Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick is a meticulously researched biography of Coco Chanel. I thought it was a great book, if a little long in some places, and really explained who Chanel was and how she became so successful. This is more than just your standard biography, it also relates Chanel’s life and designs to what is going on around her at the time. It also explains why her clothes were so popular, even though they were so different from everything else at the time. Garelick does not gloss over sensitive topics or actions that may not show Chanel in the best light, instead she focuses on what drove Chanel to behave the way she did. The Afterword briefly discussed what happened to the Chanel brand after Coco died, and tied up any loose ends in the book.
I found this book interesting for several reasons. I enjoyed reading about the life of Coco Chanel and the history of the Chanel brand, and it was very interesting to read about how it related to world history at the time. Chanel (the person and the brand) survived two world wars and I liked reading about how each affected Coco and her company. From a fashion standpoint, I really liked reading about Chanel’s innovations, how she worked, and where she got her inspiration from. She really changed how people dressed- getting rid of fussy details and making clothes much more comfortable and wearable. Chanel tended to draw inspiration from men’s clothing and created “luxurious poverty,” taking common fabrics and items and making them seem high-end. I also liked reading about her perfume business, and how she created and marketed Chanel No. 5 (I especially liked how she wore the perfume around town and had saleswomen spray the perfume around the boutique before it was released, and then feigned ignorance when customers asked her about it).
This is not a quick read. I’ve never read a biography of Chanel before, but I can imagine most of them are much shorter and less extensive than this one. The printed copy is over 600 pages, however I received a digital copy and only a little over half of it was the actual book- the rest was notes (a lot of notes) and a bibliography. I really liked this book and was glad it was so comprehensive- I felt like I got the whole story.
4 out of 5.
The release date for Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History is September 30, 2014, and it’s available for pre-order here.
Disclosure: I received a kindle version of Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.