Chanel: A Woman of Her Own

Axel Madsen, Author, Alex Madsen, Author
Axel Madsen, Author, Alex Madsen, Author Henry Holt & Company $21.95 (388p) ISBN 978-0-8050-0961-3
Reviewed on: 05/01/1990
Release date: 05/01/1990
When it was suggested to the elderly Gabrielle Chanel (1883-1971) that she see a psychiatrist, she replied, ``I, who never told the truth to my priest?'' In this full-length, very readable biography of Coco, as the legendary French designer was called, Madsen does a commendable job of ferreting out the seeming truth of a woman apparently as deft at fabricating her life as she was with a needle and thread. The biographer of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir is at his best here when synthesizing his subject from known facts and suppositions, beginning with Chanel's penniless start as an orphan to her death at age 88 in a hotel room, alone--except for a maid--a millionaire designer of inventive clothing for women, from the famed ``little black dress'' to sportswear. With great stamina, Madsen chronicles Chanel's meteoric rise and the succession of celebrated friends and lovers she met along the way: Winston Churchill and Igor Stravinsky, to name two, fell under her spell. And if the designer's life was extravagant, the genius of her style lay, as Madsen tells it, in simplicity and a regard for function. Photos not seen by PW. (May)
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