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Mademoiselle Chanel: A Novel by C. W.…
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Mademoiselle Chanel: A Novel

by C. W. Gortner

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Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner is about the life of famed clothing designer Coco Chanel and made for a gripping, absorbing story. This is a rag-to-riches tale of how a poor French girl called Gabrielle transformed herself into the darling of the fashionable world as Coco Chanel and then took herself even higher to become the Queen of all things dealing with French fashion.

She wasn’t always likeable, but she was always interesting. Extremely intense, stubborn, passionate and self-centered she did things her way and although she had help along the way, her career advanced mostly under her own talent and hard work. She is known today as the instigator of the “little black dress”, also for her collarless suits, and her namesake perfume, the iconic Chanel No. 5. She lived through very interesting times being born in 1883 and passing away in 1971, her style helped define the Roaring Twenties with her sporty, casual chic and she continued to build her business into a thriving empire during the 1930’s. World War II threw a dark shadow over her life and she took a number of years off after the war before coming out of retirement and launching a collection in 1954 which put her back on top once more.

The author manages to cover all areas of Chanel’s life and makes this story of an fiercely determined, ambitious woman an enthralling read that I enjoyed very much. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Jan 21, 2016 |
For readers of The Paris Wife and Z comes this vivid novel full of drama, passion, tragedy, and beauty that stunningly imagines the life of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel—the ambitious, gifted laundrywoman’s daughter who revolutionized fashion, built an international empire, and become one of the most influential and controversial figures of the twentieth century.

Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her siblings are sent to orphanage after their mother’s death. The sisters nurture Gabrielle’s exceptional sewing skills, a talent that will propel the willful young woman into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood.

Transforming herself into Coco—a seamstress and sometime torch singer—the petite brunette burns with ambition, an incandescence that draws a wealthy gentleman who will become the love of her life. She immerses herself in his world of money and luxury, discovering a freedom that sparks her creativity. But it is only when her lover takes her to Paris that Coco discovers her destiny.

Rejecting the frilly, corseted silhouette of the past, her sleek, minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As Coco’s reputation spreads, her couturier business explodes, taking her into rarefied society circles and bohemian salons. But her fame and fortune cannot save her from heartbreak as the years pass. And when Paris falls to the Nazis, Coco is forced to make choices that will haunt her. ( )
  cjordan916 | Jan 4, 2016 |
I requested this book because I was interested in the life of Coco Chanel. The book is written in the first person which I found unusual for a historical fiction novel but it worked very well. I often forgot that it was being told by the author and not Coco. Gortner’s writing is superb.

Coco (Gabrielle) Chanel is famous for her little black dress and her No. 5 perfume. Little did I know just how progressive – and stubborn – she was. Coco was not quite 12 years old when her unmarried mother died. Coco, her mother, her two sisters, and two brothers had already been abandoned by the father. After her mother’s death, the father sent the boys out to work as farm laborers and the girls were sent to a convent. Coco’s talent with the needle and thread eventually became her ticket out of the convent. For a while she was a club singer which is where she got the nickname Coco.

She was known for her determination (often plain hard-headedness) and ambition. She used men, as they used her. She had the worst luck when it came to men – usually being involved with society men who were either already married or had to marry within his circle in order to produce an heir to his property. Given these negatives, Coco would pretty much do anything for her friends. She is certainly not perfect but she is likeable.

I loved the depiction of how she came up with her famous Chanel No. 5 and the logo used with the packaging. She knew what she wanted and would settle for nothing less!

According to this book, while in the convent Coco began dismantling the gaudy hats of the time and simplified them. Later she expressed her dissatisfaction with the discomfort of the fashions of her time so she designed articles that allowed the woman to breathe. She did away with corsets and the frills that were so popular. She chopped off her long hair in a time when short hair on women was novel. She designed hats that the woman wore, instead of the hat wearing the woman. She was innovative in the materials she used. In 1915 with the war going on, adequate supply of fabric was a problem. This led to her acquisition of raw jersey which she turned into coats. Then mixing the jersey with cotton she designed a new line of dresses, cardigans, and coats. Her ability to adapt and stay at the cutting edge of design kept her products selling well.

When she became involved with a social set that was into riding horses she designed clothing that made it easier for the woman to mount and ride. She also designed for the yachting crowd.

I did not know of the controversy regarding her involvement with the Nazis. Some say she was a collaborator; others say she did what she had to in order to survive. I leave that to the historians. Her interactions with other well known names of the time were very interesting. These included Winston Churchill, the Rothschilds, Sam Goldwyn, Igor Stravinsky, Picasso, and more.

This was a delightful read, a journey into European society at a turbulent time.

I received a copy of this book from The Reading Room in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  BettyTaylor56 | Sep 5, 2015 |
A good book about an extraordinary lady. Coco Chanel had a true rags-to-riches tale, with plenty of scandal, love, glamour, and a bit of intrigue along the way. While I do wish the author had delved a bit deeper into her personality and motivations, the picture of Coco that emerges in this novel is nevertheless deeply fascinating and I would love to know more about her. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Apr 6, 2015 |
The luxurious Chanel brand is iconic -- the perfume, the fashion, its founder -- and I'm surprised Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel hasn't been featured in a historical novel before. Her hist fic debut comes from C.W. Gortner, whose sublime The Queen’s Vow humanized Isabella, and this novel has set the high water mark for any future reads that attempt to tackle the notorious Chanel.

Born at the end of the 19th century in abject poverty, Gabrielle Chanel was turned over to a convent where she mastered sewing. Rather than taking vows to become a nun, Gabrielle instead became a seamstress and more daringly, a club singer -- where she earned her nickname Coco. Quickly, through her skill, ambition, and some fortuitous relationships, Chanel managed to project herself to fame over the decades as her once radical designs -- corset-less, trim, daring, modern -- set the standard for chic fashion. Weathering World War I and II, as well as devastating heartbreaks and notorious love affairs, Chanel lived a life that knew deprivation and luxury in equal part.

While the subject of this book is fascinating -- not just Coco herself, but the world she lived in -- the novel is made by Gortner's writing. Occasionally, I eye-roll when biographical novels use the first person viewpoint, as I find it makes the narrative all tell and no show, and allows the author off the hook when it comes to thornier details.

In Gortner's hands, however, Coco articulates her life with the spare, artistic verve of her designs. (He took his hand away. Not with harshness. His fingers just unraveled from mine, like poorly spun threads., p11) Even more delightfully, Coco's voice grows as she does, rather than remaining static throughout the book.

And the clincher: Gortner dealt with the ugly stuff. I was most curious about how Gortner would handle the allegations that Coco was a Nazi collaborator and spy. It's obvious from this sympathetic novel that Gortner admires Chanel, and his suggestion of how the fashion designer became embroiled with the Nazis is sympathetic. But he offers characters who question her motives, her contradictions, allowing the reader to voice their doubts, too -- and like Coco's friends, we have to decide if we believe her. I found Gortner's articulation of Coco so solid that while I clucked at her choices, I understood why she made them.

This makes my second top ten read of 2015. Even if you're not a fan of fashion, consider grabbing this book, as it really is the story of a self-made woman, a visionary who imagined the way women wanted to live that differed from what society said. There are tawdry details brushing shoulders with heavier themes, armchair escape to early 20th century France, and some delicious name dropping that sent me into Wiki rabbit holes. At this point, I want Gortner to tackle every fashion designer -- like Chanel's nemesis, Elsa Schiaparelli -- but regardless of who he tackles next, I'm there. ( )
  unabridgedchick | Apr 2, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062356402, Hardcover)

For readers of The Paris Wife and Z comes this vivid novel full of drama, passion, tragedy, and beauty that stunningly imagines the life of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel—the ambitious, gifted laundrywoman’s daughter who revolutionized fashion, built an international empire, and become one of the most influential and controversial figures of the twentieth century.

Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her siblings are sent to orphanage after their mother’s death. The sisters nurture Gabrielle’s exceptional sewing skills, a talent that will propel the willful young woman into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood.

Transforming herself into Coco—a seamstress and sometime torch singer—the petite brunette burns with ambition, an incandescence that draws a wealthy gentleman who will become the love of her life. She immerses herself in his world of money and luxury, discovering a freedom that sparks her creativity. But it is only when her lover takes her to Paris that Coco discovers her destiny.

Rejecting the frilly, corseted silhouette of the past, her sleek, minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As Coco’s reputation spreads, her couturier business explodes, taking her into rarefied society circles and bohemian salons. But her fame and fortune cannot save her from heartbreak as the years pass. And when Paris falls to the Nazis, Coco is forced to make choices that will haunt her.

An enthralling novel of an extraordinary woman who created the life she desired, Mademoiselle Chanel explores the inner world of a woman of staggering ambition whose strength, passion and artistic vision would become her trademark.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:48 -0400)

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