Author: Axel Madsen.
Info: Henry Holt, 1990. $12.95 paperback. 337 pages plus extensive appendixes. With some black-and-white photographs.
Axel Madsen records the life of Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel--as she lived it and as she revised it--who was born an illegitimate pauper and grew up to be one of the most influential women perhaps of all time.
She is also revealed in this book to be a fierce liar and revisionist, for it is this aspect of her intriguing personality with which Madsen chooses to open the book.
Chanel was raised in an orphanage, where the mannish garb of the nuns undoubtedly influenced her ideas about dress. In 1910, she opened her first boutique, with the financial backing of a lover. Madsen chronicles her career, follows her exploits and observes her social (and romantic) connections, most of which were calculated to advance her career. She had many lovers but is represented as being committed only to her business, and when she died in 1971 at age 88, she was rich, famous and alone. Not much new is revealed, but the story is fascinating. As Cosmopolitan magazine said about this book, "Who could resist such a story, which also happens to be true?"