Mademosielle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History


Rhonda K. Garelick

I read the book, Sleeping with the Enemy by Hal Vaughn which focused on Coco Chanel’s sympathies and activities with the Nazi’s. However, I wanted to gain a more holistic perspective of Chanel and understand her background and impact on the fashion world. The book, Mademosielle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick provides additional information on Coco’s upbringing and the impact it had on her work and relationships. Her mother died young, and her father was a cheating peddler who gave the children away either to a Convent or in the case of the boys, to a farm as workers. The author’s perspective is that this challenging upbringing caused Chanel to often fabricate about her past and to chase financial security, social standing, and long-lasting love. She achieved the financial security, penetrated many societal barriers but was still considered unsuitable for marriage to nobility.

The author also spends a great deal of time detailing the impact of the infamous designer. Chanel’s inventive designs are staples in a woman’s wardrobe today. She created iconic pieces such as “the little black dress,” flat shoes, cardigan sweaters, two-tone sling-back shoes, the Chanel suit, the quilted purse, costume jewelry and of course Chanel No 5, the best-selling perfume of all time. Ladies, look in your closet, you may be emulating Chanel fashion.

Like Vaughn’s book, this one also includes the allegations and evidence of Nazi sympathizing. However, this book also implies that Chanel was a Fascist, and that her designs support this fact. Garelick says the interlocking “C’s” are Fascist symbols. Also, since some of Chanel’s outfits had military influence, this is further evidence that she was a Fascist. This linkage feels like a bridge too far for me. Nonetheless, the book was informative, and I appreciated having more information on the life of this extraordinary woman.