In a warts-and-all biography, Rubin introduces readers to Coco Chanel, one of the most well-known fashion designers in the world, whose brand epitomized elegance and good taste.
Beginning with the difficult years Chanel spent in an orphanage, Rubin traces her development as a designer and focuses on the obstacles Chanel faced as a financially independent woman in an era when women were expected to marry. Rubin highlights some of Chanel’s memorable firsts for the fashion industry, including the little black dress, the quilted purse with gold chain, and the perfume Chanel No. 5. She also chronicles Chanel’s intense competition with Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Rubin does not hold back in discussing the unpleasant aspects of her subject. She was an outspoken anti-Semite throughout her life; Rubin traces this to Chanel’s stay at the orphanage during a time when Catholic institutions taught children to hate Jews. While France was occupied during World War II, Chanel dated a German intelligence officer and demonstrated little sympathy for French Jews facing persecution but did not suffer the consequences of other collaborators after liberation. Fittingly, the design of the book is gorgeous, with herringbone-tweed backgrounds to the text pages and Art Deco–inspired flourishes framing pull quotes; it is amply illustrated with archival photographs.
An intriguing, well-rounded portrait of a fascinating woman whose many important contributions to art and fashion remain popular today. (bibliography, source notes, index) (Biography. 10-14)