The Chanel Sisters


Judith Little

The Chanel Sisters by Judith Little is told from the viewpoint of youngest sister Antionette.  The story begins after the girls have been abandoned by their father.  Their mother had recently died and the three girls were turned over to and grew up under the strict surveillance and tutelage of nuns.  The girls were taught to sew so they could find work after they left the convent.  Their childhood was sparse and harsh by today’s standards and they were repeatedly told that their station in life was set in stone.

Their upbringing did take two of the girls, Antoinette and Gabrielle (i.e. Coco) into the world of fashion as seamstresses. After failing to become a singer, older sister Coco lived with a wealthy man for several years.  During this time and out of boredom, Coco made hats for the other mistresses that visited the estate in which she lived.  Eventually, Coco moved to Paris and opened a hat shop where she enlisted the help of younger sister Antoinette who previously sold hats in a department store in Vichy.  The two grew the business together although Coco was always viewed as the owner.

The sisters faced many losses including the death of older sister Julia and broken relationships.  The book is historical fiction so it takes some liberties as much less is known about Antoinette.  Prior to reading The Chanel Sisters I hadn’t known much about Coco’s background so I was excited to read this account.  I now want to read Coco’s biography by Hal Vaughn.  If you love Paris, fashion and watching the underdog beat all odds, you will find The Chanel Sisters a compelling read.