- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: William Morrow (March 17, 2015)
She revolutionized fashion and built an international empire . . . all on her own terms.
Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her sisters are sent to a convent orphanage after their mother’s death. The nuns of the order nurture Gabrielle’s exceptional sewing skills, a talent that would propel the willful young woman into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood.
Burning with ambition, the petite brunette transforms herself into Coco, by day a hard-working seamstress and by night a singer in a nightclub, where her incandescence draws in a wealthy gentleman who becomes 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, Coco’s sleek, minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As her reputation spreads, her couture business explodes, taking her into rarefied circles of society 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 always.
An enthralling novel about an entirely self-made woman, Mademoiselle Chanel tells the true story of Coco Chanel’s extraordinary ambition, passion, and artistic vision.
Buy, read, and discuss Mademoiselle Chanel
A former fashion executive, C. W. Gortner is a lifelong admirer of Coco Chanel. His passion for writing led him to give up fashion, and his many historical novels have been bestsellers, published in more than twenty countries. He lives in San Francisco.
Connect with C.W.
I don’t think there’s a person in the world who hasn’t at least heard the name “Coco Chanel,” but I’m guessing most people don’t know much about her life. My mother went to fashion design school (FIT) on a Regent’s scholarship, so even though I don’t sew, I know all the icons of fashion, and understand the importance of Chanel to fashion in general and women’s fashion, specifically, and so it was with my mother in mind that I asked to review this novel.
I ended up not merely reading it, but devouring it. It’s a fantastic look at the life of one of the best-known names in contemporary history, and while it is technically fiction, I’m certain that the author C.W. Gortner has done a huge amount of research, because it all feels very real.
From a childhood in abject poverty to an adolescence in a convent, from singing in cafes to becoming someone’s mistress as a means of escaping her small-town life, Coco is a poster-girl for the concept of choice. Some of her choices are high percentage choices, some not so much, but her strong personality and desire not to be indebted people combine to make her, as depicted, a fierce, strong woman, and definitely a proto-feminist (whether or not she ever accepted the label.)
C.W. Gortner has given us Coco’s story in first person, and until I put together my review, I didn’t realize he was a man. I mean this as a compliment. Ususally when male authors write from a female POV there’s something a little ‘off’ about it. In this case, there was not. He writes a female viewpoint as deftly as Arthur Golden did in Memoirs of a Geisha, which was another novel about a strong woman making her own choices.
While I enjoyed all of the detail in this novel, I particularly loved Coco’s discovery of Jersey knits. (My mother would be able to rattle off fifty-three things you can do with Jersey, I’m sure.) That moment was really one of the ‘lightbulb’ moments in Gortner’s novel, whether he meant it to be or not, and I thought it was perfect.
Whenever you fictionalize the life of a real person you have to balance truth with facts (no, they’re not always the same). I can’t speak to whether or not Gortner got every fact correct, but I know that Mademoiselle Chanel has given us the truth of Coco Chanel’s life, and I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Goes well with Cappuccino, chocolate croissants, and, for those who smoke, a Gauloise cigarette.
Tuesday, March 17th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, March 18th: Books Without Any Pictures
Thursday, March 19th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, March 20th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, March 23rd: West Metro Mommy
Tuesday, March 24th: Walking With Nora
Wednesday, March 25th: Bibliotica – That’s ME!
Thursday, March 26th: Read. Write. Repeat.
Monday, March 30th: Drey’s Library
Tuesday, March 31st: Unshelfish
Wednesday, April 1st: Bibliophilia, Please
Thursday, April 2nd: Mom’s Small Victories
Friday, April 3rd: Svetlana’s Reads and Views