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Summary

Justine Picardie has spent the last decade puzzling over the truth about Coco Chanel, attempting to peel away the accretions of romance and lies. In this full-scale biography we finally discover the history of the incredible woman who created the way we look now.

Coco Chanel was an extraordinary inventor - she conjured up the little black dress, bobbed hair, trousers for women, contemporary chic, best-selling perfumes, and the most successful fashion brand of all time - but she also invented herself, fashioning the myth of her own life with the same dexterity as her couture.

While Chanel was supreme innovator and vendor of all things elegant and beautiful, what lies beneath her own glossy myth is far darker. Throwing new light on her passionate and turbulent relationships, this beautifully constructed portrait gives a fresh and penetrating look at how Coco Chanel made herself into her own most powerful creation.

Justine Picardie brings the mysterious Gabrielle Chanel out of hiding, to celebrate her great achievements. She examines Chanel's enduring afterlife, as well as her remarkable life, uncovering the consequences of what she covered up, unpicking the seams between truth and legend, yet keeping intact the real fabric of her past.

©2010 Justine Picardie (P)2010 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent biography of a facinating woman

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this very well researched biography of a facinating woman. Justine Picardie has obviously worked really hard to paint a balanced picture of this woman of great contrasts and in such facinating detail that she brings to life the complex personality that was Coco Chanel. You get a strong sense of an extraordinary, ambitious and determind woman, of great sensuality and of vunerability. Chanel was a woman who did much good but who also had a dark side. Picardie tells Chanel's story from her earliest roots, living with her family in grinding povery in the late 19th century and then from the age of eleven at the Aubazine convent orphanage. She contrasts this with the great wealth and success that was to follow.
Particularly interesting are Chanel's romantic relationships and friendships with many leading figures from twentieth century history.
Through Justine Picardie's extensive research and feel for her subject you get a real sense of the woman, Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel. Picardie was given access to Chanel archives and met people who remembered Chanel, including her great-niece. She stayed at the convent where Chanel grew up, slept in Chanel's room at The Ritz and wrote some of the biography in Chanel's apartment at Rue Cambon.
Justine Picardie has written an interesting and hugely enjoyable book. I listened to it twice and there is such a lot in this audiobook that I enjoyed it just as much - if not more the second time.
Very highly recommended.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Philip
  • Tonbridge, United Kingdom
  • 22-02-11

interesting, if reverential

A very interesting 'life' but the worshipping at the shrine of the Chanel 'Legend' did get a little tiresome at times. Picardie detours from the biography off onto her own experiences of sitting in Chanel's appartment, Ritz room etc. etc. Plus a rather less relevant chapter on Jackie Kennedy

Picardie shows a tendancy to find influences and inspirations from Chanel's childhood which are perhaps a little far-fetched- or at least overworked. For Picardie all star motifs are descended from a star pattern on an orphanage floor- all white dresses stem from the communion dress that Chanel's father did not send her... 'Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar'

When it comes to Chanel's business Picardie is more concerned with style than substance. I would have liked more on Chanel's ways of making money- which were about as revolutionary as her clothes.

'the business' (or 'the house of Chanel' as Picardie preferred to call it,)seems to cast a long shadow over the book. Most of Picardie's sources (and the people who let her sit on Chanel's appartment, wear her clothes etc. etc.) are all still engaged in making money, in large quantities, from Chanel's memory- is it any wonder then that Chanel's less savory wartime activities are hardly examined with microscopic precision?

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Terrible narration and pronunciations, HarperAudio should be ashamed

As bad as the narrator was, equal blame must apply to the producers of this audiobook. Why did they hire someone who can barely pronounce English words never mind French? This poor actress has clearly never mastered her native language (she can’t pronounce “visceral”, “eviscerate” or “peremptory” at all) and massacres whole sections of the book with blithe indifference to English. As for her French pronunciation, it’s an insult to Chanel and the language of France. Abysmal production of what should have been a great listen. Woefully miscast. HarperAudio should be ashamed

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Coco is an inspiring legend

I really liked the story covered with many ambiguities, which makes it even more intriguing

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Elusive and enigmatic

Justine Picardie does a good job of trying to get to the heart of this iconic individual. Many questions remain unanswered but there’s a feel for a lady who ensured no one would ever truly understand her essence. Interesting and I enjoyed it.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Pamela
  • Oban, United Kingdom
  • 08-07-18

Fascinating book almost ruined by the reader's casual errors.

It isn't just the difficult French, or even English words that Cassandra Harwood manages to get wrong. She even pronounces Jeanne as Jean, confusing for the reader trying to differentiate the women from the men in the story. The mispronunciations are many and unremitting, and nearly spoilt for me what was otherwise a fascinating and well written book. I have given two stars for the reader only because her voice and diction are very clear, and the story therefore, despite Coco's constant obfuscations, as easy as it could be to follow.