Book Review: 'Mademoiselle Chanel'

Thursday, March 19, 2015

C.W. Gortner. William Morrow, 416 pp. $26.99

If you like Paula McLain's "The Paris Wife" or Therese Anne Fowler's "Z," then you'll love C.W. Gortner's "Mademoiselle Chanel." This book came at (what I believe is) the end of a series of books all somewhat connected to each other. As recognizable as Coco Chanel is, she was further introduced to me in reading Tilar J. Mazzel's "Hotel on the Place Vendome." And then I looked on my schedule to see what I would be reading this week, and I found this book.

What I like about Gortner's novel, which is unique from McLain or Fowler's novels, is that this is a book about a woman who achieved tremendous success on her own. She was not the "wife of" someone. She was independent, and while she accepted help from others, she did not rely on them.

Coco Chanel actually began as Gabrielle Chanel, the middle of three girls who were sent off to a girls' home when their mother died. She learned from the nuns who ran the home how to sew, and later became a milliner. She completely transformed women's style from the "more is more" mentality to a simpler approach. Her minimalist designs transcended even the recession that came with World War I.

Gortner not only focuses on Chanel the businesswoman, but also as Chanel the woman. She falls in love, several times, and she handles pain and joy and success and disappointment. What Gortner creates in his novel is a complete picture, a human behind one of the largest and most revered fashion houses even today.

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