Book Review: New Chanel Biography

Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life
by Lisa Chany
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(Viking Press: A member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.)

“I am scared only becoming bored” – Coco Chanel

Andre Malraux proclaimed: “Chanel, General de Gaulle and Picasso are the three most important figures of our time” ( A very French view!)

As perhaps the most influential fashion icon of the twentieth century, Chanel was, in the words of the author, “…the absolutely personification of the modern woman” whose struggles with fame and personal emotional fulfilment was truly the stuff legends were made of.

Dmitri Pavlovich with Gabrielle, c 1920

This well researched and richly documented book uncovers in over 400 pages with 59 photographs some new information and insights about Gabrielle Chanel. The author goes further than past bios to explore beyond the myth and “discover” more about the real woman. Drawing upon newly obtained love letters, journals and the Chanel archives, Lisa Chany discusses Chanel’s humble childhood raised in a French orphanage to her world wide fame and notoriety. Her professional and romantic passions tied her to some of the most celebrated men of the century – Picasso, Stravinsky and Dali.

Chanel with Winston and Randolph Churchill, c 1928

Chany attempts to settle once and for all the truth about Chanel’s decade-long drug addiction, her bisexuality, her famous love affair with the Russian Duke Dimitri Pavlovich, and her controversial relationship with the Nazi spy Hans Gunther von Dincklage and the problematic question of Chanel’s collaboration with the Nazis. And while Hal Vaughn recently made the case that Chanel herself was a Nazi spy, Chaney finds no evidence to support that view, and she paints a very different picture of Chanel during that tumultuous period. There is also more about her complex relationship with Arthur Capel. the man who helped set up her empire. Capels love letters were given to Chaney by his family and have never been seen by any previous biographer.

Chanel with Salvador Dali, c 1938

But what comes across most about the biography, is just how extraordinary a woman Coco Chanel was – up and beyond being a great fashion designer. In fact, her talent as a couturier mirrored her greater genius in living a life that was, by every account, as complicated and flamboyant as it was daring.

About the Author: Lisa Chaney is the author of Hide and See with Angels: A Life of J.M. Barrie, a biography of the creator of Peter Pan. She has taught at Oxford and presented programs for British TV and radio, and writes for newspapers and magazines. She lives in York, England.

– Ernest Schmatolla



Ernest Schmatolla is publisher of Lookonline since 1994. It is the longest running fashion site on the Internet.


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