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Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life Paperback – November 27, 2012

3.8 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“The most thoroughly fleshed out of the new books about Chanel. . . . Ms. Chaney takes care to give detailed context all the way along, but not so much that she pulls us off the path. One appreciates her elegant tutorials.” — The Wall Street Journal

“Stuffed with just-so details as it sketches the arc of a remarkable life.” — Harper's Magazine


“Relying on newly released love letters, private diaries, and reminiscences . . . and using Chanel’s own words wherever possible, Chaney reveals the woman behind the icon. . . . Most important here is Chaney’s insight into Chanel’s role in creating the modern, independent woman.” — Library Journal


"Chaney’s engagement with her subject is evident throughout, and her exhaustive research into Chanel’s life—especially its darker, more enigmatic corners—and the cultural history she so profoundly impacted make the book as fascinating as it is informative." — Kirkus Reviews


“Deeply researched, Chaney’s enthralling biography unearths previously unavailable sources to reveal the elementally conflicted yet unequivocally gifted woman whose name will always be synonymous with sophistication and originality.” — Booklist

About the Author

Lisa Chaney has taught at Oxford, covered cultural history for British TV and radio, and written for The Guardian and The Independent, among other publications. The author of two previous biographies, Elizabeth David and Hide-and-Seek With Angels: A Life of J.M. Barrie, she lives in York, England.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (November 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143122126
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143122128
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,273 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I'm very surprised by the 1 star review, I thought this book was absolutely fantastic and a great read. Admittedly, it's not a "picture book" on Chanel (there are other good books out there that are if you're essentially looking for an illustrated book) but the (print) book does have some nice pictures.

I've read a few biographies of Chanel (by Edmonde Charles-Roux, Justine Picardie, etc.) and I felt this really was the best one. It has a lot of new discoveries about Chanel herself, her relationship with Capel (including some very moving love letters) and with Grand Duke Dmitri (the author quotes his diary, which had apparently never been published before), Dali, WW2, her bisexuality and use of drugs - unlike all other recent biographies I've read, which seemed to repeat a lot of material and not really introduce anything new.

I thought it was really helpful that the author took time to explain the social and historical context that Chanel lived in, it helps avoid anachronisms and there are quite a few interesting insights into the evolution of French society at that time. The analysis of the amazing artistic scene Chanel was part of (Picasso, Stravinsly, Diaghilev, Cocteau, Dali) with an emphasis on Chanel's huge importance in the development of 'the Modern' was quite new to me but I thought it was fascinating.

The chapter on fashion and its history/role in society (including Chanel's views on the subject) was also fantastic.

Chaney is less caricatural than most on Chanel's politics - she found out that Chanel bankrolled a powerful French left-wing magazine, was a close friend of Jean Renoir and had an important affair with an exiled Spanish Republican (communist) sculptor in the late 1930s for instance, which I'd never heard before.

All in all, a very moving portrayal of Chanel, with a lot more new research and in-depth analysis than most others out there.
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Format: Hardcover
Lisa's Chaney's `intimate life' of Coco Chanel is terrific, a tour de force that places Chanel in the multiple contexts that informed her life choices, her career and her loves. Sympathetic, even-handed and frank, the book traces the life of a much discussed, and much mythologized, 20th century figure, bringing her into focus as a woman, and treating her faults and her achievements as part of a desire for security and satisfaction, if not for self-knowledge. Chanel is not self knowing, nor is she always just, charitable or fair. Her strong desires -- to make a mark, to be someone, to fend off competitors, to come out on top, to win and to succeed -- inform Chanel's trajectory through life, but her desires are much more complex than this list suggests, rooted (in part) in her transient early life, the wayward father who abandoned her, and her subsequent education as a seamstress (and presumably as a highly disciplined worker) by the nuns who ran the orphanage in which she and her sister were brought up. Chaney reports Chanel as saying that she needn't necessarily have been a clothes designer. It seems clear that designing and making clothes was merely one of the routes that a pretty, clever and creative French woman from her class, educated in the way that she was, and in need of work that could give her identity and security, could take. What is also clear is her extraordinary talent was not merely for the look and cut of hats (first) and dresses (second). Her real talent was to articulate deeper desires in material form -- the desires of the age in which she lived, and in particular, the desire of women to emerge from the closet of the corset, and into modernity, through the looks she created for them.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I absolutely devoured this book. What an amazing life Chanel lead, and quite a trailblazer she was. And in the hands of an excellent biographer such as Ms. Chaney, the book was utterly compelling to read from beginning to end. Chaney really captures the despair of the early years as well as the headiness of the expansive years. I would have liked to have learned more about the business end of Chanel's life and of her growing empire rather than the social trivialities, however, it is clear that Chanel had quite a lot going on in her love affairs, social life as well as business and fitting it in 400 pages is quite a feat in and of itself. An inspiring and engrossing book!!
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Format: Hardcover
I've seen the recent movies and read several of the older biographies as they came out. Still, there is a lot new here, and always more to learn about this extraordinary woman. Focusing only on the intimate life of Gabrielle Chanel, sets this book apart.

To understand Chanel you have to consider the actual childhood and the childhood she imagined and the power of her first experience of being in love with Arthur Capel. He loved her too, but her common roots and her growing success made the aristocratic Diana Wyndham a safer choice. His life, his views expressed through his writing, his success and her youth make his marriage and his death are defining moments for Chanel. Subsequent liaisons could not measure up, and the men that possibly could have filled his shoes seemed to want to compete with her as she became more and more successful.

Lisa Chaney suggests that Arthur Capel may have committed suicide. I had wondered this, since the accounts of the accident, and the film portrayal of the scene would suggest whiplash and not a burned body. From the newly discovered letters, and his continuing relationship with Chanel after his marriage, he was under enormous strain.

Her success makes it hard to believe the first hand reports about Chanel's drug use. The number of sources and their close relationships with Chanel make them credible. That Reverdy, a lover who in 1924 left Chanel citing her addiction as a reason, means that she functioned as an addict for almost 50 years.

Chanel's circle includes some of those in the Hemingway-Fitzgerald orbit, but, in this book, these American ex-pats hardly figure. There is only one mention of the Fitzgeralds, a passing reference at that.

This book covers one aspect of her life.
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