This portrait of Mademoiselle Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel is an inspiring look at the journey from abandoned child to self-made fashion legend. It sheds a new light on all the aspects of her life that have been hidden and covered up which has been made possible by Justine Picardie’s unprecedented access to the Chanel archive.

One thing I haven’t mentioned about Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life is the pictures. Throughout the book there are many photos and pictures that play an important role in telling the tale. Photos of Mademoiselle Chanel and the people and places that shared in her life. These help to bring Picardie’s vivid descriptions to life.

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