Legend and Life of Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1754 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Biography

Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life by Justine Picardie

Justine Picardie's Coco is a glitzy celebration of designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel's life. From the first chapter entitled "Mademoiselle is at Home," the reader sees how Coco herself helped to cultivate this sense of "celebration" -- an aura of mystique, mythical importance, fashionableness, and elitism. For example, Picardie quotes Coco as saying, "When my customers come to me, they like to cross the threshold of some magic place" (Picardie 1). Like Hitchcock, Coco wanted to provide an experience -- not just a piece of clothing.

The biography details the experience that Coco offered those around her -- the Romantic appeal that she tapped into (even if it was a bit "vulgar" as Coco admitted; that was what her clients came to expect and even wanted). After giving a glimpse of the "magic place" that Coco had come to embody in the first chapter, Picardie takes the reader back to Coco's childhood to show the "place" from which she had come. Gabrielle Chanel grew up in poverty, yet tried to color these facts to her acquaintances before confessing outright that she had practically been an "orphan" (Picardie 26). Nonetheless, Chanel constantly and vigorously re-invented the character of her father to protect his image in her mind, just as she would constantly re-invent herself in order to climb to the top of the fashion world.

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At age 18, Chanel leaves the nuns and the cloister where she is raised, since she shows no indication of having a religious vocation. Her sense of her parents being ruined by financial straits may have compelled her to succeed. At any rate, she learned sewing and also a hint of what Romance offered -- something she had not glimpsed within the walls of the convent. As she recounts her learning experiences to those who are interested, she manages to sprinkle them with melodramatic tales of her own -- how she wanted to kill herself several times, for example (Picardie 41). She admits to having lost her faith in God at an early age -- a loss that clearly stems from deep-seeded pride.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Legend and Life of Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie Assignment

How she gets the nickname "Coco," however, is somewhat humiliating -- at least, Picardie notes that it would have been humiliating for anyone else. Chanel wanted to sing on stage but knew only two songs, both of which had the word (or at least the sound) "Coco" in it. The audience began to call her "Coco" and the name stuck. Chanel never spoke of this experience and some call it merely legend (Picardie 45). Whether it is or not, it certainly adds flair to the story.

In 1909, Chanel begins designing hats, which appeals to her thirst for beauty and allows her to escape the image of poverty which has always followed her. A year later she has her own hat shop and now calls herself "Coco" -- her stage name. Half a decade later, she is so successful, she has 300 employees. Nonetheless, she is temperamental. Picardie reminds the reader that Chanel is a human being in spite of all the legends that have grown up around her, many of which came from the woman who never had a problem making up stories to satisfy both herself and those around her.

The book also delves into her relationships with certain Nazis and the accusations that have labeled her a "collaborator" with the German enemy during WWII. As Picardie notes, the "truth is less clear-cut than that" (Picardie 237). Picardie does not excuse Chanel's behavior but neither does she condemn the designer.

"Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life by Justine Picardie: review" by Frances Wilson, for The Telegraph

Wilson's review of Picardie's biography focuses mainly on summary. It regards the work as an elegant portrayal of a woman known for making simplicity look elegant. Wilson highlights certain aspects of Chanel's life, such as how her particular designs (her "utilitarian skirts" for instance) "struck the right note" in the years during the first World War, and later the Chanel suit which helped project the identity of the "mid-Fifties" woman of independence (Wilson).

Wilson also delights in making note of the serendipitous nature of Chanel's rise to fame. The perfume she "invented" (Chanel No. 5) in 1921 was actually invented by "a perfumer called Ernest Beaux, who was introduced to Chanel by her then lover, the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich" (Wilson). The perfume then became ultra-famous when ultra-famous movie starlet Marilyn Monroe told the world that Chanel's perfume "was all she wore to bed" (Wilson). In this manner, Wilson devotes his review of Picardie's biography to the more sensational bits, which diminish the entrepreneurial aspect of Chanel's talents (she did whatever she had to in order to succeed) and focuses more on those interesting tidbits of information that leave one happily wondering at the way things work out.

Wilson's review ends with the admission that Picardie's Coco is a storyteller, one who fashions her own myth by creating it, at times, out of the sheer blue. Wilson then attempts to probe the psychology of Coco and wonders whether she were ever really happy. He states that it is difficult to assess Coco's inner state, which remains hidden to the reader, in spite of all the information that Picardie does actually uncover in her biography.

"Review: Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life by Justine Picardie" by Duncan Fallowell for Express

Fallowell's review of Picardie's biography is very critical, stating in his first sentence that Coco herself is not to blame for this work. The review goes on to give a few details of Coco's life and labors before finally coming back to the subject at hand -- Picardie's book. What Fallowell asserts is a "biographer's gift" (Coco's life, that is) has turned into (in the hands of Picardie) a "gushy…Vanity Fair style" which exaggerates the facts. For instance, Fallowell accuses Picardie of loading the deck when she writes that the Coco logo is as recognizable around the world as the swastika or the Stars and Stripes. Fallowell argues that it certainly is not -- and that there is no need to say so: his problem is that Picardie is embellishing the facts.

Fallowell does give some slight praise to Picardie for assembling a work that does incorporate details and illustrations and photographs of Chanel's life, which help give the reader a new sense of the woman. Nonetheles, Fallowell criticizes Picardie for drawing most of her information from other books already written about Coco.

Thus, Fallowell ends his review, of which only a few small paragraphs have actually been devoted (but rather sharply and incisively nonetheless) to Picardie's book, by suggesting another and better biography to the reader: Paul Morand's The Allure of Chanel.

"The Many Faces of Coco" by Lauren Lipton for The New York Times

Lipton compares Picardie's biography with two others, Chaney's An Intimate Life and Vaughan's Sleeping with the Enemy (which emphasizes Chanel's role as a Nazi collaborator). Lipton then quotes the authors, who criticize one another's works. Vaughan, for instance, says of Picardie's book that it reads as though it were "subsidized" by "the late designer's namesake company" -- implying that Picardie glosses over the rather sordid details of Chanel's life in order to play up the glitz and mystique (Lipton). Picardie in turn accuses Vaughan of having composed a title that is "an instant sound bit" -- a point that emphasizes a rather sensationalistic approach to Chanel.

Lipton then provides a few details of Chanel's life and again compares the way that the authors treat the same subject. For instance, both Picardie and Vaughan write of Chanel's relationship with the Nazis -- but the two interpret the event differently. Picardie, she notes, plays up the "heroic" aspect of the relationship -- Chanel's effort to "bring an early conclusion to the Second World War" (Lipton). Lipton finally asserts that it is rather unfair to try to "judge" Chanel for her actions and that it is best if the biographer leaves his or her opinions out of the work and just gives the facts.

It becomes clear that Picardie's work, according to Lipton, is a rose-colored portrayal of Chanel's life, which obviously contained some questionable moments. Nonetheless, the biography is an engaging and enjoyable read and Lipton notes that Coco is still a popular subject in the marketplace, which will soon be enjoying yet another Coco biography called Antigone in Vogue.

"Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life" by Justine Picardie, Reviewed by Jeffrey Felner for NY Journal of Books

Felner emphasizes Coco's need for men in his review of Picardie's biography.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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