Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Chanel: A Woman of Her Own” as Want to Read:
Chanel: A Woman of Her Own
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Chanel: A Woman of Her Own

3.75  ·  Rating Details ·  749 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
Alex Madsen brings to life Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, the queen of fashion who revolutionized women's styles forever.
Paperback, 400 pages
Published September 15th 1991 by Holt Paperbacks (first published 1990)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Chanel, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Chanel

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Jun 16, 2010 Erica rated it liked it
I love, love, love fashion and wasn’t disappointed with the details in this book. The book included much more political history than I expected, which was a pleasant surprise. I also enjoyed reading about the melding of art, music, literature, theater, and fashion in 1920’s and 1930’s France; what a bright lively place the author takes you to! Suddenly though, the Second World War comes to France and the book grinds to a rather slow pace. I had a hard time getting through the second half of the ...more
Feb 01, 2009 Stacey rated it it was amazing
If you like biographies and you're at all interested in fashion, you will adore this book! Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel changed the way women dress forever with her simple, modern approach to clothing. Things we take for granted today like the little black dress, sling back shoes, the quilted bag, a suit, and a long strand of pearls, all exist simply because Chanel was wholly original and willing to take risks. She had no money, but she always had influence because she believed in herself completely. ...more
Apr 15, 2012 Nicole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was greater than I expected. "Coco Chanel: A Biography" gave me an insight into many things other than fashion, including politics and women in France. Coco Chanel changed women not only in the way they dress, but also in their mentality.

Coco learned to dress make from the nuns at the orphanage and began working at a dressmakers. She started her first shop form the money from Etienne Balsan and the rest is history. Coco had many lovers through her life but I was surprised when she clo
Oct 03, 2012 amanda rated it really liked it
This is one of the best books about the details of Coco's life. It is complete, and chronicles Coco's entire life. I was pleasantly surprised by the political history that was included. As much as i love Coco's contribution to fashion i really was not pleased to learn of her anti-semitic behaviour and ideology. Her ruthless drive for perfection, wealth, power, and love made for an interesting read.
May 30, 2014 Nancy rated it really liked it
The author made it very clear that Mme. Chanel re-wrote her personal history based upon whim, circumstances or necessity. It is not that she was a chameleon, more a very serious and determined woman who was hell-bent on overcoming any obstacles in her life. Yes, it made her selfish and laser-focused on herself and her work.

Some readers noted that she was a very unsympathetic character. Perhaps, but she was inventive and ingenious (more than creative). Her success was ensured by her ability to re
Feb 28, 2009 Shirley rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fashion addicts
Very thorough biography about Coco Chanel from childhood to her death. She was a slavedriver who forced her models to stand 16 hours while she cut and pinned fabric right on their bodies. She was a tyrant to people she didn't like but she was also generous to many artists and supported some of them financially. She had many lovers but never settled down because she liked her independence too much and wanted to continue working. She was an exception in her day because she was a very successful bu ...more
Jan 28, 2013 Tiffaney rated it really liked it
The author takes a very thorough approach to the introduction of Coco Chanel from her parents onward. Chanel's youth and early adulthood is very drawn out. What Madsen does however, is provide the reader with a very detailed account of who this woman is and the events that lead her to the person she becomes. I found myself both despising and completely adoring Coco Chanel, based on this biography. As with all people and situations, Coco Chanel is not a "black and white" personality but is a crea ...more
Sarah Echo
Jun 28, 2015 Sarah Echo rated it it was amazing
As an enthusiastic admirer of Coco Chanel’s style and of the fashions she created, I was excited to read this book. I was surprised to find out that Chanel was an immensely complex and interesting person, even aside from her creative life. She came from very humble beginnings, lived through two world wars, survived tragedies, heartbreaks, and scandals, and through it all, she worked hard to realize her dreams of success. She is someone whom even non-fashionistas can admire. She was tenacious and ...more
Feb 22, 2013 Katherine rated it liked it
I'm of a generation and background where Chanel = pink tweed suits for old society ladies, and surprisingly I had never done much Wikipedia-surfing on the woman behind it all except something about how she got started as the mistress of a rich man, so I was totally flabbergasted by her kind of crazy history and what she did for fashion. Seriously a rags-to-riches story and yet full of strange contradictions in her personality and relationships. I enjoyed reading through her life story but I felt ...more
Marthe Bijman
It seems that Coco Chanel was not the sweet little ingénue she was made out to be in the 2009 film “Coco avant Chanel”. According to this biography she was tough, bad-tempered, neurotic, eccentric and an unapologetic liar: “She made up things”. She applied her knack for fabrication to her own identity as well as to the clothing lines she introduced. These were based on what she personally liked to wear, starting with masculine-type clothes, then droopy dresses and sports wear – and the rest is h ...more
Dec 22, 2014 Weaverannie rated it really liked it
Shelves: dutch, biography
De Volkskrant bracht een serie biografieën uit en omdat ik die graag lees, kon ik de verleiding niet weerstaan.
Coco Chanel was het eerste deel dat ik las.
Eigenlijk wist ik niet veel van haar, alleen dat ze jasjes met afgebiesde panden maakte en simpele, maar elegante kleding maakte.
Dit was dus een openbaring voor me: vanuit het niets creëerde ze een mode imperium, zelfs in tijden van oorlog, wanneer materialen bijna niet te koop waren. Ze vond altijd weer oplossingen.
De wilskracht waarmee ze na
Sep 14, 2015 Catherine rated it really liked it
An informative book that gets off to a very slow start in the first 50 pages, but nicely picks up speed. An in-depth look into who Coco Chanel was, and who she preferred to present to the world. Less than 30 pages actually delves into her design process, it's much more of a biographey of Chanel , her life and her influences, her lovers, and friends, than a tome into creating eduring style. This book also covers her involvement with a Nazi officer, which is omitted from many of the Chanel stories ...more
Jun 14, 2014 Cindy rated it really liked it
Chanel was a powerhouse. Born of poor parents, raised in an orphanage, and looking at tough odds for success didn't seem to slow this woman's life down. A modern woman for her time, and with a talent that was financially backed by her boyfriend, she took off.
The book is very detailed and insightful. The society that she catered to was small, but very wealthy even in times of war. They also never allowed those who dressed them mingle with them, until this woman came along. From her various famous
Jul 26, 2010 Shanna rated it it was ok
Sheesh, this took way too long for me to get through! I had saved this biography for last out of a group of them I had gotten for Christmas, thinking it'd be the best but I was very wrong. There were of course some interesting parts such as the fashion but overall, it was much less interesting than I was expecting. Turns out Gabrielle was a bit of a fibber so there'd be 3 versions of major events in her life and rather than just including the true one in the book, you'd have to jump around to re ...more
Melinda Flaugher
May 03, 2010 Melinda Flaugher rated it really liked it
The book dealt more with political and changes in the art culture that helped shaped Channel’s clothing. I think that book touches on the whole range of her life unlike the movies that show a glimpse. Some parts of the story represented something to Hollywood tell all, this person dated this person and did this. I enjoyed hearing about Chanel’s hard business tactics and how she wanted to win her royalties for her perfume. The book described how Chanel was ahead of her time and brought new opport ...more
Mar 23, 2014 Jessica rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This biography is a bit of a rough read, but interesting all the same. Shockingly, Chanel attempted to white wash her life from early on. Born as an illegitmate second child, after her mother's death she and her sisters were sent to an orphanage. Later in life she would describe as living with her aunts. This is just a small piece, she would eventually ignore any family she had. After reading this she must have been a very difficult person to get a long with or please, but that is what made her ...more
Mari Säisä
Feb 02, 2010 Mari Säisä rated it liked it
Why people think Chanel as independent woman? Before her success she live on men's money and love of her life helped her financially when she realized that it's boring not to work. When she lost love of her life (Boy Capel BTW!!!) she came bitter and only used men for sex and concentrated on work. She even decorated her room all black and came up with little black dress in her sorrow.

It's interesting to see what kind of person is behind timeless, stylish and comfortable fashion. As Katherine Hep
My prejudice against this book comes down to the fact that I couldn't warm to Coco at all. Granted the most successful people have to exert a degree of ruthlessness but in this case Chanel is ruthlessness personified.. My admiration for what she achieved as a business woman is marred by her need to be loved by men and the exceptions she made about her own ambitions as a women in contrast with her endorsement of the patriarchal view of the woman as the domesticated creature who should have no des ...more
Feb 24, 2012 Clare rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
A good biography, the first I have read about Chanel. Really caputres the historical contexts Chanel worked in. It presents the many "versions" of her life plainly and without judgement. Unlike so many biogs I didn't feel the author was pushing a personal theory/feeling about Chanel (which does make for an interesting read in some cases but sometimes makes it difficult or uncomfortable to read).

If you're looking for detailed fashion discussion this probably not the book for you. If you're searc
Cassandra Javier
Feb 12, 2013 Cassandra Javier rated it liked it
Who knew that Chanel was involved in a lot of things aside from Fashion? Who knew that she was once in Exile?

It's a beautiful re-telling of the life of one of Fashion's goddesses--Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, from her life in Aubazine to how she started her million dollar empire to how she came up with Chanel number 5 and the many men and women of her life, to her death, to afterlife. Moving, inspiring, other times riveting book.
An engaging bio of iconic designer Coco Chanel, a complex, difficult, but brilliant woman. I've read several books on Chanel and this one ranks high on the list. I would also recommend Hal Vaughan's Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War for much more detail on her activities during the Occupation of Paris. You'll probably be disgusted with her after that book, as I was, but this bio, published in 1990 less than twenty years after CC's death, paints a more endearing picture of her.
Apr 13, 2009 Kathy rated it really liked it
Before reading this book I didn't realize the influence of historical events on fashion. Neither did I realize what a very "connected" life
Coco Chanel led claiming as close contemporaries Winston Churchill, Cocteau, Picasso, Stravinsky, Dali, Hollywood celebrities, an assortment of European royalty, members of the German occupied forces in Paris, and the list goes on. A world history lesson as well as a biography of rags to riches.
Sep 23, 2013 C rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I think the amount of time it took me to finish this book says it all - it was interesting enough to finish, but not interesting enough to stop me from putting it down whenever some new must-read came along.
Chanel was a facinating woman who lived in a fascinating era, so it's odd that this book wasn't gripping. I would recommend reading a Chanel bio if you're interested in fashion, in women in business, or in early 20th century life - but probably not this one.
Aug 04, 2009 Susan rated it liked it
Although I was initially reluctant to read a book about a 'fashion' person, I found this woman to be quite interesting. She certainly knew her own mind and acted on it in her personal and professional life. She did things her way,and whether you agree with her actions or not, you have to admire the firmness of her convictions.
Marie Z. Johansen
Thoroughly enjoyable, well researched biography of this most fascinating woman. It's the rid that I have about Mme.Chanel and I think it is one of the best. Fascinating political commentary as well which Inreally enjoyed.
CW Gortner's excellent novel "Mademoiselle Chanel" got me interested and m fascination with Coco Chanel and her extraordinary life continues.
Oct 07, 2009 Sherry rated it liked it
I didn't finish this one, just to warn you. Maybe one day when I have more time on my hands. It was a little too wordy. Lot's of information, which is good as far as biographies go. I will say that I found a few similarities between Chanel and Edith Head, of all people. Both came from strange family backgrounds, both driven to the point of severity and both chronic liars. Hm.
Cara Ellison
Sep 12, 2016 Cara Ellison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, fashion
The author's contempt for his subject is obvious. It think he intentionally chose the worst possible light to shine on any of Coco Chanel's actions. I enjoyed it because I love Chanel biographies, but this was a weak book.
Joanne Miller
Mar 08, 2016 Joanne Miller rated it it was amazing
Although this would appear a special interest book, the author delves into the history of the period throughout Chanel's life--a biography set firmly in the changing landscape of France from before 1900 through two world wars. An engaging read, though not a quick one.
Jan 04, 2010 Sara rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir-biography
This is a very extensive, in depth book. It was a good book, but a bit boring at times - gets very in depth to the political climates at the time of Chanel's business adventures in Paris. I am very glad I read it, but it was not a quick read by any means.
Aug 18, 2010 Tiina is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all who're interested in Coco Chanel and true style.
Enjoying me some Coco Chanel! So far I've learned that Coco was a very independent woman with an incredible drive to make something out of herself. She was smart and talented. Tough. But she had to be in order to survive. I admire this woman.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Chanel and Her World: Friends, Fashion, and Fame
  • Chanel: Collections and Creations
  • Chanel (The Universe of Fashion)
  • Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life
  • The Beautiful Fall: Lagerfeld, Saint Laurent, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris
  • In Vogue: An Illustrated History of the World's Most Famous Fashion Magazine
  • D.V.
  • The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957
  • The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever
  • Alexander McQueen: Genius of a Generation
  • Chanel
  • Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty
  • The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed
  • Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life
  • Christian Dior
  • Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood's Greatest Costume Designer
  • Front Row: Anna Wintour: The Cool Life and Hot Times of Vogue's Editor in Chief
  • Dior (Universe of Fashion)

Share This Book