Never before or since in the world of fashion has there been a woman as chic as Coco Chanel. She bravely cast off corsets, invented the little black dress, and built a fashion and fragrance empire from nothing. She makes everything from red carpet looks to nail polishes. Though she was very much in the public eye, Chanel’s past was cast in darkness. Born Gabrielle Chanel in 1883, Coco covered the tracks of her childhood and adolescence diligently. What little she didn’t hide was embellished shamelessly, and the stories told in numerous interviews before her death in 1971 often contradict each other.
In Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life, Justine Picardie presents her painstaking research into the life of the enigma that is Chanel. Picardie spins a little-known tale of poverty and neglect in Coco’s formative years, visiting the nunnery when Chanel spent her teenage years after the death of her mother. Later, she discusses the growth of the legendary House of Chanel as well as Chanel’s various lovers, including Etienne Balsan, a German Baron and the Duke of Westminster.
Though Picardie is mainly focused on the facts hidden beneath Chanel’s lavish stories, she also adds many of the anecdotes in the book to add some of Chanel’s famous charm. One tale Chanel told of her First Communion had three versions given to separate people.
The Legend and the Life is a wonderful book that has the power to move you through the decades of Chanel’s life effortlessly. Picardie’s sense of reverence and respect for a history the world was never supposed to know is refreshing. Although Chanel was one of the most talented designers of all time, after finishing this book it becomes apparent that her greatest masterpiece was herself.
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