cover image Coco Chanel: Pearls, Perfume, and the Little Black Dress

Coco Chanel: Pearls, Perfume, and the Little Black Dress

Susan Goldman Rubin. Abrams, $18.99 (144p) ISBN 978-1-4197-2544-9

In this handsomely designed biography, Rubin (Maya Lin: Thinking with Her Hands) offers a succinct, balanced portrayal of controversial haute couturière Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (1883–1971). After an impoverished start in life, the young milliner—reputed for her charm, temper, business acumen, and lies—turned her eye for comfort and simple lines into the House of Chanel, thanks to financial and emotional support from a series of rich men. Chanel’s working methods were unconventional: rather than draw her designs, she cut and pinned them directly on models herself. Known best for the “little black dress” and her signature perfume, Chanel also innovated the use of “masculine fabrics” and the adaptation of men’s styles to women’s clothing. With her success threatened in the 1930s by strikes, the advent of Elsa Schiaparelli, and war, Chanel closed her shop until finally, in 1954, she again produced, as one critic put it, “timeless clothes... which always look elegant.” Striving to redeem her subject, Rubin provides an even-handed discussion of Chanel’s possible collaboration with the Nazis and other wartime activities, but the book’s lasting impression is of an egotistical and opportunistic design genius. Ages 10–14. [em](Mar.) [/em]