Justine Picardie’s account of Coco Chanel’s eventful 87 years on this earth is written in a flowing, luxuriant style suitable to its subject. Here’s a selection of phrases from the first few pages: “perfumed and warm”, “a cocoon of luxury”, “jewel-coloured lipsticks”, “silk-lined tweed jackets”, “pearls and camellias”.
Picardie recounts Chanel’s childhood in an orphanage, her love affairs, and her extraordinary career as designer, couturiere, and creator of Chanel No 5 (well, co-creator – she commissioned, chose, and marketed the perfume, but didn’t do the actual mixing). A complex character who told many versions of her life, Chanel knew everyone from Winston Churchill to Cecil Beaton and the Prince of Wales. Noël Coward wrote of her in 1948: “Lunched with Coco Chanel. Not a good word said about anybody but very funny.”