A Good Read: Chanel, Her Life

Earlier this month, Coco-worshipers flocked to the Boston Public Library to celebrate the release of Justine Picardie’s book Chanel, Her Life, turning the library’s richly painted rooms into a sea of LBDs. We were amongst those there to toast Picardie, and after securing our own (and now-cherished) copy of the book, we sat down to chat with the Chanel-clad author. Here, we talk research, inspiration, and everyone’s favorite fragrance –  Chanel N°5.

Rue La La: Aside from a love for everything Chanel (which, of course, we share), what inspired you to write this book?
Justine: It was probably seeing my mother’s bottle of Chanel N°5 when I was a little girl. It’s one of my earliest memories and I associate it with learning to read, really.

Rue La La: You spent a lot of time researching Coco and found out things even the most devout Chanel fans (us included) never knew. Tell us something that really shocked you.
Justine: I was amazed that she was so fluent in English and that the two great loves of her life, Boy Capel [Captain Arthur Edward Capel] and the Duke of Westminster [Hugh Grosvenor] were English. We think of Chanel as the absolute quintessential French woman, but she brought in those elements of English style into her designs, which I found interesting.

Rue La La: What do you think Chanel will mean to future generations? Do you think it will still be as much a fashion mainstay as it is today?
Justine: I think that Chanel – the Chanel iconography, the Chanel style – is so timeless that it will continue on. I’m sure just as my mother wore a little black dress that I then wore, that your daughters will also treasure little black dresses and pearls.

Rue La La: Do you think any brands out there today have the same staying power as Chanel?
Justine: It’s only history that tells. You can’t ever. It’s like with really great books – it’s only when they survive the test of time that you realize that. With Wuthering Heights, which was one of my favorite books, it was only probably fifty years after it was written that people became aware of how amazingly potent the story remains, and I think it’s the same with brands that we can’t tell now. It will be a future generation that says this survives.

Rue La La: What do you think it takes for a brand survive?
Justine: It has to have a very powerful language. The interesting thing about Chanel is that rather than trying to be a version of someone else, she was always entirely herself. She always looked entirely herself. And so I think that it’s important for brands to create their own language. It’s their own iconography that will ensure they have some meaning and significance in the future.

Justine Picardie is the author of five books. The Londonite was formerly the features director of British Vogue and editor of the Observer magazine. She is currently a fashion columnist for the Sunday Telegraph and writes for several other publications. She lives in London with her two sons.

Check out our Madison Avenue Couture – French Vintage 1950s – 1990s Boutique opening Saturday, November 12, 2011 11AM. Who knows, you may spot some of Coco’s creations.

November 11, 2011