Chanel Fashion

Celebrate the 125th anniversary of Coco Chanel’s birthday this week. Born on August 19, 1883, Chanel transformed the fashion industry and women’s clothing in the twentieth century. Discover why in one of these biographies, learn how fashion inspires creative fiction, or sit down and watch high fashion on film.


Coco Chanel comes to life in Axel Madsen's biography, Chanel: A Woman of Her Own. Madsen discusses Chanel’s personal history, business successes, affairs with influential men, and much more.

Chanel: Her Style and Her Life by Janet Wallach details the impact Coco Chanel had on fashion. She popularized the “little black dress” and women’s pants, brought us the fragrance Chanel No. 5 and men’s tailoring to women’s clothes. This book includes many photos, as well as an account of her entire life.

Authors Amy de la Haye and Shelley Tobin focus on the House of Chanel and Chanel as a couturiere in Chanel: The Couturiere at Work. This book covers her career, style, workroom, customers, and rivals with many illustrations.

Fashion in fiction

High fashion has long influenced novelists. Mary Gaitskill depicts this world in Veronica, a New York Times Notable Book. The narrator, Alison, now a ravaged shadow of the person she used to be, recollects her youth as a model in Paris and New York in the 1970s and 80s.

Candace Bushnell of Sex and the City fame weaves a story of three powerful New York City women in Lipstick Jungle. It opens at a fashion show in Bryant Park and further explores the career of fashion designer Victory Ford, as well as her friends: Wendy, a movie executive, and Nico, a magazine editor-in-chief.

In The Painted Kiss, Elizabeth Hickey bases her novel on two historical figures, the artist Gustav Klimt and Emilie Floge, the owner of a Viennese fashion house. Taking place at the turn of the twentieth century and during World War II, this book imagines the relationship behind an artist and his longtime companion.

Fashion on film

Although you can’t read these DVDs, you can check them out from the library. For a high fashion romance featuring gowns designed by Coco Chanel, watch Last Year at Marienbad (1961). Nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards*, this French movie depicts a stranger who tries to convince an unnamed woman that they had an affair one year earlier.

A comedic look at the fashion industry, The Devil Wears Prada (2006) features an Oscar-nominated performance by Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly, the cutthroat editor of a fashion magazine. Idealistic Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) gets her first job out of college as the second assistant to Ms. Priestly and struggles to stay in control of her life.

Finally, Project Runway (2004-), the Emmy award-winning reality TV show, takes unknown fashion designers through multiple fashion challenges until only the best designer is left. Each episode showcases the creative design process from drawing board to runway.


* OSCAR®, ACADEMY AWARDS®, and the ‘Oscar’ Statuette are registered trademarks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.