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Mademoiselle Chanel: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 17, 2015

4.5 out of 5 stars 190 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Sucked me in by the pearls and never let go . . . equal parts grit and glamour . . . if you can’t afford to visit Paris in peak springtime season, reading this book with a glass of wine is a decent substitute.” (Glamour)

“Enticing . . . well-researched and well-crafted historical novel that leaves the reader satisfied on many levels. ” (New York Journal of Books)

“Absorbing, heartbreaking and salacious--like Chanel’s life story . . . a vivid, heartbreaking portrait of Coco Chanel’s meteoric rise to fame and her complicated personal life.” (Shelf Awareness)

“In a novel as brilliant and complicated as Coco Chanel herself, C. W. Gortner’s prose is so electric and luminous it could be a film, and not just any film, but one of the grandest biopics of our time. Divine!” (Erika Robuck, bestselling author of Hemingway's Girl)

“A richly imagined, deftly researched novel, in which the ever fascinating Coco Chanel comes to life in all her woe and splendor, her story unfolding as elegantly as a Chanel gown.” (Cathy Marie Buchanan, author of The Painted Girls)

“From her heart-wrenching early years through her decades of struggle and glory, Gabrielle Chanel was fascinating—as is C.W. Gortner’s Mademoiselle Chanel. Coco lives again in this rich tale of brilliance, determination, and fierce self-creation.” (Ania Szado, author of Studio Saint-Ex)

“Well-written and historically accurate . . . An homage to a couture icon whose influence is still powerful today.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“In this deliciously satisfying novel, C.W. Gortner tells the epic, rags-to-riches story of how this brilliant, mercurial, self-created woman became a legend.” (Christina Baker Kline, New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train)

“Gortner brings to life a woman who was as alluring and captivating as her signature scent. ” (Historical Novels Review)

“Gortner brings history to life in a fascinating study of one woman’s unstoppable ambition.” (Booklist)

From the Back Cover

She revolutionized fashion and built an international empire . . . all on her own terms

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

Burning with ambition, the petite brunette transforms herself into Coco, by day a hard-working seamstress and by night a singer in a nightclub, where her incandescence draws in a wealthy gentleman who becomes 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, Coco's sleek, minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As her reputation spreads, her couture business explodes, taking her into rarefied circles of society 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 always.

An enthralling novel about an entirely self-made woman, Mademoiselle Chanel tells the true story of Coco Chanel's extraordinary ambition, passion, and artistic vision.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (March 17, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062356402
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062356406
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (190 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #220,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tara Chevrestt VINE VOICE on March 17, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've watched two different movies about Coco now. I've had the same complaint about each one.... They show us her childhood quickly--her growing up an orphan in a nunnery, her talent for sewing increasing each day. Then we'll see her singing in a bar, sewing for a cheap shrew nearly in exchange for room and board. Then it introduces us to her first lover, the wealthy horseman, who let her make hats in his home and introduced her to her second lover, Boy.

And Boy comes and sweeps her off her feet and then...he dies.

And perhaps the movie will show Coco designing a line of clothes after that and yet, that's it. The movie, and with it, her story, ends. As if that was all there was to Coco--her love with Boy, her loss of him, and oh, a few clothes.

There was so much more to Coco and C.W. Gortner shows us that. He goes far beyond the death of Boy. When Boy passes on, it's only halfway through the novel, that's how much Gortner gives us of Coco, the woman, the designer, the lover, the spy.

We see her as a daughter, then an orphan who loves to read and sew and feels slighted by her remaining family members, abandoned. Then we live with Coco as young woman working for a pittance, singing, debating whether she wants to take a lover or not. Lover Coco wonders why she doesn't feel the way others do. Marriage and children do not appeal. She wants to be independent and she makes this happen through persistence and hard work. We love Boy with her and feel her frustration at the things he does. We travel all over France with her as she renovates houses and designs clothes, introduces the little black dress, battles over a perfume contract, mourns, takes lovers.
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Format: Kindle Edition
"My life didn't please me, so I created my life" (Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel). This epigraph sets the perfect tone for Mademoiselle Chanel.

The book begins with Gabrielle Chanel's childhood. Her family is poor, and after the death of her mother, Gabrielle and her sisters are sent to a convent school. From her early years, Gabrielle has a gift for sewing, and she has ambition to make something of her life.

As Gabrielle works as a seamstress and sometime chanteuse, she takes on the nickname Coco and attracts the attention of a wealthy man ... and then her fortune begins to change.

It is fascinating to read of Coco's early work as a milliner and then the beginnings of her sleek, modern fashions. I loved the descriptions in the book of her early shops and her meticulous attention to detail (not just with her clothes but also with the stores that showcased them).

I knew only the most basic details of Coco Chanel's life before reading Mademoiselle Chanel, and did not realize how much she changed fashion for women, moving away from corsets and the very busy Edwardian look to simple, elegant clothes that were designed for wearability as well as beauty.

The period details in this book are exceptional. For instance, during World War I, "The shattering of the windows sent everyone racing for cover across the Place Vendome to the basements of the Ritz, which were equipped with a fully stocked bar, gas masks, and Hermes sleeping bags."

I found the details and descriptions of 1920's Paris particularly interesting. The author, C.W. Gortner, has a gift for rich descriptions that are a joy to read.

Coco Chanel was a fascinating, complicated woman. Mademoiselle Chanel captures her life in a way that readers are sure to enjoy, especially if they like historical fiction and novels about strong women. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to other readers as well.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Only C.W. Gortner could have written this great love poem of a novel of the unstoppable, caustic, immensely gifted French designer Gabrielle (known as Coco) Chanel. And what a journey he takes her on! He begins when she is struggling to once more hurl her fashion designs into the world at the age of seventy-one and then turns the narrative back to the young Coco abandoned by her father when her laundress mother dies. Her little family of brothers and sisters are broken apart and the girls are sent to a convent where, after some years, a kindly nun discovers that the little girl can sew.

And sew she does, slowly bringing her sisters and herself out of hunger and poverty, slowly climbing in the world to dress other women and become a fashion icon. Yet as Coco grows to world fame for her fashions, steadfast love eludes her. She keeps love only a short time; she abandons it or it abandons her as her father abandoned her. It is hard to bring the perfect happiness to her beloved family that she would like. Again and again, she is left with friends, two beloved small dogs, and the ticking watch of the man she loved most and lost early, carefully wound each night.

MADEMOISELLE CHANEL is the story of a little woman with a great gift who creates a very large life for herself, a look inside the secret heart of a legend.
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Format: Hardcover
A terrific new telling of an old story, Mademoiselle Chanel is a transfixing account of one of the most prolific and, alas, controversial cultural icons of our time. What amazed me to no end about its author, writer of historical fiction and former fashion executive C. W. Gortner, was the ability to take on the voice of a female character of such a magnitude (the novel is narrated in a smooth and mellow first person POV) and modulate it with masterful penmanship and unrelenting flair.

"Remember, Coco, you're only a woman. Only a woman who must continue to reinvent herself if she is to survive. I catch sight of myself in one the room's mirror...my hands, covered in precision rings, are as raw as a stonemason's, knotted, marred by a thousand needle pricks - the hands of the Auvergne peasant I am at heart, the foundling, the orphan, the dreamer, the schemer. My hands reflect who I am. I see in them the struggle that has always existed between the humble girl I once was and the legend I deliberately created to hide my heart."

Through all the myths and rumors that clothed the passionate and focused fashion designer like her signature crepe de chine, Gortner lines up all the stepping stones that marked her whirling rise to fame, revealing, against the foil of her triumphs and mistakes, Chanel's fiercely independent nature.

The result is uncompromisingly stylish, convincing, and vibrant, in the vein of Coco's most sterling and incomparable legacy. 5 Stars!

***Review copy graciously offered by the publicist in exchange for an unbiased and honest opinion
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