Book Review: The Gospel According to Coco Chanel by Karen Karbo
Book: The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons From the World’s Most Elegant Woman by Karen Karbo
Publication date: 2009
Summary: In many ways, Coco Chanel invented the modern woman, both what we look like and what we do. At a time when women wore clothes they couldn’t move in, and therefore didn’t move much in the world, Coco Chanel transformed us, first, by simplifying hats, and then by streamlining the rest of our wardrobe. In doing so, she became a pioneering successful business woman.
Thoughts: After enjoying How Georgia Became O’Keefe by Karen Karbo, I knew I wanted to read The Gospel According to Coco Chanel before my trip to France. I’ve never been much of a fashion hound or known much about Coco Chanel, so this book was a delightful learning experience. Here’s how influential she was:
For nearly a hundred years, Coco Chanel has been synonymous with every piece of clothing we consider stylish–and with lots of stuff to which we never give a thought. Throw open your closet door and you will find the spirit of Chanel. If you have a collection of jackets for tossing on over a pair of jeans, the better to look as if you’ve actually dressed for the occasion–as opposed to simply parked the lawn mower, given your nails a once over with the nail brush, and walked out the door–that’s Chanel. Any black dress is a direct descendent of Chanel’s 1926 short silk model. A knee-grazing pencil or A-line skirt? Chanel. Jersey anything? Chanel again. (p. 3)
And I thought it was my own personal wardrobe secret to have a collection of jackets to dress up my jeans. Other Chanel-inspired items in my closet are pants with real pockets, tons of sportswear modeled on menswear, and uncluttered lines ready to be accessorized.
A core part of this philosophy of clothing is to not have to think about clothes all the time. As Coco Chanel, herself, said, “One shouldn’t spend all one’s time dressing. All one needs are two or three suits, as long as they and everything to go with them, are perfect.” Karen Karbo pointed out that suits are too “matchy-matchy” these days, but the idea holds true when you think about mixing and matching the most beautiful pieces in your closet.
Today’s outfit, for Sunday brunch at a restaurant, is a spring green linen-blend jacket over a knit shirt accented with a floral scarf, trouser-cut blue jeans, and black oxfords with pretty patent leather details. Pretty much Chanel from head to toe.
I look good, today, for St. Louis. This book made me worry about how I’ll look for Paris, though. Karen Karbo is the same height as me, 5′ 9″, and weighs 25 pounds less than I do. She feels like a draft horse compared to the small and sleek Parisian woman. This passage may have scared me away from shopping:
Stroll into, say, Fendi in your 501s and gas-station sunglasses and see what happens next. After passing the navy blue-suited security guard who nods as he opens the door for you, casting upon you a small frown of pity, the salesgirls start cawing, “Bonjour Madame! Bonjour Madame!” It’s not your imagination–they are sizing you up, and they don’t like what they see (are those cowboy boots on your feet)? Their cries are shrill and urgent, notifying their confreres in the bowels of the boutique–past the sunglasses and handbags, the perfume and the lipstick (the stuff on which middle-class Americans routinely splurge in the hopes of feeling that they, too, are as chic as the sloe-eyed, long-limbed mistresses of Russian billionaire magnates, or the Japanese), back in the land of the fifteen hundred dollar T-shirts and 10k frocks–that a large American wearing a Gap turtleneck and carrying a Fossil handbag, i.e., someone who literally has no business being there, is moving moving, moving toward the…I daren’t call it clothing, for that would fail to convey the degree to which I, a lowly wearer of J. Crew, am capable of contaminating the garments of pure fabulosity….Bonjour Madame! Bonjour Madame! Now you are reaching toward a jacket. Bonjour Madame! You’re actually…touching it! You’re…taking the jacket off the hangar! Bonjour Madame! Bonjour Madame! Bonjour Madame! In the back, each fabulous piece has its own personal sales associate, who hovers, wringing her narrow hands, while you paw the merchandise with rough mitts that have not enjoyed the attention of a manicurist since the Bush administration.
That’s exaggeration. Right? I really do hope to come home from Paris with a designer scarf. Does anyone have advice of where or how to shop for one without making myself or the Parisians around me uncomfortable?
Appeal: This is a great book for Francophiles, fashionistas, and women with aspirations for running a business.
Challenges: This is my fourth book for the Books on France challenge. I originally pledged three and I’m still reading, so I did well there.
I’m also linking this to the Dreaming of France meme hosted each Monday at An Accidental Blog.
Fendi is not a normal store by any stretch of the imagination. For one thing, it’s Italian so the fact that they have a store in Paris suggests something. We’re talking haute couture. Sunglasses will run you several hundred dollars. A bag will cost over 1k easily. Probably closer to 2k, if not more. For a purse.
Now, unless you can afford to shop there, you probably aren’t going to go there. And if you can afford to shop there, you probably don’t own anything from the Gap because why would you? I mean, I know why I would, because even if I could afford to pay over 1k for a pair of jeans I can’t see myself doing it. But then I can’t see myself spending over $400 for a pair of sneakers and they have those at Fendi too.
Trust me. You don’t have to worry. Jeans and a jacket will have you looking more Parisian than most American tourists.
I like Satia’s answer! When I think about Paris, I think about bookshops and food, not clothing. 🙂 From your description of your outfit, you definitely looked good today!
Joy, I love window shopping in Paris, but I haven’t really ventured into those expensive stores. Instead, I’d suggest you find some fabulous vintage stores. Then you can feel fashionable and spend less money. I never really feel like people are staring at me because I’m such a fashion faux pas, but I always admire those French women who make it all look so easy. This sounds like a great book.
Thanks for playing along today. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme
Joy while you do not want to stick out like a tourist, Paris is full of tourists. If you want to do some shopping it depends what you want to shop for. I like The Marais a lot. There are boutiques and name brand stores that you will find elsewhere in Paris. The Marais is open on Sunday afternoons-it is a very lively area. Another favourite area is St. Germain des Pres. This is the left bank where you will find the designer shops, do not let that scare you there are many fun boutiques here. Duck into Poulaine-it is a bakery with a cafe next door. Great bread and cookies. The cafe is closed on Mondays. You can also head to Les Grand Magasines-the large department stores, Galleries Lafayette and Printemps-in the 9th on Blvd Hausmann. Do pop up to the roof of Printemps for a lovely view of the city. My suggestion if you really want to shop is to go early. GL is very popular with the Asians and the store gets jammed packed. You can sit down and enjoy a glass of champagne will shopping. In GL the front desk also speaks English-they really cater to the tourists here. You can also do your tax refund if you spend over 175 euros. I do not know what your size is however I do not believe that most stores carry anything larger than a US 10. The French are small. Shoe size I cannot tell you as I have small feet so I have never looked for a larger size. The French sizing is 36-38-40-42-44 for clothes-a 36 is a US 2. Shoes start at 36, 37, 38 etc with a 36 being a US 6. Stay off the Champs des E. for shopping it has been overrun by American brands. Window shopping is a lot of fun. I always shop when I am in Paris and I do a combination of both window shopping and purchasing. Rue Honore also has many of the designer shops along with Rue Montaigne. PS. do not dream of walking into a store with food or an open drink. Thankfully you do not see someone’s left over Starbucks just sitting on a shelf. If you are interested I will look for the name of a scarf shop close to the Marais where I have enjoyed a few purchases. Just let me know. One other piece of advice-many of these stores are quite small. The French are a little fussy-it is their style. While we tend to walk into a Gap and pull everything off the shelf they do not tolerate that-there will be something on display and many times other sizes are shelved elsewhere-they are not fond of you pulling everything out-they would sooner you ask. I am there twice a year so if you have any questions do not hesitate to email me.
Thanks! These are great details!
congratulations for doing so well on this Reading Challenge!
I’m not a great follower of fashion either, but this does sound an interesting book. I’m hoping to buy some shoes on my next trip, I don’t think that I’d have the nerve to go clothes shopping.
I bought this book years ago after seeing a foreign film on CoCo. I can’t remember the name, but it was really good. You’ve inspired me to pick up the book and start reading.
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