cover image Mademoiselle Chanel

Mademoiselle Chanel

C.W. Gortner. Morrow, $26.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-235640-6

The formidable task of telling the rags-to-riches story of fashion doyenne Coco Chanel is almost pulled off in this lengthy book by historical novelist Gortner (The Tudor Vendetta). We learn of her father who abandoned his five children, that Gabrielle Chanel’s first entry into fashion was as a milliner, how she came to be called “Coco,” the birth of the Chanel logo, the origin of her famous perfume—named for test-sample bottle number five; and her creation of the famous “little black dress.” Here, too, are the legendary artists and politicians who peopled her fabulous life—Cocteau, Stravinsky, Picasso, Churchill, to name a few—as well as her tumultuous relationships with a handful of financially successful men. And then there is her life during the German occupation of France, living at the Ritz, no less, where she had a liaison with a high-ranking German officer (Hans Gunther von Dincklage) leaving some questions about the nature of her true sympathies during WWII. Despite the colossal amount of facts we have about Chanel’s life, we never get a real sense of the woman who turned fashion upside down in the 1920s, whether because the story is told in first person, or because the urgency to cover a voluminous amount of material leaves us with plenty of information but not enough heart and soul to get at the core of who this charismatic woman really was. (Mar.)