by Axel Madsen
'A woman's education consists of two lessons: never to leave the house without stockings, never to go out without a hat.' So wrote Coco Chanel, who provided the aphorism when, in 1938, French Vogue asked for a few quotations about her business. In this biography of the fashion designer who made jersey hip and gave us cardigan jackets, little black dresses and Chanel No5 perfume, Axel Madsen takes readers through Chanel's life, about which she invented fiction to create mystery and hide embarrassments. She prevaricated about her past, concealing the fact she was illegitimate and learned dressmaking from nuns at the orphanage where she grew up after her mother's death. Despite a deadened telling of her life in this book - first published in 1990, now re-released as part of Bloomsbury's Lives of Women series - Chanel comes through as a force that could rarely be stopped once women started coveting her simple, elegant style. Big names pepper the pages because she befriended actors, writers and painters. If nothing else, Madsen's book will leave readers hungry to consume more about this remarkable woman.