COCO and the Little Black Dress
by Annemarie van Haeringen
Publish date: October 1, 2015
E-ARC made available courtesy of NetGalley
The Sum: This picture book biography details the life of Coco Chanel, one of the world’s most famous fashion designers, primarily for her “little black dress”. She grew up in France, impoverished and living in an orphanage when her father could no longer afford to raise her. It was there she was taught to sew, to knit, to embroider, to mend clothing and made to work very, very hard. Young Coco had big dreams of life beyond the orphanage, of living among the wealthy, and wanting to be famous. And, she did, with a lot of hard work, creativity and even more determination. The skills she was forced to learn as a child enabled her to make a life for herself, designing and creating clothing for the wealthiest of women.
The Ins: One of the things I love about this story is the focus on Chanel’s free-spiritedness; rejecting the corset that was de-rigueur at the time and creating clothes that were elegant and comfortable for women to wear. Her independence gave her a freedom that was enviable to many women, and she became someone to emulate. The artwork complements the story so beautifully, it has a very “French” feel to them, with a dash of whimsy. The strong black line drawings with sometimes minimal color remind me vaguely of the Madeline books, another French classic.
The Outs: No author notes, bibliography or any kind of backmatter make it difficult to determine if this is actually a biography or a fictionalized account of Coco Chanel, but the brief details included in the book jive with much of what is known about Chanel, sticking to the creative, more positive aspects of her life while leaving out some of the more salacious information.
The All-Around: Similar in tone and content to Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews (Candlewick, 2007), this will make a fun read-aloud. Young clothes-horses will also find much here to admire. I’ll be adding it to my collection.