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?
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.