Review Detail

Middle Grade Non-Fiction 643
An Iconic Fashion Designer and Personality
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Learning Value
Coco Chanel started out life in a poor family, and was orphaned at a young age. Sent to an orphanage to be cared for, she learned to sew, and had quite a talent for it. When she was old enough to leave, she lived with her Aunt Adrienne, and the two worked together. Coco also saw on stage, where she picked up her nickname. She had a knack for finding wealthy friends, and was able to set up a small dress maker shop near Spain around the time of World War I that did well and was able to withstand the difficulties of the war. She developed her personal style and translated that into her design style, using Jersey knit material, popularizing pants, and simplifying the clothes that women wore. World War II was a difficult time during which she had to close stores, and she was also accused of collaborating with the Germans. She spent some time in Switzerland to escape these difficulties, and found much success after she moved to Paris in 1954. Her designs influence modern fashion considerably, with classics such as the little black dress and her Chanel No. 5 perfume.
Good Points
Prestel publishes beautiful books on art and popular culture that feel especially European to me, and this style is a great one for capturing the essence of Chanel fashion. The colored line drawing evoke her floruit in the 1950s and 60s, with bright yellows, pinks, and blues illustrating the post war years making this a cheerful book. The text is in a rather tiny print, and is positioned with the pictures so that this resembles a lengthy picture book.

I especially liked the discussion about the hallmarks of Chanel's design that are still influencing fashion today; some of my students who are interested in clothing will be surprised at how long ago some of these innovations were introduced to the world. For my part, if I could dress in Chanel style suits everyday, that would be great; I had a college professor who was still wearing this classic look in the 1980s!

There is room for a lot more books about fashion designers. There are a fair number of picture books, like Harvey's Dressing Up the Stars: The Story of Edith Head or MacCullough's Harriet's Ruffled Feathers, but not a lot of middle grade titles that offer more historical context to the design process. Pair this with Rubin's Coco Chanel: Pearls, Perfume, and the Little Black Dress for a more complete coverage of Chanel's life along with photographs from the various stages of her career.
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