Chanel: Her Style and Her Life by Janet Wallach

I’d never read a book about a fashion designer (and never particularly wanted to do so), butchanel when I read in a newspaper article that Coco Chanel lived a fascinating life, I decided to try a biography of her and very much enjoyed reading it.

Born in France in 1883 to an itinerant peddler and his sickly wife, she was not yet twelve when her mother died and her father abandoned her, leaving her in an orphanage.  At the age of eighteen, she entered a boarding school, where she learned to sew.  She dreamed of achieving wealth and of leading a romantic life like those of characters in the novels that she read.

She began her adult life as a courtesan, a poor girl who found rich men to care for her.  Although she was not beautiful, her lively intelligence and wit made her popular.  Soon two of the men set her up in the business of designing women’s clothes.

She never sketched a design but immediately started cutting the cloth to create a garment.  Much of the way in which modern women dress is influenced by Chanel – comfortable, practical clothing and shoes, slacks, shoulder bags, sandals, rain coats, costume jewelry, and the “little black dress” all gained popularity because of her.  Although she was French, Americans particularly liked her fashions.  She eventually added perfume (Chanel No. 5) and jewelry to her line.

Although Chanel never married, the men in her life ranged from a Russian grand duke to a Nazi spy to the richest man in England.  A great conversationalist, well-read and knowledgeable about a wide variety of topics, she captivated many of those who met her.

This short biography includes many photographs and fashion sketches.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

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