“I don’t think in terms of success but I do feel fortunate to be able to do the things I love,” says Justine Picardie. Writer and editor of Hapers Bazaar, Justine Picardie has emerged as a leading voice in UK journalism.
Her latest book, Coco Chanel, the Legend and the Life, is a revealing insight into the life of an extraordinary woman who built a gilded fashion empire through sheer tenacity and relentless hard work.
Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel’s early life was one of loss and tragedy: her mother died when she was just a young girl; her father abandoned her along with the rest of her siblings. She was raised in a convent where the spartan austerity of the nuns had a clear impact on her design aesthetic for which she was later to become a household name.
After leaving the care of the nuns, Chanel became a kept woman, dependent on the largesse of rich men. It was a dependency that she chafed against and fueled her determination towards achieving financial independence.
In spite of her precarious situation, Chanel never failed to assert her individuality: at social events she always cut a striking figure with her androgynous style and her uniquely beautiful sailor hats. With her cropped hair and gamine frame, her style represented a volte-face from the conventional feminine aesthetic of the day and came to be seen as a liberation from the confines of the corset.
The definitive relationship of her life was with the dashingly handsome English aristocrat Boy Capel. She traveled with him to England where she set about establishing a hat shop. Her hat designs were a runaway success and soon European high society was clamouring for more of her designs. Similarly, her diversification into clothes and jewellery drew an unprecedented clientele, catapulting Chanel from obscurity to international renown, fame and fortune.
However, for Picardie, it was Chanel’s romance with the dashing Duke of Westminster which holds a particular interest: “One of the many surprising things about Chanel was the time she spent in the UK, particularly Scotland where she went fishing with the Duke of Westminster.” The book includes photographs of poignant off-guard moments with Chanel dressed in tweeds and wellington boots with the Duke of Westminster.
In spite of her dazzling success, Chanel’s life was always marred by loneliness and loss. However, Picardie highlights how all these challenging, watershed experiences seemed to serve as stimulus for Chanel to work even harder and achieve greater success. The book offers a fascinating account of the life behind the legend, exploring the vulnerabilities of a woman who emerged as the most formidable force in fashion.
Picardie’s biography captures the complexity of Chanel’s relationships with the men and women in her life, giving a fascinating perspective on a truly remarkable woman whose legacy continues to endure.