The Gospel According to Coco Chanel
Admittedly, it has to be one of the most inspired book-titles on the legacy of Chanel, since Mademoiselle has indeed inspired and created her own legion of followers and style-believers. Karen Karbo’s book is one of my old reads, but lately I felt the urge to revisit it, for some tender remembrance.
I bought ,,The Gospel According to Coco Chanel”, by Karen Karbo in a luxury concept-store in Paris in 2009, because it instantly caught my eye. I was sold from the cheeky title, but most of all I loved the idea of reading some atypically-framed ,,life lessons” from my favorite ,,couturiere” of all times, other than those that I personally extracted and polished from her fascinating life story.
Karen Karbo’s book feels like a friendly chit-chat in a coffee shop (one over 200 pages long!). Don’t expect a clean timeline or a classic story, quite the contrary, get ready for some twists, turns and bumps along the way.
Karbo’s writing – vivid, catchy and playful – reminded me somehow of an old aunt of mine (may she rest in peace) who used to switch freely (and unexpectedly) from one subject to the other in the same sentence. She would start off with something about, let’s say, the state of the ski slopes in Brașov, her hometown, then jump to the latest flick on TV, go back to that awful accident she read in the newspaper today, with the Chinese tourist who broke his spine falling from a cliff in Australia, and end up asking me about the color of the shoes that I plan on wearing to the school prom. All in the spacious stretch of two minutes.
Karen Karbo made me reminisce of her, in the sense that she seems to be driving a fast car, switching from the left to the right, making U-turns when least expected, only to find herself speeding again towards a destination that you thought was long left behind. For example, she starts telling the story of her quest for an original jacket designed by the ,,Mademoiselle” on page 133 and continues it on page 172, after slipping in-between a whole 40-pages chapter on Coco’s passionate love affairs.
She alternates email transcripts with quotes of famous people of the time, with quirky anecdotes of the the era and she seems to have a thing for parenthèses. An abondance of them. Overall, the book makes a very good read and I enjoyed it tremendously, which is precisely why I felt the need to revisit it. But, then again, I always enjoy original ways of writing, the more intricate and weird, the better!
What I liked the most about the book were Karbo’s sense of humor and insightfulness, paired with some uber-cool examples and comparisons that made me laugh very hard and nod my head in agreement even now, more than 6 years on.
On being life-effective
„Coco famously had no use for preliminary sketches and no urge to plot a paper pattern: «A sketch, a drawing, that’s not the body. I don’t sell bits of paper and I don’t charge for seats» she said. Chanel went straight to the part she liked best, and if i were pressed into choosing the best life lesson in this book, that would be it: cut to the chase, don’t waste time doing stuff that seems to be essential to your life and business, just because other people do it. A smart friend once summed it up thus – why make the nachos if what you really want to do is pick the browned shreds of baked cheddar off the cookie sheet? Just cook the cheese and be done with it”
,,But even Chanel needed a break from work and love once in a while and when Hollywood called, she answered. Making costumes for the movies was still work, but it wasn’t the same as turning out her collections on the Rue Cambon. Either Queen Victoria or Mary Poppins said: «A change is as good as a rest» and I imagine that was what Chanel was thinking when she and Misia set sail for America in the spring of 1931″
And, my personal favorite:
,,Had Coco been born in, say, 1963, rather than 1883, she might have married a modern day Capel and had three children – Nigel, Claire and Elodie – who would be raised with the help of a string of unreliable nannies and/or babysitters, worrying every day whether she was spending too much time designing her collections and not enough helping Nigel with his reading, or not enough time resetting those sleeves and too much time driving Elodie to gymnastics practice (surely Boy could drive her on the afternoons he golfed, couldn’t he?) and, in the end, turning out nice, well-made frocks that were wonderful but not inspired, while alternately overparenting and neglecting Nigel, Claire and Elodie, who could not get enough of her divided attention when little, then would grow predictably into surly teens who despised her while begging her for an iPhone, whose problems could all be traced back to her failing to do something or other (she can’t remember) and let’s not forget, shall we, that Boy had expectations too, as does society, not to mention Chanel herself, that she would be not just thin, but also fit, not just fit, but celebrity fit, which involves triceps that can be confused with a steel girder, and abs off which you can bounce a quarter”