Garelick’s Coco Chanel biography garners good reviews

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Garelick’s Coco Chanel biography garners good reviews

Rhonda Garelick
Greg Nathan | University Communications
Rhonda Garelick

A 576-page biography of legendary French fashion designer Coco Chanel, written by UNL professor Rhonda Garelick, hit the bookstores to favorable reviews from glossy magazines, major newspapers and literary trade magazines.

Chanel is said to have forever transformed the way stylish women dressed, bringing into vogue the little black dresses, low-heeled shoes, costume jewelry and slim-lined suits we still see on the streets today.

With “Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History,” Garelick puts Chanel’s life story into context with the political, economic and social upheaval during her career, which predated the first World War and continued until her death, at 87, in 1971.

“While fashionistas will find much of interest in the book’s revelations of Chanel’s influences, these tales of couture are deftly woven into a larger narrative of twentieth-century history,” wrote Booklist reviewer Lindsay Bosch in a September review* (review is behind a paywall).

“.. If it leaves you leery of ever wearing a Chanel jacket, or carrying a Chanel bag, you will understand where the desire for it came from, “ said Isak Dinesen biographer Judith Thurman in a blurb..

The review of “Mademoiselle” was a top-of-cover headline for the Oct. 9 issue of the New York Review of Books, while the Oct. 3 New York Times Sunday Book Review reviewed Garelick’s book alongside a newly released biography of Elsa Schiaparelli, a Parisian designer born seven years after Chanel.

New York Times reviewer Vanessa Friedman said Garelick “convincingly, and engagingly,” illuminates the parallels between fashion and politics in Chanel’s life, whether liberating the women from corsets, which coincided with Chanel’s rise as a businesswoman; dominating France through dress, coinciding with her ties to fascism; her later focus on sportswear, coinciding with the postwar rise of the action-oriented U.S.

The October issues of Harper’s Bazaar and More magazine also published side-by-side reviews of the new Chanel and Schiaparelli biographies. Town & Country listed “Mademoiselle,” published Sept. 30 by Random House, among the fall’s stand-out books.

Reviewer Anka Muhlstein, in the New York Review of Books, noted there have been at least 85 books written about Chanel, but said Garelick had accomplished what previous biographers had not.

“Writing an exhaustive biography of Chanel is a challenge comparable to racing a four-horse chariot,” Muhlstein wrote. “Chanel had a long, varied life that cannot be easily sorted into distinct chapters, particularly because her work, her love affairs, her artistic and political passions, and her commercial instincts are invariably intertwined,” Muhlstein wrote. “This makes the assured confidence with which Garelick tells her story all the more remarkable.”

Garelick is a professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences with a special appointment in the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts. She is founder and director of the Interdisciplinary Arts Symposium based in the Hixson-Lied College. She is on sabbatical this academic year, while serving as a visiting scholar and visiting professor at the City University of New York. She has readings and book signings planned in New York, Washington and Miami in November.

Links to other reviews:

“A definitive portrait” — Kirkus reviews, Sept. 30

“A fascinating, meticulously researched biography” — Macleans, Oct. 4

September and October reviews published by Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist and others are available through Rhonda Garelick’s website.

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