Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Afternoon tea with Justine Picardie for Coco Chanel book launch

What a fab afternoon I must tell you all about - I was invited to afternoon tea at Claridges with the fabulous Justine Picardie who launches her new book Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life. I'd preempted a traditional book launch with a packed room, name badges and lectern. But we're talking about Justine Picardie and Coco Chanel here - the afternoon was in fact a really intimate chat with the author herself, filled with some great stories that made me laugh and more importantly which made me question everything I thought I knew about Coco Chanel herself.

Justine's research has evidently gone beyond pure diligence to archived information. Granted she has unearthed some absolutely fascinating facts and unseen images; Coco Chanel's close relationship with Winston Churchill or the nervous anxiety she suffered despite our preconceived notions of Wintour-esque stature and ultimate confidence. Justine has gone beyond straightforward research by literally stepping into Coco's shoes...and couture!

Justine recounts staying at Gabrielle's (Coco's great niece's) apartment where she was permitted to try the fashion icon's personal couture (which, she recalls still smelt like No. 5) to living in the convent where Coco was brought up by nuns.  Justine draws some amazing parallels that go a long way in unearthing the real life and inspirations of the legend that was Coco Chanel. Never before seen pictures highlight the convent's impact on Coco's design inspirations: from the double 'c' logo clearly evident in the convent's stained glass window, or the star designed mosaic floor that became so integral to Coco's designs.

The book is as compelling as the smell of No. 5 as I'm already on my fourth chapter and can't seem to put it down. I'd urge anyone who has an interest in Chanel to pick up a copy pronto as this book will challenge what you thought you already knew in a big way.

As interesting as the book itself are Justine's fantastic experiences and stories from when she was researching...I'm going to leave you with one.
Having stayed in the very room where Coco passed at the Ritz Hotel, Justine experienced flashing lights and an exploding lightbulb on her first night. The hotel's electricians checked the room the next day and everything appeared normal with the wiring. When the maid came to tidy her room Justine mentioned she'd had the strangest night but didn't explain what had happened. The maid turned to her and nonchalantly asked: "Has Mademoiselle been to visit?"... needless to say, everyone in the room felt a shiver run down their spine so heaven knows how Justine must have felt at the time.

As well as drawing upon her unprecedented access to the Chanel archive, Justine has gone beyond just that to unpick the seams between the truth and myth. The result is a book full of interesting facts about Le Grande Mademoiselle that have never been unearthed before to create what can only be described as the definitive biography of one of fashion's most revered icons.

Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life is published this Thursday. To hear Justine talk about the book visit Waterstones, High Street Kensington, 23rd September at 7pm. For more dates and locations visit Justine's blog


  1. Xen you are adorables! Lovely post xx

  2. What a superb description of the book! I will definitely try and make it to one of Justine's talks. Thanks! xoxo

  3. Really good post - I've read Axel Madsen's biography on Coco Chanel but I'll definitely be reading Justine's book. I'm always surprised when an author manages to find new new information and pics on great figures like Chanel.

  4. Xenia -- it was great to meet you yesterday at Claridges. Thanks so much for coming, and I'm really thrilled that you are enjoying the book. Hope to see you again at one of the forthcoming talks -- perhaps Waterstones next week, or the V&A next month?

  5. Have been battling with the blog to leave a comment -- apologies if this then appears as a second message, if the invisible first one becomes visible. (As you will see, my brain is scrambled in the week of book publication!). Hope to see you at Waterstones next week -- High Street Kensington on Thursday 23rd September at 7pm -- and/or the V&A on October 15th. Loving the blog...

  6. I can't make 23rd September. Is Justine doing any more talks in London? Book sounds really interesting!

  7. Johanna, I'm doing a talk at the V&A on October 15th at 7pm. The details are on my blog: http://justine-picardie.blogspot.com/. There will doubtless be other London events, so if you check into my blog, I'll add updates.

  8. Hi Xen

    Thanks for your comment and it was good to meet you at Claridges yesterday. Hope to see you at the V&A.


  9. Dear Xen, so sorry for the late reply. It was lovely to meet you and to discover your blog. See you at LFW maybe? Christina xx

    PS. How do I follow you?

  10. Can't wait to get my hands on the book!