What I'm Reading: April 5

Coco Chanel: Pearls, Perfume, and the Little Black Dress, by Susan Goldman Rubin

Coco Chanel: Pearls, Perfume, and the Little Black Dress, by Susan Goldman Rubin

I knew going into Coco Chanel: Pearls, Perfume, and the Little Black Dress that Coco Chanel was, shall we say, a Problematic Figure.

I did not know that she was such a Problematic Figure that this book should have been called Coco Chanel: What A Dick.

Points to Rubin for being straightforward about Chanel's antisemitism, possible Nazi ties, and anti-worker actions. Points, too, for working to understand the whys of Chanel's hateful attitudes and beliefs without trying to excuse them.

Points for the beautiful design of the book; for the descriptions and explanations of and around the ways in which she changed fashion forever; and for the many, many zingers—some from Chanel herself, others directed at her—that keep the prose from ever getting remotely dry:

Throughout the 1960s, when Coco was in her eighties, she competed with young designers. "[Yves] Saint Laurent has excellent taste," she said. "The more he copies me, the better taste he displays."

Points detracted for the title of the first chapter, which includes an ethnic slur—the chapter is called 'Sell Her to the G*'.

More points detracted for repeating said slur throughout the discussion of Chanel's late-'30s romantic period without acknowledging the history behind the word, especially given that the 'g* dresses' date from—according to the book—1938 and 1939. (During which time, as I'm sure you know, the Nazis were actively working to exterminate the Romani people. Which seems like a fact that would merit a mention. But, no.) 

This commentary is based on an advanced copy, so if any of this has been changed in the final copy, please do let me know.