Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life by Justine Picardie


“When I’m bored I feel very old, and since I’m extremely bored with you, I’m going to be a thousand years old in five minutes. . . .”

It would be difficult not to fall in love with anyone this honest and this blunt, but these are the “pearls” of wisdom that fell out of the mouth of Gabrielle Chanel. For those who intimately know the business of fashion, it is a fact that along with its cast of players come a large doses of lying or “embroidering the truth,” sarcasm, and bitchiness galore. Mlle. Chanel was by no means immune to any of these attributes.

Justine Picardie has given us new reason to doubt the very origins of the great designing mind of Chanel. Ms. Picardie points out, very assiduously, that Mlle. Chanel had more versions of the truth than any pathological liar could conjure up.

Chanel had a different version of every event, especially of her humble beginnings, and could weave a fairy tale faster than she could sew a button. What remains from all these versions is simply this: No one knows exactly where she came from, how she was raised, who raised her, nor even if she had birthed a child. It seems that Mlle. Chanel had no intention of ever leaving behind the “true” history of her life. What she did leave is a richly embroidered truth from which we can pick and choose regarding her life.

She was most definitely a woman who loved men and in most cases, a woman who felt it was worth it to support these men long after she bedded them. She was attracted to artists, aristocrats, phonies, the rich, the poor, the needy, but she always came away with something from each of them. There were two extremely questionable liaisons with two extremely questionable Germans, pairings that aroused the curiosity of many for many years—but even their stories were “enhanced.”

No matter the topic, no matter the situation, there are several things that one can say about the great Gabrielle Chanel and they are that: she was smart before it was vogue for women to be smart; she was talented before it was chic for a woman to exhibit her talents; she was opinionated, forthright, and painfully honest. Most of all there is the legacy that she left us.

“I’m not sure that I do entirely understand; for so much of Chanel remains enigmatic—the more you run after her, the more elusive her ghost becomes.”

For those who have read other biographies of Mlle. Chanel, this is the one to read since Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life will debunk many of your prior assumptions or at the very least, give you plausible reason to think twice about what you have previously read.