Just another GR refugee. Other than that, I had a stroke in 2004, and read almost anything I can get my hands on, though I have a particular weakness for history, mystery, and historical fiction.
Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History is a biography of a perplexing and interesting woman.
Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel is famous, of course, for being a great fashion designer, possibly the most iconic of the 20th century. She liberated women from hobble skirts and corsets not once, but twice. She made costumes for important theatrical productions of the 1920s and 1930s (and was very angry when she was not given the job to make the costumes for the Broadway musical about her own life). She had what was probably the most improbable comeback by a fashion designer of all time, when she returned to the haute couture scene in 1953, at the age of 70, after being out of the business since 1939. (The Parisians sneered at that collection; until they saw it was a massive hit - in America. Where all the money was.)
She concocted what has been the world's best-selling perfume pretty much since its introduction in the 1920s - Chanel No. 5, the world's first perfume using synthetic chemicals. And then fought a long battle with the perfumery's owners, the Wertheimers, for 30 or 40 years.
She was also a liar about her own past, particularly her childhood, her years as a courtesan, and what exactly she did during World War 2. (Hint: it is clear she went far beyond the "I collaborated in order to survive" category, and even beyond the "I did business with the Nazis to make a lot of money" category, as she not only had closed her fashion house in 1939, but was the mistress of a high-ranking German officer, and was a Nazi spy as well, though not a terribly good one.)
Organization is mostly by lover (of whom she had many, probably of both sexes). Most of them, with a couple of important exceptions, were conservative politically - royalists like the Grand Duke Dmitri Romanov and the Duke of Westminster, or fascists or their fellow travelers (many of the others).
There is also an interesting discussion of how the language of iconography used by the Nazis, and Chanel's use of it in fashion, are much from the same playbook. I'm not sure that I buy this, but it was a very interesting theory. She was clearly a woman of great talent, but also of great contradictions.
This book focuses itself on Chanel's life, not her fashion, though there are indeed pictures of that fashion from different periods in her life. There's also a discussion of what happened to the House of Chanel after her death.
My ARC courtesy of Random House/Net Galley - much thanks!