Coco Chanel: an Intimate Life

British author Chaney (Hide-and-Seek with Angels: A Life of J.M. Barrie) serves up an excellent complement to Hal Vaughan’s hyped Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War. Relying on newly released love letters, private diaries, and reminiscences Chanel shared with writer Paul Morand before her death, Chaney eschews politics to highlight the Chanel aesthetic—the philosophy of art, fashion, and creativity at the heart of her iconic brand. Chanel’s life unfolds in detail—her impoverished youth, relationships with artists, writers, and musicians in Paris, self-serving love affairs, business partnerships, and scandalous at the time behaviors (bisexuality and drug use among them). Using Chanel’s own words wherever possible, Chaney reveals the woman behind the icon—her vulnerability, loneliness, and disappointment at remaining childless. Most important here is Chaney’s insight into Chanel’s role in creating the modern, independent woman, who prized both beauty and functionality. Open about the difficulty of unraveling the various myths surrounding Chanel, Chaney concludes with a look at what became of the brand after her death. VERDICT While Vaughan’s work focuses on Chanel’s alleged pro-Nazi liaisons during and after World War II, Chaney details the totality of Chanel’s life. Recommended for general readers interested in biography, fashion, and modern womanhood.
— Marie M. Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ