(Horst P. Horst/Corbis)
While I read my advance copy of Coco Chanel: The Legend And The Life by Justine Picardie (published by It Books, an imprint of HarperCollins) in Central Park as my newborn daughter (she just turned six months on September 11) napped in her (Bugaboo) carriage, I couldn’t help but think how much my life has changed since I moved to New York City more than 16 years ago. When I arrived in the Big Apple on that sweltering day back in July 1994, I was unemployed (but ambitious) and moving into a 4th floor walk-up on the Upper East Side. Today, I am the Fashion Director of Instinct Magazine (I just celebrated my second anniversary last month), moving into a 2-bedroom apartment (that we are currently renovating—it was a total gut job!) on Lower Fifth Avenue (in the heart of Greenwich Village), and a proud parent!
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel went through some major changes in her lifetime as well. Born into poverty, she was abandoned (along with her two sisters) by her father (the son of a peddler) in a convent orphanage after her mother died. Chanel claimed that she was 6 years old at the time of her mother’s death—but in reality, she was actually 11. Justine Picardie explains in Coco Chanel: The Legend And The Life that Chanel was notorious for “telling and retelling the narrative of her youth, remaking history just as she remade the sleeves of a jacket, unfastening its seams and cutting its threads, and then sewing it back together again.”
No doubt you’ve seen one if not all three (yes, three!) of the recent movies about Chanel— there’s Coco Chanel, the 2008 Lifetime miniseries starring Shirley MacLaine, the Oscar-nominated (for Best Costume Design) Coco Before Chanel, starring Audrey Tautou from 2009, and the more recent (and obscure) Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinksy, starring Anna Mouglalis (who actually modeled for Chanel in 2002), which closed the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. You earn extra Brownie Points if you saw 1981’s Chanel Solitaire starring Marie-France Pisier and Timothy Dalton (this was only six years before he became James Bond). Why the fascination with Chanel? The more obvious question is, how can you not be fascinated with Chanel? Thirty-nine years after her death (at the age of 87), Chanel remains one of the most recognizable luxury brands in the world. Who isn’t familiar with the iconic double “C” logo? Not to mention Chanel No. 5 (a favorite of Marilyn Monroe)—the perfume that she launched in 1921 (it is estimated that a bottle is sold worldwide every 55 seconds—your mother most likely has one on her dressing table).
Justine Picardie was given unprecedented access to the Chanel archives for Coco Chanel: The Legend And The Life—and she dives deep into Chanel’s tumultuous relationships with Boy Capel, the Duke of Westminster, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, Sergei Diaghilev, Igor Stravinsky and Misia Sert (one her closest female friends)—leaving few details out. Justine also reveals new insight into Chanel’s controversial affair during the Second World War with a German officer by the name of Hans Gunther von Dincklage. Hans was 13 years younger than Chanel when the affair started in 1941 in Nazi-occupied Paris. When Cecil Beaton (the infamous photographer and interior/costume designer) asked her if she had had an affair with a German, she replied, “Really, sir, a woman of my age cannot be expected to look at his passport if she has a chance of a lover.” Chanel was 58 at the time—and already a legend.
P.S. On my first-ever trip to New York City, the first place that I went to was the Chanel boutique on 57th Street—not far from the spot in Central Park where I read Coco Chanel: The Legend And The Life almost 20 years later.
Ready to get your hands on a copy? I bet you are! And we hadn’t even told you that the book also includes 250 color and black-and-white illustrations—including many never-seen-before photographs of Chanel, her designs and her letters, along with original sketches by Karl Lagerfeld, the Creative Director of Chanel since 1983 (you might have heard of him before, right?).
E-mail us at
with “Coco Chanel” in the subject line and tell us in 100 words or less how your life has changed (or not) in the past decade. The first 10 entries (with a valid e-mail, home address and telephone number) will win a hardcover copy of Chanel: The Legend And The Life by Justine Picardie—which retails for $40. Only one entry/winner per household, please.
To check out more It Books, go to http://www.youritlist.com.