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4.4 out of 5 stars
Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 17 January 2011
I think this is an excellent biography of Chanel and Justine Picardie has done a remarkable job in writing such a comprehensive, and very readable, account of her achievements. And those achievements are truly remarkable - from being an abandoned child to leading designer of the fashion world - the little black dress, the perfume, the handbag, the little suit. From being a seamstress to mingling with the great and the good (and sometimes the bad) such as Winston Churchill, Jackie Kennedy, Nijinsky, the Duke of Westminster, one of her long-term lovers, and many more famous characters. I liked the ways she seemed always to remain on good terms with her ex-lovers.
Chanel invented many versions of her own story and Picardie clearly went to great lengths to research this biography and to tease out (as far as it is ever possible to do) the truth from Chanel's fictions. I feel Chanel still remains something of an enigma ,as though she lets no one, regardeless of how hard they try, quite get to the essence of her. I also felt there was a huge sadness in her despite her spectacular successes. She changed the way women dressed and thought about themselves, in a way male fashion designers never did.
This is an absolutely fascinating account and beautifully produced book with lots of photographs (wish they could have been bigger), many never published before and illustrations. Reviewed by Mary Smith author of No More Mulberries
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on 1 October 2010
Yes, some aspects of Chanel's life were confusing: she herself gave so many different accounts to friends and biographers, particularly about her difficult childhood. But Justine Picardie deftly unpicks the lies, weighs up the evidence and provides what must be the definitive account of the great Mademoiselle's remarkable life and career.

And in a life that stretched from 1883 to 1971 Chanel met, dressed and romanced a glittering cast of characters: French artists, poets and playboys; Russian royals and musicians; British aristocrats and politicians; German soldiers and intelligence officers; Hollywood producers and film stars. Far from labouring Chanel's association with all of these characters, Picardie steers a delicate and compelling path through the maze of Chanel's social and professional life. And in so doing, she highlights a wealth of intriguing discoveries: the truth about Chanel's controversial wartime activities; the intriguing consequences of her friendship with Churchill; her role as a chatelaine in London society; and her regular visits to the highlands of Scotland to fish for salmon - with spectacular success - in between launching the little black dress and other timeless designs.

The production values of this book are terrific: I've rarely seen paper of this quality in a mainstream book; and the photographs - many never seen before - are sensational. But this is far from being merely a beautiful picture book that will appeal to followers of style and fashionistas: it is a truly comprehensive biography written in Picardie's distinctively personal style which carries the weight of her thorough research lightly.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 7 October 2011
The previous reviews on this book swung my purchase on this one as there are so many books to choose from on the subject, and it didnt disappoint!
I couldnt put this book down. Not only because it was so well written, well researched and detailed, but also the author really sets the scene for you when she visits places from Chanel's past, which I didnt expect, and it works brilliantly and brings the factual details and dates to life. If you're interested in Coco of just even the bohemian life in the 20s, this is the one you want.

(It may be of interest to note that many of the people in this book crop up in 'War Paint- lives of Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden (also purchased here on Amazon)- also an interesting book.)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I finished this in two days - I couldn't put it down. Chanel's life, loves, work and adventures really come alive in this absorbing biography. Justine Picardie has done a thorough and successful job in documenting the life of Coco Chanel, so much so that you feel as though you know her, her glamourous world of Paris and Le Beau Monde. As enjoyable as any novel, this biography is a compelling and fascinating read - loved it!
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 24 September 2010
This is the 4th bio of Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel that I have read and easily my favourite in terms of content. Readability wise, it's sometimes hard work as the typeset is small and entire pages of text can appear overwhelming. My advice - persevere because the depth of detail is staggering. There are many beautiful photos throughout (again, I would have preferred glossy photos), some of which I've not seen before, as well as snippets of letters and illustrations.

All the major aspects are explored in terms of her style, her muse's, her brand 'development' if you like - how did an abandoned little girl turn into one of the Worlds greatest style icon's? Chapters include information on her iconic statements - the linked C logo, the tweed, number 5, the riviera stripes and THAT bag - the 2.55 (I would personally kill for one!!!)- if any of these items make you salivate,this is a must buy! Essentially, she was a fascinating woman - a legend - and I loved the way JP humanised her and brought her back down to Earth by highlighting her foibles as well as her achievements and this really brought her to life for me.

Her journey is fascinating and excellently documented here - I have to salute JP!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 26 December 2010
This is a brilliant book, extremely well researched (in my opinion). The author has travelled to Auverne and most sites associated with Chanel, she has walked in Coco Chanel's steps, she stayed in the monastary, she visited the tennis court where Paul Iribe died, etc etc. Very stylishly written, the chapters are both topical and chronological (which takes some doing). Excellent photographs etc. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 November 2010
My initial impression of this book was fairly negative. An example - a phrase early on about when Chanel might have "become a woman" seemed unecessarily vague and affected and boded badly. Initially I found Picardie's suppositions of what Chanel might have thought and felt irritating. I had low expectations about what one could expect from a former fashion journalist.

The book, however, turned into a tremendously good read. Picardie had done immense amount of research into archives including those of the house of Chanel, the French police and secret service,the family of Winston Churchill, the Duke of Westminster. She is passionate about her subject. There is a huge amount of factual information but that's the point of a proper biography. Picardie is very skilful in weaving all these facts into an excellent and passionate narrative. Everything Chanel achieved was through her own efforts - it's an inspiring, if somewhat cautonary, tale.

A number of unanswered queries, which are not meant to detract from Picardie's excellent book. To what extent did the House of Chanel contribute to the writing of this book? Picardie must have spent quite a bit on travelling to all the locations referred to, sleeping at the Ritz, etc. - was she sponsored in any way? There are a lot of pretty bad and silly Lagerfeld drawings in the book. Their presence suggests the house's collaboration, unconfirmed by Picardie. I would like to have seen more photographs and fewer of these drawings. Many of the photographs are too small to see properly. It would be very interesting to know whether correspondence from any of her many illustrious lovers to third parties about her exists and, if so, what they said. More on the modern, elusive Wertheimers and who runs the house day-to-day would be very interesting. A sequel, please!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 April 2015
It took me a while to decide on the rating I should give this book. It is an interesting well written book.. So why three stars?
When I was looking for a book about Chanel I was looking to find information and inspiration, as a young professional woman, a designer in a male dominated industry I wanted to hear her voice, to understand her creative vision, to learn more about her business decisions and how a woman from a plane background managed to create an empire in an era when women had to fight for the right to do business. I found very little of this in the book. It is a book about a woman who lived in an interesting times and had romantic affairs with interesting men.. I think it does not do her justice. She is not famous today for having an affair with Duke of Westminster or a Russian Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich. She is famous today for building a Fashion Empire. But after reading this book you might mistakenly think that fashion was secondary, tiny part of her life while her main occupation was looking for the next high profile lover jumping from one scandal to another. My feeling after reading this book is one of a miss.
If you have a recommendation of a book about her that speaks more about her business acumen and creative vision please leave a note in the comments.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 5 October 2010
This is one of the most beautifully produced books I have had the pleasure of acquiring. And us lucky early orderers received it in a striking "book bag" complete with a Lagerfeld sketch of the legendary Chanel.

Unlike penny, I found the "diversions" into the secondary characters' backgrounds both fascinating and pertinent, and the unfolding of Chanel's amazing life with all its truths, half truths and pure fantasy, was skilfully done.

I can't add a great deal more to what has already been said by the other reviewers. I found it a most satisfying and rewarding read.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The name Coco Chanel is synonymous with style. But what of the woman behind the name: what do we know about the woman who designed simple yet sophisticated clothes, practical but elegant bags and shoes, and presented Chanel No 5 perfume to the world?

There is little simple about Coco Chanel. She was born Gabrielle Chanel on 19 August 1883 - a date that she later changed by hand in her passport. Gabrielle Chanel was born in a poorhouse; her parents were unmarried and, according to Chanel, her mother Jeanne died of tuberculosis when Chanel was aged six. Justine Picardie suggests that Jeanne died of `poverty, pregnancy and pneumonia' when Chanel was aged 11. According to Chanel, her father left her in the care of two unmarried aunts when he actually placed her in a convent orphanage in the village of Aubazine, where she was raised by nuns.

When World War One began in 1914, Chanel moved from Paris to Deauville, and built up a business. Chanel's personal life was also interesting and unconventional. She had a succession of glamorous lovers but it seems likely that the real love of her life was Arthur `Boy' Capel who died in a car accident in 1919.

I picked up this book knowing very little about Coco Chanel and wanting to read a little more about the woman who had such an influence on style during the 20th century. It's an interesting read, beautifully illustrated and informative without being exhaustive. It intrigued me to read that Coco Chanel's favourite novel was `Wuthering Heights', and that the austerity of the convent was a major influence on her design. By all accounts, Coco Chanel (19 August 1883 - 10 January 1971) lived a remarkable life.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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