Library of Luminaries: Coco Chanel: An Illustrated Biography

Image of Library of Luminaries: Coco Chanel: An Illustrated Biography
Release Date: 
August 15, 2016
Chronicle Books
Reviewed by: 

Apparently there are never enough pages, not enough illustrations nor enough photographs that are devoted to the illustrious and legendary designer, Coco Chanel. Her life story, most recently told by Zena Alkayat, is a most charming version of one of fashion’s most enduring icons. Chanel’s much debated and often fabricated life is given a lighter even fairy tale aura by the author and the artist’s illustrations.

“I invented my life by taking for granted that everything I did not like would have an opposite, which I would like.”
—Coco Chanel

The above quote certainly speaks to the topic at hand as Chanel was never long on verifiable personal details about her life, and apparently her life story had multiple versions which changed with each retelling. Diana Vreeland once said of her "Where Chanel came from in France is anyone's guess. She said one thing one day and another thing the next. She was a peasant—and a genius. Peasants and geniuses are the only people who count and she was both." These two icons were of like mind when it came to the truth as they both felt it was perfectly fine to amend one’s past as they saw fit or to make a point. One might think of words to the effect of “It doesn’t matter how you got there as you arrived.”

In another example of Vreeland’s sage bon mots she offered up "Fashion must be the most intoxicating release from the banality of the world." Indeed, it is exactly what mademoiselle Chanel did in her life to escape her less than perfect childhood. Coco Chanel offers a crash course in the life and times of Coco but alas there is little new news here other than the lovely watercolor illustrations that accompany the text.

This would be a perfect book for a young person who has only a cursory knowledge of the designer’s life. As far as adult readers go, the book would suit a less informed fashionphile or perchance someone who just wanted another telling of the history of the great Coco Chanel.