Bobbi wrote her first novel, Cream with Your Coffin, and signed with a U.S. literary agent who is now (still) pitching Cream with Your Coffin to New York editors. Almost finished her second novel, thriller De Rigueur Mortis, Bobbi is already planning the second 1954 Paris thriller and thinking about a research trip.
Channelling ChanelBy Bobbi Mumm
As I do final revisions to my 1954 Paris thriller, De Rigueur Mortis, I spend a lot of time thinking about Coco Chanel. The novel’s adventure revolves around Chanel and her Rue Cambon atelier and boutique. In 1954 Coco Chanel presented her first collection in fifteen years – she’d closed her premises when war was declared. She already had superstar status along with notoriety as a probable Nazi collaborator. It took her very little time to regain her position as the premiere designer of haute couture. So what is it about Chanel that keeps us fascinated? Why do we still talk about her, a full hundred and two years after she opened her first hat shop in Paris? I think the legend that was Coco Chanel has three roots:
1) Chanel’s Drive and Personality
From the age of twelve, Coco Chanel was raised in an orphanage where her father had abandoned her upon her mother’s death. The nuns taught her to sew, demanded self-discipline, and placed her in her first job at a hosiery shop. As well as these skills taught by the nuns, Coco Chanel had a natural energy and unnerving charisma that swept everyone along with her in the pursuit of her dreams.
2) Chanel’s Talent and Vision
Coco Chanel revolutionized fashion. She proclaimed that clothing should be comfortable (an unfashionable idea) and that men should not be dressing women. Among Chanel’s many firsts:
Sunbathing: Chanel sported a sun-kissed visage in 1920. Until then, most women prized a milky-white complexion.
Trousers for women: Coco Chanel borrowed her lover’s trousers and wore them in public, naturally in the most chic manner possible.
Little Black Dress: Chanel, in 1926, released the first “Little Black Dress” as it came to be known.
Lipstick in a Swivel Tube: Before Chanel’s 1920’s innovation lipstick was in a pot.
Quilted handbags, fake pearls, chains as jacket hem weights and as a visible accessory, knitted, comfortable fabrics for women, ballerina pumps… The list goes on.
3) Chanel’s Notoriety and Scandal
Chanel lived for two things, love and her work. Her passion for the men in her life led her several times deep into scandal and, once, near-imprisonment. As a young woman she lived in the world of the demi-monde, the lover of a succession of several rich play-boys, some of them married. Later, during WWII, Chanel’s very public affair with a German officer and agent runner in Paris led her to be arrested after the war on charges of collaboration. Scholars have never agreed as to Chanel’s involvement as a spy, either only for the Germans or, as a double-agent, working for the French and British. I choose to believe the latter.
It is Chanel’s wartime activities that were of great interest to me as I wrote De Rigueur Mortis. In 1954, alleged wartime wrongdoing was still extremely divisive in Paris society. Throw into the mix the start of the Algerian revolution, France’s loss of Indo-China, and the throngs of young American’s seeking their muse in Paris and I had a lovely, tumultuous canvas on which to paint this mystery thriller.
Thank you to Kaye for this chance to write about what I love. So tell me, what do you find most interesting or inspiring about Coco Chanel?