Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Book Review: The Gospel According to Coco Chanel

Books are among my favourite gifts and I was delighted to find The Gospel According to Coco Chanel under my Christmas tree.

Although there are many books about Coco Chanel, this one stands apart from the rest. Not just another biography, the author Karen Karbo extracts the lessons from the story of Chanel's life and frames them in a way that is useful to the modern woman. Written with a great deal of wit, I wanted to laugh out loud at times, especially when the author writes about a visit to Didier Ludot in Paris to find a vintage Chanel jacket. Karbo is charmingly cheeky and does not gush over the myth of Chanel. She writes with refreshing honesty about Chanel's many flaws including Chanel's disdain for her arch rival Elsa Schiaparelli, her ill-fated affair with a Nazi officer during the war, and her snarky temperment. And still, the book presents a witty and delightful manifesto for living life fearlessly, passionately and with elegance like the revered Coco Chanel.

Favourite Passage:

"One of the reasons we hold the magnificently imperfect Chanel up as the perfect manifestation of style is that she was never in doubt about what she liked and what suited her. Even when she was nothing more than Balsan's latest diversion, she appeared on his arm at the races with her small hat jammed on her head, her dark tailor-made suit, and a white blouse. People stared. Where was her platter hat? Her flounces, her tiered silken train, her petticoat, her boa?
To know who we are is a challenge for most of us. As dutiful consumers of media we are dogged by the feeling that we should exist in a state of eternal self-transformation. To plant our flag in the ground - right here, right now - and say "This is me!" seems to us to be settling for us, or giving up, or not being all that we can be." (page 22)

Title:  The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World's Most Elegant Woman
Author: Karen Karbo
Illustrated by: Chesley McLaren
Published by: skirt! An imprint of The Globe Pequot Press, 2009
Number of Pages: 229
Price: US$19.95, Canada $24.95 (hardcover)