‘Chanel: Her Life’ Author Justine Picardie on the Legends, the Scandals, and No. 5

Justine Picardie's novel 'Chanel: Her Life'
Photo courtesy of Chanel
The cover of  Justine Picardie's novel 'Chanel: Her Life'.

A lot of books have been written about the life and work of Coco Chanel—but only one has the Kaiser’s personal stamp of approval. A year after Justine Picardie’s Chanel: Her Life was published by Harper Collins, a second edition is coming out, complete with Karl Lagerfeld’s touch.

“It was so unexpected,” Picardie said at a Chanel luncheon and conversation celebrating the book. “He didn’t just do the illustrations, he designed the whole book.” The layout, the font, le tout was overseen by Lagerfeld, she said—and the result is something chic enough to be stashed in any 2.55 bag.

Picardie sat down with New York Magazine’s Amy Larocca to chat about the book, which she began researching in 1998 after a lifetime admiring the work of the legendary designer.

“As a girl, my mother had a bottle of Chanel No. 5 on her dressing table,” Picardie said of her first interaction with the brand. Although she couldn’t read at the time, she took notice of the bottle’s graphic lettering and was intrigued by how precious she knew it was.

It was a scent that would be significant later in her life as well: While researching her book, she had the opportunity to see and even try on articles of clothing that belonged to the late Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, and found in a jacket pocket a handkerchief that still smelled of No. 5.

“You could smell the scent of No. 5 wherever she went,” Picardie said.

The book covers all aspects of Chanel’s life, from her childhood to her many lovers (“there are so many of them, but they’re all incredibly significant,” she said) to her business savvy—and it presents the designer in a more positive light than another recent biography, Lisa Chaney’s Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life, that claims to have evidence that Chanel had lesbian dalliances, a drug habit, and ties to the Nazi party.

“I believe that you should never say anything rude about another writer,” Picardie said of the book, but added, “I have read all the same sources. It’s a much more complicated story.”

“Independence was part of what Chanel stood for,” she said. “She was about liberating women from their corsets, literally, but also liberating them from the idea that women are defined by who their husband is or who their father is.”

Chanel: Her Life is available at the end of September.

In related news, check out the recent Coco Chanel musical, which hit the London stage this summer.