Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: Coco-Chanel
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2016-09-23 19:55
Review | Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky by Chris Greenhalgh
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky - Chris Greenhalgh

Coco Chanel and Composer Igor Stravinsky.
Their love affair inspired their art.
Their art defined an era.

In 1913, at the premiere of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, the young couturiere Coco Chanel witnesses the birth of a musical revolution- one that, like her designs, rips down the artifice of the old regime and ushers in something profoundly modern. Seven years later, she invites Stravinsky and his family, now exiled from their Russian homeland, for a summer at her villa, and the powerful charge between them ignites into a deep love affair. As Stravinsky enjoys a new burst of creativity and Chanel brings forth her own revolutionary creation-the perfume Chanel No. 5-their love threatens to overtake work, family and life.






First off, just have to say I wish the title was something more enticing. Even just shortening it to Coco & Igor would have been cool. Just seems like having nothing but their full names makes it kinda feel like a high school essay. That's just my two cents. Movin' on...


Greenhalgh's novel is a fictional take on the relationship between iconic French clothing designer Coco Chanel and the (married) composer Igor Stravinksy. Coco Chanel, in this story, is a young woman who seems to catch the eye of nearly every man in town. Deciding to attend one of Stravinsky's concerts one night, Coco is instantly, deeply moved by his music. She is briefly introduced to him but after that night doesn't see him again for another 7 years. The storyline takes some time to explain what goes on in these lives separately before they are to be reunited. Igor's story mainly focuses on him, along with his wife and children, being driven out of their home in Russia after the assassination of the ruling Romanov family. The Stravinskys retreat to a cramped apartment in Brittany, France and try to set up a new life there, though Igor's missus isn't really feeling the new surroundings. Her discomfort and unhappiness slowly starts to drive a wedge between them. Igor, frustrated with the tense home life, craves finding happiness again... somehow. Home life becomes even more strained when his wife develops a life-threatening illness, throwing her even further into depression. 


Igor, being an established composer by this point, is invited to a dinner party in Paris where Miss Chanel just happens to be another guest. The reunion is a little rocky, she initially finds him to be short, balding, with bad teeth and, as she says in the story, "an air of trying too hard to appear bohemian" but later realizes "his dandyism is an act... It masks a deep sense of insecurity and a profound sense of loss. Loss of state and selfhood. The man is clinging on, she thinks." Her curiosity about him reengaged, their friendship grows over the coming months, becoming something of a flirtation even though Coco never really got over the death of her love, Arthur "Boy" Capel. 


I found it a little laughable in this story that the character of Coco talks about how she likes Igor but doesn't love that he's still married. Additionally, Coco is plagued by a reputation of men categorizing her as "not being the kind of girl you marry", so is often dissatisfied with having to settle for being side piece. But her friends are pretty much like "ehhh, go for it anyway", their reasoning being that there's a shortage of men after World War I so one should grab what she can get... LOL, great friends there.


As far as the romance between Igor & Coco portrayed here, it was just okay for me. Honestly, their banter got on my nerves at times and Igor often struck me as seriously needing to find his backbone in so many of the situations. What kept my interest more was the little side stories of Coco's life, the fictionalized portrayals of bits of Chanel's life that I've read in bios. Her romances with not only Capel but also Etienne Balsan (this novel opens with Chanel as an elderly woman on the last day of her life, looking back on on the most memorable moments of years past). There's also mention of a 5 year affair with Churchill's bestie (one of them anyway), Hugh Grosvenor, Duke of Westminster. 


My favorite sections were the descriptions of Chanel in her own little world when she was designing, the moments she was most proud of. She reminisces about designing costumes for Hollywood, notably Tonight or Never with Gloria Swanson and Last Year at Marienbad with Alain Resnais.


just one of the looks Chanel created for 

Gloria Swanson in Tonight or Never


one of the Chanel designed looks in Last Year At Marienbad (1961)

It's been said that much of the fashion in this film directly

inspired the look of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. 



My favorite part in the story, though it was a very minor portion, was the description of Chanel working up to the design of her iconic scent, Chanel No. 5. I cracked up at the line "better than the stench of resin from an orchestra pit". Well, that does sound like a nice selling point! Slap that on the label! X-D


They regard her, these women, with disapproval, without quite knowing why. It's not as if she's more decorative. Quite the opposite. If anything, the cut of her clothes is austere. The simplicity of her gown, its restrained elegance, makes them seem almost gaudy by comparison. And her silhouette is intimidatingly slim. It is this quality of understatement, this nonchalance de luxe, they find disrespectful. The impression she gives is that she's not even trying. It seems so effortless, they feel undermined. 


To Coco, conscious of the disdainful glances she's attracting, these others seem ridiculous in their plumes and feathers, their taffeta gowns and heavy velvet dresses. If they want to look like chocolate boxes, that's their affair, she reasons.  As for her, she prefers to look like a woman.


So yeah, as a stand-alone historical fiction, IMO it's not bad but not great. I think my attention would be better retained with just sticking with Chanel biographies. If you've read anything about the real woman herself, you can't deny she got a lot of living in while she was on this big blue rock! 


I saw the movie adaptation of this some years ago but have forgotten a lot of it. I'll be doing a re-watch shortly and will tag an update on here with some of my thoughts on the film. 



Update after film re-watch: 


The movie, released in 2009 and directed by Jan Kounen, is presented in French with English subtitles. Coco Chanel is played by French actress Anna Mouglalis while composer Igor Stravinsky is played by Danish actor Madds Mikkelsen.


The adaptation is nicely done, but it does take some patience on the part of the viewer. It opens with what in the book would've been Chanel attending her first Stravinsky concert but while the book leaves pretty much as "attended a concert, had a nice time, we should do it again sometime", the film decided to pull out a weird interpretive dance scene... one that ran over 15 mins with almost no dialogue! 


Now, if you can get through that (maybe fast forward through that bit if it's not your thing), the movie gets really good and stays pretty true to the novel for the most part. I didn't love how the director chose to do the ending, but otherwise I thought the film nailed the time period, the feel of Chanel's world, all of that. When you watch this film, you can't deny the Frenchness of it! 


I enjoyed how they were also able to incorporate actual World War 1 footage into some of the scenes and would highly recommend viewers watch the behind the scenes documentary offered on the DVD. Very cool info and stories there, and the actor who played Stravinsky, while I was impressed his seriousness to approaching the role of Stravinsky, also had quite the sense of humor!


Also worth watching, the short film (under 20 mins):  Once Upon A Time by Karl Lagerfeld, starring Keira Knightly as a young CoCo Chanel. I'm actually not a huge fan of Lagerfeld myself, but I did think this film was beautifully shot. 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2015-09-11 21:27
Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life (Unabridged) - Cassandra Harwood,Justine Picardie
Why did I read it? I've always had a fascination with this self-made woman, and I remember reading a review of the paperback version of this book on a blog a few years back, and thinking I must read it. When I saw it was available in audio form, I took the opportunity to select it for my commute.
What's it about? It's a factual biography of Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, better known as Coco Chanel, the orphaned girl who rose to be one of the most famous names in fashion, if not the most famous; credited for the creation of simple, elegant, comfortable designs, most notably the "little back dress" now considered an essential item in any wardrobe.
What did I like? It was a book focussed on revealing truth and facts. I did learn some things about Chanel I had not known before. There were attempts at avoiding speculation. The audio version downloaded from Audible was clear, and without fault.
What didn't I like about this book? Where to start? This audio book annoyed me immensely, and I think it may have started with the narrator, Cassandra Harwood, whose voice droned through each sentence making it hard to concentrate on the information being presented. I don't speak French, but I can only hope the times she employed that language she did better than with the English, when words were mispronounced (e.g. subsidising, instead of subsiding) and there was no attempt at emphasis, or any kind of tonal variance in her speech. Had the text been more interesting, perhaps her voice might not have grated as much, alas ...
The book was full of facts, but much of the book seemed to stray into the lives of those around Chanel. At one point, it seemed as those quite a few pages had been dedicated to the wife of a lover and, try as I might, I failed to grasp as to why this information had been necessary to the book, as it apparently had no bearing on Chanel's life itself. I think that was the focus of my dislike of the book: very little on the woman herself, with far too much about friends, family, business associates, and acquaintances. I felt the book really could have been a lot shorter, with the cutting of the extraneous information.
Would I recommend it? I wanted to enjoy this book, I really though I would, but I didn't, and I feel any reader would think their time better spent on other books.
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2015-09-05 16:42
Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History
Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History - Rhonda Garelick

I began this biography without any specific knowledge of the person behind the Chanel brand, and now, I can say quite confidently that I probably know more about Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel than I ever really needed to know. To be fair, that is not a bad thing. Rhonda Garelick’s book is fiercely researched, punctuated at times with triumphant announcements regarding new information for what must be an already well-trod field. I was fascinated by Chanel’s rags to riches story, awed even by the tremendous wealth she accumulated despite some questionable business deals and poor judgement when it came to men.


At times, I imagined Mademoiselle Chanel as the Forrest Gump of Fashion — there was literally no movement or trend in her long lifetime that she didn’t get in on, no historic moment she missed. Unfortunately, this put her right in the center of several unsavory situations, and facts about her Nazi ties later in the book leveled the esteem I had begun to feel for her .


Chanel was the embodiment of two clashing extremes — a lonely girl searching for true love, and a ruthless business-woman using a combination of genius and feminine wiles to win her way to the top. (Yes, I did use the term “feminine wiles” — sorry about that, but that is the nicest way I could describe it. Besides, she really was a master manipulator.) At times I did not buy the true love thing, especially when she seemed hell-bent on “marrying up”, but I did not, in the end, believe she was ever content or truly happy. Yes, rich, immeasurably wealthy. When I was young and single, I used to quote a Joan Rivers line, “People always say that money is not the key to happiness, but I always figured if you have enough money, you can have a key made.” I think Coco Chanel believed that too. But somehow, reading this book made me appreciate my ordinary life and my loving family just that much more.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2015-03-11 21:31
Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History
Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History - Rhonda Garelick

Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History is a biography of a perplexing and interesting woman.


Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel is famous, of course, for being a great fashion designer, possibly the most iconic of the 20th century.  She liberated women from hobble skirts and corsets not once, but twice.  She made costumes for important theatrical productions of the 1920s and 1930s (and was very angry when she was not given the job to make the costumes for the Broadway musical about her own life).  She had what was probably the most improbable comeback by a fashion designer of all time, when she returned to the haute couture scene in 1953, at the age of 70, after being out of the business since 1939.  (The Parisians sneered at that collection; until they saw it was a massive hit - in America.  Where all the money was.)


She concocted what has been the world's best-selling perfume pretty much since its introduction in the 1920s - Chanel No. 5, the world's first perfume using synthetic chemicals.  And then fought a long battle with the perfumery's owners, the Wertheimers, for 30 or 40 years.


She was also a liar about her own past, particularly her childhood, her years as a courtesan, and what exactly she did during World War 2.  (Hint: it is clear she went far beyond the "I collaborated in order to survive" category, and even beyond the "I did business with the Nazis to make a lot of money" category, as she not only had closed her fashion house in 1939, but was the mistress of a high-ranking German officer, and was a Nazi spy as well, though not a terribly good one.)


Organization is mostly by lover (of whom she had many, probably of both sexes).  Most of them, with a couple of important exceptions, were conservative politically - royalists like the Grand Duke Dmitri Romanov and the Duke of Westminster, or fascists or their fellow travelers (many of the others). 


There is also an interesting discussion of how the language of iconography used by the Nazis, and Chanel's use of it in fashion, are much from the same playbook.  I'm not sure that I buy this, but it was a very interesting theory.  She was clearly a woman of great talent, but also of great contradictions.


This book focuses itself on Chanel's life, not her fashion, though there are indeed pictures of that fashion from different periods in her life.  There's also a discussion of what happened to the House of Chanel after her death.


My ARC courtesy of Random House/Net Galley - much thanks!

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2014-10-18 03:29
Review: Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History
Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History - Rhonda Garelick

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, in return for an honest review.


Published September 30, 2014 by Random House Publishing Group

608 pages


(While technically speaking I haven’t finished this, I wanted to get my thoughts down, as I plan to dip in and out of it for a while, rather than trying to down it all at once.)


Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was a prolific and fairly effective liar. Biographers and design fetishists like to say something more grand, like “self-mythologizer,” and I suppose when you are a brand first and a person second that is the expectation. But let’s call it like it is; Coco Chanel delighted in telling lies that would obscure and romanticize what she considered a boring and pitiable childhood and adolescence. She also notoriously shut down nearly every attempt to write (or more accurately, publish) her biography in her lifetime, and even beyond the grave. So, in undertaking this project, Rhonda Garelick has set herself quite a challenge. And she has succeeded marvelously, so far as I can say.  By taking on Chanel’s story and treating it as more than just the events in a single life, she has constructed a grand history of figures and events spanning the 80-plus years of Chanel’s life, allowing the time, place, and people surrounding the designer to tell us the story Chanel never would. The book is massive in scope (and literal size at 608 pages), and minute in detail.  Every person, large or small, that touched Chanel’s life is in here, and every historical and personal event Garelick can substantiate with any degree of authenticity is likewise captured.


Chanel was a bundle of contradictions and was forever trying to find acceptance among the social elite and alleviate her sense of inferiority as a lower-class orphan. Her survival instincts were impeccable, though they often caused her to make questionable decisions; she was effectively a Nazi sympathizer, and she was well-known as the mistress of a string of married men. But she is also revered as a liberator of women from the oppression of voluminous and restrictive clothing (as well as certain social mores), and one of the first couturiers to give her seamstresses paid vacations.  She was a business woman when it was not only uncommon, but often unacceptable, and she pulled herself up from the bottom rung of the social ladder using her charm and ingenuity- making connections, and using every opportunity that came her way. Despite shrouding her own life in a romantic fog, she was notoriously clear-eyed about the ways of the world, and not afraid to make enemies.


The designer’s personal and professional life is at the forefront, but the many movements and influences that shaped her designs are detailed as well.  She has been credited with the “invention” of the Little Black Dress, which anyone interested in fashion history knows is a bit of a tall tale. And yet, it can’t be denied that she brought a whole new perspective to fashion- for good and ill. While she freed women in a physical sense from stays and layers, her creations were monumentally expensive for all of their simplicity, cheap fabrics, and costume jewelry, and her silhouette required a complete 180-degree reversal from the previous expectations for women; slim was in and dieting practically became a competitive sport. She also can be credited with the creation of the now commonplace celebrity-designer relationship, as well as the commodification of her own name, now immortalized in the interlocking Cs seen on her luxury goods for decades and still omnipresent around the world.


The breadth of Garelick’s research is astonishing, and the narrative, though occasionally rendered a bit heavy by so much detail, is entertaining. I plan on stretching it out for a while, and enjoying it the whole way.


(Cross-posted at Goodreads: Mademoiselle)

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?