Friday, April 3, 2015

G529 Book Review of Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner

Name of Book: Mademoiselle Chanel

Author: C.W. Gortner

ISBN: 978-0-06-235640-6

Publisher: William Morrow

Type of book: Belle Epoque, France, Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, Chanel No 5, WWI, WWII, Great depression, friendship, romantic elements, hats, fashion, 1895-1945, family, anti-Jewish, powerful, wealth, elegance, 1920s, 1930s,

Year it was published: 2015


For readers of The Paris Wife and Z comes a vivid novel full of drama, passion, tragedy, and beauty that stunningly imagines the life of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel—the ambitious, gifted laundrywoman’s daughter who revolutionized fashion, built an international empire, and become one of the most influential and controversial figures of the twentieth century

Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her siblings are sent to orphanage after their mother’s death. The sisters nurture Gabrielle’s exceptional sewing skills, a talent that will propel the willful young woman into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood.

Transforming herself into Coco—a seamstress and sometime torch singer—the petite brunette burns with ambition, an incandescence that draws a wealthy gentleman who will become the love of her life. She immerses herself in his world of money and luxury, discovering a freedom that sparks her creativity. But it is only when her lover takes her to Paris that Coco discovers her destiny.

Rejecting the frilly, corseted silhouette of the past, her sleek, minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As Coco’s reputation spreads, her couturier business explodes, taking her into rarefied society circles and bohemian salons. But her fame and fortune cannot save her from heartbreak as the years pass. And when Paris falls to the Nazis, Coco is forced to make choices that will haunt her.

An enthralling novel of an extraordinary woman who created the life she desired, Mademoiselle Chanel explores the inner world of a woman of staggering ambition whose strength, passion and artistic vision would become her trademark.


There are a lot of characters in the story, but the main ones include Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, an independent, ambitious, and determined woman who becomes elegance personified and doesn't give up no matter what is going on. The author portrays her as always on top of trends, elegant, cultured, sophisticated and that she does things more for circumstances rather than personal gain. Let's also not forget that she is misunderstood of sorts and often ponders why she is the way she is. There are also her friends such as Misia with whom she shares a love/hate relationship. Misia acts as Coco's inner voice and often says things that Coco would rather ignore. She also has a bad taste in art and is a conscience. There are also her numerous lovers who seem to see her as either a trophy or else as a dalliance. Numerous personages also make their appearances such as Stravinsky, Diaghelev, and so forth.


"I'm already in hell,' I heard her say softly. "We all are,' but I did not pause as I strode from the cafe into the icy spring sunlight." (349)


The story is written in first person narrative completely from Coco's point of view. The story begins in 1895, when Coco was twelve years of age and has recently lost her father to the end of 1945, the end of WWII and she is in her sixties. The author does a good job of mixing up history, fiction and a very strong heroine that desires more from life rather than the life that society declares for her. I did enjoy learning about the high fashion of France, how Gabrielle Chanel became "Coco" as well as numerous innovations she has introduced to women, in particular the famous perfume, Chanel No.5 However if you're looking for a traditional story of a successful woman ending up having it all, then this isn't the right read. While the author captures Coco's personality, he doesn't seem to capture the psychology behind some of her more controversial thoughts and ideas. What's also cool is that the book focuses more on friendships rather than romance.

Author Information:
(From TLC)

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CW GortnerAbout C. W. Gortner

A former fashion executive, C. W. Gortner is a lifelong admirer of Coco Chanel. His passion for writing led him to give up fashion, and his many historical novels have been bestsellers, published in more than twenty countries. He lives in San Francisco.
Find out more about C.W. Gortner at his website and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


First I have to say that the cover for the book is excellent; simple but beautiful and stylish, spelling out elegance. The author clearly has a lot of love for Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel because the character is drawn as clearly as possible and in many ways she earns our sympathy a lot. I also loved the writing and enjoyed spending time getting to know Coco and the world of Paris from 1890s up until the end of 1945. What I find myself getting upset about is that both Chanel and her German lover are painted as sympathetic to Jewish people and they even end up helping them. If that was the case, why didn't Coco Chanel receive the Yad Vashem reward for her bravery? In other words, the author had a goal of imparting knowledge and not wanting to paint her in a negative light and alienate modern society, he added in some scenes where they help out French Resistance. I also feel that rather than face some negative aspects of her personality and do a lot of soul-searching, Coco Chanel brushes everything off and becomes a little bit of Scarlett O'Hara character. WWII scenes of Coco made me feel more disgusted with her thoughts and behaviors rather than sympathetic.

This is for TLC Book Tour

C. W.’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, March 17th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, March 18th: Books Without Any Pictures
Thursday, March 19th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, March 20th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, March 23rd: West Metro Mommy
Tuesday, March 24th: Walking With Nora
Wednesday, March 25th: Bibliotica
Thursday, March 26th: Read. Write. Repeat.
Monday, March 30th: Drey’s Library
Tuesday, March 31st: Unshelfish
Wednesday, April 1st: Bibliophilia, Please
Thursday, April 2nd: Mom’s Small Victories
Friday, April 3rd: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks so much for the review. I'm honored to be here.

    It might be of interest to your readers that I deliberately did not invent any scenes with the goal of making Coco appear sympathetic during the war. Indeed, I do not agree with most of her actions at this time and disgust with her behavior is justified. That said, I refrained from having her indulge in "soul-searching" because that wasn't her style. She herself often remarked later in life that she "had no time for regrets." I sought to depict her as close to her actual personality as possible, within the realm of fiction.

    It's also factual that her villa at La Pausa was used as a staging ground by her architect for the Resistance, and she knew he was helping people flee Vichy. And Von Dinklage did save a Jewish scientist interred in a temporary holding camp. These are documented events, and I choose to show them in contrast to other things they both did which weren't so laudable. It may also be of interest to note that while Coco sought to seize control of her perfume by taking advantage of anti-Semitic laws, she later bequeathed the bulk of her estate and her company upon her death to the same Jewish company she battled for the perfume during WWII. Pierre Wertheimer became her trusted adviser and his descendants privately operate Chanel S.A. to this day.


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