More a celebration of Coco Chanel’s creative spirit than a straightforward biography, this book portrays the petite French waif as a smiling, self-confident rule breaker with an innate flair for fashion and a big imagination.
Chanel found it difficult to follow the rigid discipline of the strict nuns who ran the orphanage where she grew up. She was, however, inspired by the “dramatic and mysterious” black-and-white habits they wore. With an eye for style and a talent for sewing, Chanel was determined to follow her own unique vision of fashion as soon as she was old enough to leave the orphanage. Chanel’s practical yet fashionable designs did not impress everyone, but her emphasis on comfort, simplicity, and breaking long-standing rules of fashion caught on and changed forever how women dressed. Byrne’s illustrations in pen and ink and watercolor are appropriately stylish and energetic. The endpapers feature women wearing Chanel’s many creations. In an afterword, Byrne notes the difficulty of distinguishing fact from fiction due to Chanel’s penchant for embellishing stories throughout her life. Byrne does not acknowledge established controversies about Chanel: her anti-Semitism, homophobia, and collaboration with the Nazi occupation. Omitted from the bibliography is Hal Vaughan’s adult biography Sleeping with the Enemy (2001), which discusses them.
Through Chanel’s incomplete story, Byrne encourages readers to explore their creativity and remain steadfast in following their dreams—but aren’t there other, better subjects that could serve the same purpose? (selected bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)