The Improbable Return of Coco Chanel by Richard Parker

I received an advanced copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

imagesThe Improbable Return of Coco Chanel is a non-fiction novel written by Richard Parker, who was Coco Chanel’s assistant during the time when she opened a new showroom for Chanel Perfumes in New York.  At the time Coco was 71 years old and returning to the fashion industry after a 13 year “retirement” in Switzerland.  After being absent from the industry for so long, Coco needed to almost re-establish herself.  In this story, Richard tells of the challenges they encountered during the development of the showrooms and also let us in on working with Mademoiselle herself.   According to him, Mademoiselle was a pleasure to work with. She treated him with dignity and respect, but  never did they become too familiar. Their working relationship was strictly professional. He described her as a “reputed martinet and a most finicky perfectionist” and that she knew what she wanted, at all times (“Her decisions were not discussible”)

For those who know me on a more personal level (my friends), know that I’m a huge admirer of Coco Chanel’s legacy.  She is one of the very few women that I found inspirational.  Not only was she named the world’s most elegant woman, but she was revolutionary in what she did. This woman, who brought us faux pearls, Chanel N°5 and the little black dress.  At a time when the fashion industry designed clothes for women that were highly uncomfortable (corsets, boning, etc), Coco was the one who came out with comfortable clothes.  She believes that if fashion isn’t worn by women, then it’s not fashion and also that style is a constant thing.  I think that is what I admire most about her, is that her fashion and her clothes never go out of style. She created classic pieces of clothing that up until today is still in style. I am all for simplicity and comfort. I rarely follow fashion and I buy clothes that I wear for years. Maybe I am perceived as old fashioned for not following trends, but I think I just don’t care. Like her I believe in having style rather than being fashionable.

He also let’s us in on some facts about her life that he learned from working with her and his colleagues.  I found the parts about her love life particularly interesting. She had everything, but she never found everlasting love, which makes me feel a bit sad for her. One of her most epic love stories, was of her and Boy Chapel, as we all know.  Did you know that she designed the little black dress (LBD) after the death of Boy? It was created in memory of him, to ensure that the world mourned with her. Richard says “The power of this legend and the dress created by it, is so strong that eighty-seven years later, women everywhere grieve with Coco Chanel”

This book is only 126 pages, so it is not a biography. If you would like to know just a little bit more about Coco then this is sure a good read. He tells us a bit about her that is not in historical records: her personality and how it was to work for her. I enjoyed this quick read, however I was also a bit irritated with the fact that there were a few facts in this book that were wrong. Usually in the ARC’s it would say it’s an advanced copy and this one didn’t, so I assume this is the final book.  He mentions in the book that Chanel N°5 was created in 1924. This is WRONG!! It was created in 1921. There is so much information about this on the internet, even books written about it, that I find it unacceptable that you can get a fact like that wrong. Yes, she signed a deal with Wertheimer in 1924 for the production of the fragrance, but it was created by her and Ernest Beaux in 1920 and went on sale in 1921. Get your facts right. Also, apparently he doesn’t know how to spell her successor’s surname. It’s “Lagerfeld” not Langerfeld.  The book was dedicated to “Cocophiles” – I like that word, but you are sure to get criticism if you write a book with incorrect facts to people who admire Coco Chanel and her work.

Image source

  • Ah yes facts are important specially in non fiction books. I always love to read books about people I admire. Great that you had the chance to read a book about this great woman.

    • Thanks Ciska. I think I would’ve given it a higher rating if the author had that fact right. I just found it disturbed me. I bought the biography this weekend, by Justine Picardie, so I am exciting to read and review it.

  • Incorrect facts 🙁 That’s so not cool. Other than that this does sound like an interesting little read!

    • It definitely is. You can finish it in one sitting. I do think that someone who are not familiar with these facts might not have picked it up 🙂 Regardless, the error shouldn’t have been there. Otherwise it was an enjoyable read!

  • This sounds like a really good book! I don’t know much about Coco Chanel, so reading something written by someone who actually knew her would be really cool. It’s sad there are some factual errors. Strangely, I’ve been catching quite a few in the books I’ve recently read–and they were much more obvious, like saying the French world for “three” was Spanish. It makes me think confusion as to a year might be more understandable (though I surely wouldn’t think so if I were a “Cocophile”!). Great review. 😀

    • Thanks Krysta. This surely was an enjoyable read for me and I’m positive it would be for someone who isn’t a “Cocophile” as well. Because it’s a short book it doesn’t provide too much detail, just enough to make you understand a little more about this iconic woman.

  • There is nothing worse than incorrect facts, especially ones that are easy to avoid! Hope the biography will be better, enjoy,

    kind regards,

    • Thanks Bettina, I’m sure I will like the biography by Justine Picardie more.

  • Ali

    If you haven’t already read it, Axel Madsen’s bio of Gabrielle Chanel is excellent reading.


    • Thanks for the suggestion, Ali! 🙂

  • As a historian I hate it when people get their facts wrong. Great review.

    • Thanks Jaime. I didn’t appreciate that part either, although the rest of the book was a nice read. It overshadowed everything else.

  • Thx for follow. I need a new reading list! Xx

    • What kind of books do you like? Maybe browse on my blog, you never know what book you might find that you’d like to read 🙂

  • I figured this would be a “love” book for you. . . too bad it wasn’t as fabulously amazing as you might have wanted it to be.

    • Yes, the subject matter pulled me in 🙂 This would have been a great short “biography” if the author didn’t get that fact wrong, but I guess someone else wouldn’t have picked up on that.

  • So up your alley 🙂 & I love how you corrected the Chanel N°5 creation fact. I couldn’t help but smile and think now that’s my girl 😉

    • Hahaha, thanks! It was such a nice read, and then it got to that point. Not impressed 🙁