A sweeping story of two women who overcome destitution to create an iconic French fashion brand.
“People thought they were buying Chanel, glamour, Parisian sophistication. But what they were really buying were the ornaments of our childhood, memories of the nuns who civilized us, the abbey that sheltered us. An illusion of riches sprung from the rags of our past,” reflects Antoinette in The Chanel Sisters, the new novel by award-winning author Judithe Little.
In it, Little takes us into a fictionalized world of the real-life Gabrielle and Antoinette Chanel as they struggle to survive a distressing childhood, find their independence, and eventually build their eponymous brand. The story is written from Antoinette’s perspective but reveals intimate details of the life of Gabrielle (aka Coco), the far more famous sister.
Building on the bare-bones scaffolding of what is known about Antoinette, Little crafts an intimate tale chronicling the sisters’ unorthodox journey from rags to riches. Their education starts in a Catholic orphanage in Aubazine, France, in 1897, after their mother dies of consumption. Antoinette is 8 and Gabrielle 12, and none of their relatives, including their father, wants them. Antoinette knows they are better off in the orphanage:
“Before the nuns took us in, we’d been hungry most of the time, our clothes torn and dirty. We spoke only in patois, not French. We could barely read or write because we’d never gone to school for long. We were savages, the nuns attested.”
Read the rest of my review at Washington Independent Review of Books.