Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick

Publication Date: September 30, 2014


Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. GarelickMademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick is an intimate look at the life of fashion icon Coco Chanel, the way she changed the face of fashion for women in the 20th century and her abiding legacy.




I received an advance copy of this novel as a courtesy of Random House via NetGalley.

Chanel famously reinvented herself throughout her life. The author Garelick tells us that Chanel would frequently tell reinvented or downright false stories of her life, only to deny ever having told them later. The author has a difficult task in Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History. She must take what Chanel has said of her life to other would-be biographers in account, combine it with research and interviews with Chanel’s acquaintances, and boil it all down to a likely truth. To make matters more complex, she must present this overload of information in a diluted version that will remain true to the subject, but appealing to the reader. Garelick accomplishes her task beautifully, touching lightly on Chanel’s romanticized version, but giving us likely truth citing meticulous research. At the start of the biography, Garelick introduces us to Albert Chanel, a man she tells us was prone to hyperbole, and she shows us the influence of that hyperbole in his young daughter, Gabrielle, the woman who would later become known as Coco Chanel.

Chanel was a woman who knew money to be freedom. Coco’s mother had been an orphan living with her brother when she succumbed to the charms of Albert Chanel. When Jeanne Devolle, Coco’s mother, discovered that she was pregnant, Albert agreed to give the child his name, but only pretend to be married to her. Jeanne followed him as he traveled, sometimes losing track of him and when found, falling pregnant. Gabrielle’s mother died young and her father abandoned his young daughter and her siblings, never to be seen again. Is it any wonder that trust would be an ongoing challenge for the young Chanel? In trying to uncover this period in the young woman’s life, Garelick balances beautifully the myth and the lore. Did Albert go to America and write the young Gabrielle periodically as she claimed? Garelick is pretty sure he did not and has the research to back that claim. The complex unraveling of fact from fiction in her early life carries as a theme through Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History.

In the nonfiction genre there is an expected disconnect between the subject and author. Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History reads as a very personal quest for Garelick; therefore, the style of narrative in Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History easily pulls readers into the life of the subject. This woman who changed the face of fashion in the 20th century was very much someone she not only grew to know, but to love, perhaps in researching and writing of the work.

Garelick’s admiration and affection for Chanel shines in the pages of Mademoiselle. She relates in the foreward, the thrill of examining Chanel’s jewelry collection and trying on her famed emerald ring (Kindle location 199). In keeping with this admiration, Garelick’s tone is one of sympathy. “Early happiness handicaps people. I do not regret having been profoundly unhappy.” (Kindle location 318) Garelick quotes Coco Chanel. The author conveys the influences that shaped the designer with a light hand, while presenting an unvarnished truth. Garelick does not rewrite history in any way or bring us any startling new revelations about the author’s life, but her psychological profiling of Chanel based on what we know of her, gives a fresh look at the famous woman.

If you’re a fan of biographies of extraordinary women or fashion, you will not want to miss out on this wonderfully written work. Read an excerpt and pick up Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick today.

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