Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life
Justine Picardie, HarperCollins 2010, 352 pp hardback
In the middle of a deep recession, one must cut one’s cloth accordingly, and, despite the noise and general acclaim surrounding the publication of Justine Picardie’s biography of Coco Chanel, I didn’t feel like laying out £25 to buy a copy last September, when it was published. I was very pleased (after having dropped a few hints) to receive one as a Christmas present. Picardie, who took 8 years to research and write this very stylish book is not merely a fashion writer – she was once Features Director at British Vogue – but a proper journalist, for the book involved a tremendous amount of research. With hindsight, I should have been glad to pay £25 of my own money for it.
As is made clear, Chanel consorted with the Moderns: Picasso, Cocteau, Dali, and financed Diaghilev’s, avant-garde, Ballet Russes. She was influenced by what she saw them doing but, ever the hard-nosed businesswoman, extracted only the elements which she considered might have commercial value and could be applied to her design work at that particular point in time. ‘Fashion,’ she said, ’should die and die quickly, in order that commerce may survive…’. For the beautiful villa she began building in 1929, La Pausa – incidentally, currently up for sale at €11,200,000, I discovered during my own research for this review – at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, high up in the Alpes Maritimes, with views towards the Mediterranean and Monaco and overlooking the rocky coastline below, in amongst which Eileen Gray’s (1924) radical and uncompromisingly modern villa, E-1207, perches, Chanel chose the Belle Epoque style. Perhaps she regarded Modernism as just another fad.
Mademoiselle Chanel’s reputation for contradiction is well-documented in the book – she altered not only her date of birth in her passport but her early biographical details, too, giving whatever version best suited her purpose at any given moment – and bearing this in mind, Patrick Budge’s smart and elegant design for the HarperCollins book package can be construed as consistent. Incidentally, the book’s cover font is in sans serif on Justine Picardie’s blogspot page, as opposed to the serif font version on the cover above.
Did you read it? What did you think? Please leave a comment