The Queen of Paris: A Novel of Coco Chanel

Written by Pamela Binnings Ewen
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel will always be known as an iconic symbol of couture and high-end perfume. In The Queen of Paris, the reader learns more about this complex, enigmatic woman who was light years ahead of her time. The book opens to Chanel’s earliest days when her father left her and her siblings at an orphanage following the death of her mother; that abandonment affected the rest of her life and all future relationships.

The novel then travels back and forth in time, beginning in 1905, when she was living at a chateau in the south of France, owned by her lover Etienne Balsan while having an affair with the only man she truly ever loved, Arthur Edward “Boy” Capel. Despite being loved by two men who were a part of the French elite, she was never quite accepted into their world, something that she never shook off as she became more successful.

The reader also meets Chanel in 1940, when the world was on the cusp of the Second World War. During this latter time, France falls under German rule, and she learns that her business partner, Pierre Wertheimer, escaped to America with the secret formula of Chanel No. 5 and all of the production rights, as well as the jasmine contracts. In order to protect those whom she loves, as well as the company she built from the ground up, Chanel is faced with the decision to become a spy for the Nazis or risk losing everything.

The book is exceedingly well researched, bringing German-occupied Paris to life. Despite Chanel’s alliances with Nazis during World War II, the reader is left with a deeper understanding of her motivations, her power, and her allure.