Coco Chanel. Revolutionary Woman | The myth of Coco Chanel relives, fifty years after her death, in a new illustrated biography, in bookstores from April 2021. Published in three languages (English, Italian and German), the volume brings together 150 superb pictures that portray her cheeky and regal character, the perfect embodiment of her timeless elegance.
Founder and queen of a fashion empire, Coco Chanel (August 19, 1883 – January 10, 1971) was one of the most photographed women of her time. She was portrayed by great masters such as Man Ray, Cecil Beaton, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau who shot her endlessly reflected in the mirrors of her legendary staircase in Rue Cambon. Their iconic portraits are reproduced in the book together with rare snapshots that catch Chanel’s daily life, put together with careful research between historical archives and private collections. Reproduced in full-page, the youthful close-ups of Coco with the famous haircut à la garçonne, are followed by images taken on vacation on the Côte d’Azur, where she flaunts “scandalous” trousers paired with sailor t-shirts and cascades of pearls. Also, there are photographs where she poses smiling next to famous friends such as Winston Churchill and Jean Cocteau, and reportages made for fashion magazines, such as Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar, which capture her at work in the atelier, with a cigarette between her lips and scissors hanging from the neck.
Alongside images, the text by journalist Chiara Pasqualetti Johnson traces the life of Coco Chanel with a flowing text, full of anecdotes that highlights the revolutionary anti-conformism of a woman who marked an era. “Everyone knows the name Chanel, but maybe not her story. Starting from her pictures, I retrace her biography as if it were a reportage. Highlighting the strength but also the many weaknesses of a woman deeply immersed in a period of great historical and social changes. Seldom does the story of a life intertwine so deeply with the transformation of a sensitivity and the evolution of the style of an era”.
Patron and friend of artists such as Stravinsky and Picasso, Coco Chanel lived almost in a novel. Before becoming a star of haute couture, the young Gabrielle was a little girl abandoned in an orphanage. She sought redemption through work, going from misery to success with uncommon grit and tenacity. She sewed on her destiny as if it were a dress, redesigning the concept of elegance with inventions that became legendary: the petite robe noire, the perfume N ° 5, the fancy jewels, the suit with gold buttons, the quilted bag.
She loved and was loved by the nephew of the Tsar of Russia, by a cousin of the King of England, by a surrealist poet. She was at the height of her success when the war broke out and she decided to close the maison Chanel. But it was not a goodbye. At 71 she surprised the world by returning to the catwalks, triumphing again with tweed suits for a new generation of independent and modern women, just like her.
The text by Chiara Pasqualetti Johnson underlines the fundamental role of Coco Chanel in the process of women’s emancipation of the twentieth century: “She never called herself a feminist, yet she created the modern woman. With her easy-to-love and easy-to-wear dresses, she has given generations of women the freedom to roll up their sleeves by themselves. In all senses. Until then, the toilets of elegant ladies required the help of a maid to put them on and made it clear that they belonged to a world where the freedoms granted to women were limited. Long skirts, bulky hats, narrow shoes and high heels: everything stood in their way.
First queen to ascend the throne of a world dominated by men, as that of high fashion was at the time, Coco Chanel triggers a revolution that overcomes the nineteenth-century idea of femininity in one leap. She frees women from corsets and crinolines, then she shortens the hems of skirts, cutting with a scissor stroke a centuries-old gesture, the one with which a skirt was discreetly lifted with the hand every time you climb a step. Her clothes are intended for a new generation of women, those who play tennis, drive a car, work and ask for the right to vote. Chanel draws heavily from the male wardrobe, transforming sailor sweaters, short jersey and tweed jackets, real pockets and shoulder bags into seductive creations. She creates much more than a way of dressing: she invents a style, making women jump into the next century”.
An entire chapter is dedicated to Chanel N ° 5, the legendary perfume that turns 100 in 2021. Displayed at MoMa as if it were a work of art, it inspired Dalí and Andy Warhol, entering the collective imagination thanks to Marilyn Monroe: “What do I wear in bed? Chanel N ° 5 of course”. The book ends with a reflection on the myth of Coco Chanel and her legacy, not only in the world of fashion: she has inspired films played by great actresses such as Shirley MacLaine, Geraldine Chaplin, Anna Mouglalis, Audrey Tautou.
“After all, this extraordinary woman was not only a style teacher and a clever business woman. She was also one of the most influential patrons of the new art forms of her era. Chanel loved art and art loved her. She had collaborated with painters, musicians, dancers and writers since the Thirties, when she became the star of the Parisian scene, creating costumes for the shows of the Ballets Russes, born from the imagination of Sergej Djagilev” concludes Chiara Pasqualetti Johnson. Her myth has made Chanel immortal, making her go down in history as the revolutionary queen of fashion who taught women to feel free, safe, elegant. But above all unique. Because, as Coco said, “fashion passes, style remains”.
Chiara Pasqualetti Johnson – Born in Milan and graduated in art history, Chiara Pasqualetti Johnson is an Italian journalist. She writes about travel, art and lifestyle for the main Italian magazines and for some sector publications. She has edited books and series about modern and contemporary history of art for Electa and Rizzoli. Her book “The Most Influential Women of Our Time” (White Star, 2018), an illustrated volume dedicated to the most influential female figures of the twentieth century, has been translated into twelve languages – chiarapasqualettijohnson.com