HISTORY

Chanel’s Riviera: Glamour, Decadence, and Survival in Peace and War, 1930–1944

St. Martin’s. Feb. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9781250177070. $28.99. HIST
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De Courcy’s (The Husband Hunters) social history considers Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s spiritual home, the French Riviera, where the iconic fashion designer built her estate La Pausa. Close to Paris and her couture brand, this residence offered space for Chanel simply to enjoy life. In the 1930s, the Riviera was an elitist playground, but in 1936 France granted all workers annual vacation, which meant more people had time to visit the coast. When Germany invaded France in 1940, although the Riviera was in the “free zone,” it was not exempt from privation. Having closed her business in 1938, Chanel wasn’t terribly worried about the fate of France or anyone persecuted under the Nazis—instead, she desired “to go on living as she wished.” In 1945, when the war ended, she reopened her business and resumed her lifestyle. The central character of this book is the Riviera, and how it weathered World War II, with Chanel serving as a spirited, bit player who embodies the characteristics of the era.
VERDICT More a regional history scrutinizing the intersection of wealth and war through the biography of a famous resident than a traditional treatment of Chanel’s life. Those seeking the latter may prefer Caroline Young’s Living with Coco Chanel.

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