To call Coco Chanel a fashion designer hardly captures her social and cultural significance. An iconoclastic entrepreneur, she rebelled against and manipulated gender expectations of her time. With her famous little black dress, her loose jersey sweaters belted jauntily at the waist, her svelte unadorned gowns, Chanel changed women's silhouettes, and she became known as a champion of women's freedom. Chanel, legend has it, changed not only the shape of clothing, but the narrative of women's lives. From 1913, when she first opened a hat shop in the resort town of Deauville, until her death in 1971, Chanel sold more than clothing, accessories and the phenomenally successful perfume, Chanel No. 5: she sold a myth that became as attractive for many women as her coveted outfits. Linda Simon teases apart that myth that Chanel and her public collaborated to create, to explore its contradictions: a self-proclaimed recluse who emerged as one of the most spectacular personalities of her time; a brilliant businesswoman who signed away 90 per cent of her company; a genius who claimed she was nothing more than an artisan. She examines the world Chanel both reflected and shaped, setting her life and work in a broad context of women's history in France and America, from before the First World War up through the profound social changes of the late 1960s. Drawing upon rich archival sources, Simon provides a lively, clear-eyed biography of a woman whose influence and legend transcend the world of fashion.

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