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Coco Chanel.jpg

Cannonball Read III: The Gospel According to Coco Chanel by Karen Karbo

By TheOutlawJosie | Books | April 25, 2011 |

By TheOutlawJosie | Books | April 25, 2011 |

This is a sweet, short little read about the epic figure of Coco Chanel. It’s couched in the story of the author’s search for the perfect little Chanel jacket, and that adds an interesting flavor to the book itself. Through the lens of that search, the author shows us—without ever really saying as much—that there will never be anyone quite like Coco Chanel, nor will there be the equal of her work. Karbo emphasizes the differences between “Chanel-Chanel” and “Lagerfeld-Chanel” and notes that while Karl Lagerfeld has preserved a lot of the stylistic traditions of Chanel’s house, the manufacture and temporal significance of the house is simply not the same.

Chanel and her clothing were remarkable for their time. Chanel was the one who ushered women out of the restrictive, ornamental age of frippery and into casual clothing that allowed them to actually function as active human beings. Once you read a little more about her, you understand how she came to be this person—she was a tempestuous woman who rode horses, had affairs, and fought societal conventions tooth and nail. As are so many movers and shakers, she also appears to have been truly unpleasant and obstinate, which must have been somewhat startling for the delicate clients who sought out her work. I kind of enjoy that, frequently uninterested in making nice as I am. It’s also nice to see a biographer hit a strange mixture of fangirldom and appreciation of her idols numerous flaws. She doesn’t shy away from addressing Chanel’s business mistakes or her personal ones, like dating a Nazi during World War II. It’s almost BECAUSE she notes these problems that Chanel’s successes seem so impressive, particularly when you consider the endurance of the Chanel name.

This is a light little book that’s packed with a surprising amount of information about Chanel and her era. The author can get a little trying—I found an incident where she and a friend took a picture they’d been expressly forbidden to take (of a dog, no less) particularly childish, unprofessional and stupid—and her idea of a life manual as directed by Chanel’s chutzpah is a little clunky, because the sectioning she sets up at the outset of the book gets further segmented more or less at random. That said, I’d definitely recommend it, particularly for those interested in fashion generally. I think it speaks well to the way social conventions affect the way we look at fashion, which I always find interesting.

For more of TheOutlawJosie’s reviews, check out her blog, The Outlaw Josie Brown.

This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.

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