Friday, August 19, 2011
The Gospel According to Coco Chanel
On this, the birthday of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (born August 19, 1883), I thought I’d review a fun book I read last month, The Gospel According to Coco Chanel, by Karen Karbo. It’s subtitled Life Lessons from the World’s Most Elegant Woman and it’s in that subtitle that I realized that this book is for everybody. Because if you haven’t read any biographies on Chanel, this is a great introduction to the highlights of her amazing life, and if you have read biographies on Chanel, this is a great break from all that reading, taking what you already know about Coco and thinking about how it applies to you in the here and now.
With chapter names like “On Fearlessness,” “On Embracing the Moment,” and “On Money,” Karbo writes about Chanel’s life from beginning to end in an easy, accessible way that allows the reader to think of all the incredible things Coco was in her lifetime—an abandoned child, a struggling café singer, a fledgling designer, an icon, an aging woman in exile, the comeback of the fashion world—and to turn what Chanel experienced into a motivating self-help guide, or, at times, a cautionary tale, you decide.
Threaded throughout is the author’s desire to own a Chanel jacket. Oh do I understand that particular lust, but unlike Karbo, who at first insisted that the jacket had to be vintage Chanel, as in, a jacket coming from Chanel when Mademoiselle was alive and designing, I would be thrilled with, as Karbo calls it, “Lagerfeld-Chanel,” meaning anything designed by Karl Lagerfeld since he took over as creative director of Chanel in 1983. I thought this was a great theme to work through the book, the wanting of, and the hunt for, a Chanel jacket, and I could’ve used a lot more of it, actually. I won’t spoil the outcome of Karbo’s search for you, but it certainly makes me want to write my own rakish book on getting my hands on some Chanel beyond what I can buy at the beauty counter.
I tried this jacket on last November at Saks Fifth Avenue, which you can read about here. It was heavenly. It was also $4,200.
This is a great end of summer read that can get you pumped up for a weighty biography of Coco you could hunker down with this fall, like Chanel: A Woman of Her Own by Axel Madsen or the one I hope to own soon, Chanel and Her World by Edmonde Charles-Roux, who was the editor of Vogue Paris from 1954 to 1966. Even without going on to read other more substantial biographies, The Gospel According to Coco Chanel is a standout book, giving a quirky, entertaining twist to a subject who still exerts so much influence in the sphere of fashion.