It was Friday last week that I escaped the clutches of work and headed up to London to hear Justine Picardie talk about her new book on Coco Chanel.
I arrived in plenty of time to go and see the Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe exhibition - something I was particularly excited about, not least because of Chanel's connection with him. (Can you imagine Chanel being employed as a costume designer for stage and screen? Neither could I - but it's hardly surprising that she should have had such a string to her bow). It's an amazing exhibition, so full of interesting details and the chance to see costumes up close. How people ever managed to dance in some of them I don't know, but they are a testament to a bygone age of opulence. It's still going on, and I'd encourage you to go if you get the chance.
Justine's talk was a feast for the eyes as well as the ears, as she interspersed her words with pictures. There are so many pictures of Chanel, and Justine's book makes full use of them. What better way to make a person come alive again than by presenting the reader with images?
Chanel was (and is) a fascinating woman, her life so full of mystery and misdirection. There are times reading the book that one cannot help but feel frustrated at what we don't know, but at times the hidden truth makes for exciting reading. I'm fairly sure that the mystery surrounding Chanel's involvement in World War Two and her relationship with a German officer (possibly a double agent) will never be fully explained, but it's certainly fun supposing about it all.
I asked Justine if, after all the time spent with Chanel, she felt she knew her. Justine answered with a distinct affirmative. I, however, am not so sure. It may just be the mirror images of the woman which are so famous skewing my judgement, but somehow I think the only person she showed her true face to was Boy Capel, and after his death she sought to bury that part in a riot of fabric. I may be wrong, and anyway - it doesn't detract from the wonder of the woman who will always be know by three small words: Chanel No 5.