For readers of The Paris Wife and Z comes this vivid novel full of drama, passion, tragedy, and beauty that stunningly imagines the life of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel—the ambitious, gifted laundrywoman’s daughter who revolutionized fashion, built an international empire, and become one of the most influential and controversial figures of the twentieth century.
Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her siblings are sent to orphanage after their mother’s death. The sisters nurture Gabrielle’s exceptional sewing skills, a talent that will propel the willful young woman into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood.
Transforming herself into Coco—a seamstress and sometime torch singer—the petite brunette burns with ambition, an incandescence that draws a wealthy gentleman who will become the love of her life. She immerses herself in his world of money and luxury, discovering a freedom that sparks her creativity. But it is only when her lover takes her to Paris that Coco discovers her destiny.
Rejecting the frilly, corseted silhouette of the past, her sleek, minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As Coco’s reputation spreads, her couturier business explodes, taking her into rarefied society circles and bohemian salons. But her fame and fortune cannot save her from heartbreak as the years pass. And when Paris falls to the Nazis, Coco is forced to make choices that will haunt her.
An enthralling novel of an extraordinary woman who created the life she desired, Mademoiselle Chanel explores the inner world of a woman of staggering ambition whose strength, passion and artistic vision would become her trademark.
The formidable task of telling the rags-to-riches story of fashion doyenne Coco Chanel is almost pulled off in this lengthy book by historical novelist Gortner (The Tudor Vendetta). We learn of her father who abandoned his five children, that Gabrielle Chanel's first entry into fashion was as a milliner, how she came to be called "Coco," the birth of the Chanel logo, the origin of her famous perfume named for test-sample bottle number five; and her creation of the famous "little black dress." Here, too, are the legendary artists and politicians who peopled her fabulous life Cocteau, Stravinsky, Picasso, Churchill, to name a few as well as her tumultuous relationships with a handful of financially successful men. And then there is her life during the German occupation of France, living at the Ritz, no less, where she had a liaison with a high-ranking German officer (Hans Gunther von Dincklage) leaving some questions about the nature of her true sympathies during WWII. Despite the colossal amount of facts we have about Chanel's life, we never get a real sense of the woman who turned fashion upside down in the 1920s, whether because the story is told in first person, or because the urgency to cover a voluminous amount of material leaves us with plenty of information but not enough heart and soul to get at the core of who this charismatic woman really was.
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This was a great beach read...
Mademoiselle Chanel, sure to be your favorite title of the year!
Prepare yourself for a novel that will have you reading into the night, a main character that will become your new best friend, and a story of a life that you will wish you could live! Mademoiselle Chanel will become the current book that you recommend to all of your friends. I say this as I truly believe C.W. Gortner has created one of the most intriguing historical fiction pieces I have read since the Pulitzer Prize winning Angela's Ashes. Gortner's narrative on the tempestuous life of the famous fashion designer Coco Chanel was the 114th book we have read in our women's book club, and we unanimously agree, it is one novel that no one should miss!
Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner Recaptures The Life Of The First Businesswoman
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was the world’s first businesswoman. Rising from the bottom, Chanel used her innate ingenuity and work-ethic to build one of the most recognisable and successful businesses ever. To paraphrase Chanel, she created her life because she was unhappy with it. Despite all of this, however, jealous competitors and misogynists have attempted to slander her legacy. The time has finally come that Coco Chanel is done justice, and that has come with C.W. Gortner’s Mademoiselle Chanel.
Gabrielle Chanel was born in Saumur, France into deep poverty to a deadbeat father and a physically ill mother. This loneliness only got worse after her mother died when Gabrielle turned 12 and when she was sent to Aubazine, a convent. Gabrielle turned her despair into application and effort when she learned the sewing at the convent and where the sisters helped turn her passion into a successful work venture.
At the age of 18 Chanel was sent to live at the boarding school in Moulins. While in Moulins she both pursued sewing and stage performing, which is when she became “Coco”, based off of the popular song "Qui qu'a vu Coco". In 1906, after failing to find success as a stage singer in Vichy, she returned to Moulins dedicated to her sewing.
Moulins was where Coco met the ex-military officer and aristocrat Etienne Balsan, and where she became his mistress. Coco replaced famous courtesan Emilienne d’Alencon, who ironically later became something of a business asset for Chanel, for Balsan, and there never really was any love shared between Chanel and Balsan. This time, however, brought Chanel to realize that her fate was to put her entire being into her work, despite all of the negatives Balsan said to her about it. This is the time when Chanel also learned the foreign but fine art of making powerful friends.
In 1908 Chanel began an affair with Arthur “Boy” Capel, one of Balsan’s friends. Chanel found a new feeling, something that she had never felt before, with Capel: love. This relationship also proved to be one of business as well, which put Chanel’s talent together with Capel’s money to open her first boutique at 21 rue Cambon Paris, which really put Chanel’s effort and determination into tangible results.
Boutiques in Deauville and Biarritz opened subsequently, which is the period when many influential people saw Chanel’s fashion as revolutionary and loved it. 1919 marked the most tragic event of her life when Boy was killed in an automobile accident. In 1921 Coco opened the first modern boutique at 31 rue Cambon and just 6 years later owned almost the entire rue Cambon. Continuing the rise that Chanel was taking, she made business contacts with Pierre Wertheimer, who introduced her Chanel No. 5 perfume in his department stores but who Chanel referred to as the “bandit who screwed me.”
Chanel worked her way into association with the British aristocracy in 1923 and for the next decade continued close relationships with it. Chanel closed her shops at the advent of World War II and the occupation of Paris, and in 1947 became one of the richest women in the world with a new profits deal with the Parfums Chanel line.
After having moved to Switzerland in 1945, Chanel returned to Paris in 1954. With her reemergence came her greatest popularity in Britain and America, which continues now all around the world. Coco Chanel died in 1971.
Now, with this background stated, we can delve into Gortner’s biography:
First, let us look at the great understanding of Chanel’s personality and spirit Gortner shows in this book. We understand that Chanel, growing up unstable and lonely, learned that money is true freedom. We also learn that Chanel neither hated men nor believed women to be superior; she was simply fiercely independent and determined to build her own life, not to be taken care of. The greatest thing Gortner succeeds in showing about Chanel’s personality is that she was constituted of great determination, which both helped her build the Chanel empire but also made many jealous, which was a great source of loneliness for Coco. Gortner really became Chanel herself, not the grand icon Chanel, not the stoic businesswoman. He wrote of the true, everyday, and genuine Coco Chanel, which is more important to her legacy than anything else.
Next, we must address how Gortner describes the setting around Chanel’s life. Gortner is a master of developing both multi-layered characters and environments in his novels, but Mademoiselle Chanel brings this skill to another level. Whether it be the forests of rural France or the urban streets of Paris, Gortner brings to life the world Coco Chanel lived in, which adds an aspect into understanding the legend, her era, and her work.
Finally Mademoiselle Chanel is a kind of biography that really hasn’t been seen before. In the same vein as Jack Kennedy, Chanel is unique in that no one can ever truly and completely understand every aspect of her life. Gortner, with great skill and intellect, recognises this and doesn’t attempt to achieve the impossible. Instead, he takes on what I consider to be a more daunting task: writing a biography that shows the genuine Coco Chanel and wanting us to base our opinions of the icon on that truth. Gortner achieves this magnificently, and makes Mademoiselle Chanel ingenious and revolutionary, just as Coco Chanel’s life was.
As intoxicating as the jasmine aromas of Chanel No. 5 and as revolutionary as the Little Black Dress, C. W. Gortner’s Mademoiselle Chanel reclaims the legacy of the world’s first businesswoman and shows the genuine Coco Chanel.