The book I chose was by Justine Picardie. She was very thorough and I enjoyed her book, but like a lot of modern British writers, she was a bit over dramatic and liberal with her opinions. If you read critically and weed out the writer’s anti-church bias and tendency to assume a scandal everywhere, you can find a really good picture of Chanel’s personality and complexities.
Coco Chanel was an amazingly complex person who liked simplicity in design. She had a very sad life with incredible professional success. She knew what woman wanted when it came to fashion, but she really didn’t know what she wanted out of life. In general, I found that Coco Chanel was a fashion genius because she didn’t listen to everyone else. She designed what worked for her.
Her ideas about fashion came from wanting comfort, freedom, and attention. She got rid of the corsets. She adapted men’s clothes to the woman’s body so she could move and go to work. She put a strap on her hand bag so she could carry it, a glass, and food at a party. She used jersey in her creations during World War I when everything was being rationed. She added a little chain to the inside of her coats so they would sit right. She would sew and resew a garment until it was perfect. Fashion was art, but it was also something a woman could live in.
After finishing this book I looked on youtube at the runway fashions for this coming summer and had to shake my head. Fashion was revolutionized by Chanel because she understood how people lived. She knew that a woman wanted to look glamorous, not weird. These fashions today (and even in her time according to herself) are completely ridiculous to imagine wearing on a daily basis. Chanel even understood what people could afford to pay for clothes. She invented the ready-to-wear clothes that society now depends on. I look at these runway shows and wonder how I could wear any of these items to the grocery store or to Peter’s playgroups. Nope. A person would have to pick and chose carefully to find the one practical item in this season’s line and wear it to the Oscars, or a charity ball (oh, the irony!), or to meet some major political person like the Queen of England. That is why most people who do buy a big fashion item will buy only the shoes, glasses, perfume, or handbag. That’s sad.