Book Review: “The Gospel according to Coco Chanel”

July 2, 2011  |  inspiration

I picked up this book in the self-help section in Barnes and Noble. I read it and because I read it, I feel obliged to share what I think.

If you would like to remember Chanel as an icon and the most elegant woman in the world, please rent the two movies that came out last year, Coco and Coco and Igor. But if you are curious about Chanel deconstructed for a fashion magazine for teenagers, buy “The Gospel according to Coco Chanel” by Karen Karbo. In this book, you will learn that

She sang like a frog battling laryngitis, and she could never manage the required slinking around.”

And the brilliant conclusions, entre autres;

I’ve decided to believe the latter, that she was a crafty faux Auvergnate bent on conquering the world in her own way, as opposed to a darling wee thing that simply fell into monumental, world-changing success.”

So why didn’t she? Because she was a selfish git.”

I believe in literary freedom and expression, but the more I turned the pages of this book, the sadder I became. I didn’t really care about the author’s self-reflections. They fit perfectly into a twitter account or blog. Using Chanel as a mirror for oneself is a true style faux pas when the second title of the book is “Life lessons from the most elegant woman.” Moreover, if you can’t understand the basics of French culture, which require you to get a little bit ahead of yourself without over generalizing and suspending judgment, how can you get Chanel?

The French are formal. In our loud-mouthed, large-limbed, too-casual American way, Katy and I had committed a faux pas by dropping in.”

I was expecting the flavor of Chanel and I got a contemporary analysis of the American cultural agreement reflected through the accomplishment of Chanel. I personally couldn’t relate to the half self-examination, half-cultural speculation and half-fictionalized life of Chanel. I struggled with the author’s inability to keep her subject straight as she drifted into vile reflections while mimicking the writing style of our twitter age of consciousness.

I have no business assuming that I have the means to own my Chanel.”

Style has always been about money, and it always will be.”

Then I though, if this is being made in the spirit of Chanel, I’ll just rearrange the truth, like she did.” (The author stressed Chanel’s lying about her origins throughout the book.)

A lucky heat wave in July, and that being-on-holiday-so-what-the-hell feeling that our times manifests itself as a willingness to stop at the market….

In fairness to all the profligate rich folk who manage to blow through their millions without breaking a sweat, there wasn’t as much stuff out there to buy when Chanel was rocking Parisian society.”

Yes, I wanted Chanel in her glamour, her mystery, and her creativity. “Chanel confessed, “When someone offers me a flower, I can smell the hands that picked them.” Instead I found her long list of lovers, which I found amusing, didn’t really contribute to making this book better. Chanel’s accomplishments are timeless, her style is still modern, and as a woman she was away ahead of the times. She possessed uncommon qualities that elevated her above the rest of society. Think for a second about the shift she created in the fashion rules of her time! This is inspirational; this is worth examining and offering to a younger generation in desperate need of mentors and models. The “Gospel according to Coco Chanel” offers a tiny glimpse of the monumental Chanel and left me personally hungry to imagine who she really was. My own interpretation is that her success – a mix of miracle, luck, ingenuity and brains – resulted from her daring to operate outside the limitations which most women put on themselves. That hypothesis is still to be examined. She was a rare bird, indeed, and her rarity can’t be trivialized.

“… Nothing makes a woman look older than the obvious expensiveness and complication.”

Chanel processed an answering faith in her instincts, which included what she believed to be her impeccable taste.”

But Chanel was fearless on another front. For the length of her long life, she said what she thought.”

She refused to censor herself.”

[ “I’ll know I really love you when I no longer need you.” “As long as you know men are like children, you know everything.” ]

They (her clothes) had meaning. They had a plot and even a point of view.”





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