Cover Image: Chanel's Riviera

Chanel's Riviera

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Member Reviews

This book was about two things: the life of Coco Chanel and the life of people, mostly expats and wealthy, in the Riviera in the time between the World Wars and during WWII. On the life of Chanel, it felt rather underdeveloped, as not enough time was dedicated in this book to really understanding Chanel or explaining her life. She would appear or be thrown in at random points, so you never really knew what was happening to her or why she was included in this book. On the situation in the French Riviera, it felt very strange to be reading about only the lives of expats, even those who stayed through the war, as I did not particularly care about the specific hospital where random English nurse Elsie Gladman wrote or other specific people, as much as I would have liked a general descritipion of life in the Riviera in these times. I did find it interesting to learn about how the Italian soldiers acted, particularly in their safeguarding of the Jewish population, but I do not feel that the life of Jews, French or foreign, in the Riviera was focussed on. At the crux of it, this book was doing too much and not using enough sources or organization to create an informative, cohesive book on life in the Riviera nor a biography of the life of Chanel at this time.
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I sort of chose this book by mistake…  I thought I was requesting a historical fiction novel, but instead I got a full on history book! But that’s ok, sometimes it’s good to branch out of your comfort zone.  I love this time period and I have wanted to learn more about Coco Chanel, and what a more glamorous setting than in the French Riviera!  All of my favorites, including the Fitzgeralds,  make an appearance. I loved learning more about her relationship with fellow designer, Elsa Schiaparelli. They seemed to have such different aesthetics, it’s no surprise they were bitter rivals. I also couldn’t get enough of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, what a love story. To abdicate the throne for the love of a woman!  Swoon!  My favorite parts of the book were, obviously, the decadences before the war.  But if you are interested in how the war played out, it is there for you.
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Biographies about Coco Chanel are numerous, but this is a fresh take on the subject. Chanel's Riviera looks at the establishment of the coast as a luxury vacation getaway. The story largely follows Chanel, but branches off to detail the lives of the others who surrounded her. The book feels luxe, with interesting details and lavish set pieces, while also slowly folding in the historical drama of WWII in Europe that elite were trying to escape from. It's a thoughtful, dynamic, fun read.
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The pre-Holocaust portion of this book presented a vibrant, often witty, portrait of the Riviera and the bright and sophisticated group that made it fashionable.  I loved every minute of the chapters that featured Chanel and her accomplished (but decidedly decadent) circle of friends and admirers.  The picture of the Riviera was not new to me, but the anecdotes were fresh and some witty enough to make me laugh out loud.

But, of course, then came the Holocaust.  The horrors were recounted in very personal terms and, many of the specific stories were new to me.  After a light beginning, de Courcy's book turned to unrelenting darkness---as France did.  I am a firm believer that we need to be reminded of the horrors of anti-Semitism, but this part of the book felt both repetitive and very painful to me. 

So, CHANEL'S RIVIERA is two very different books---perhaps for two different readers.  I appreciated the book in its totality, but was very reluctant to see the fun and frothy first half end---as, no doubt those who lived through the glory days of the French Riviera in the 30's hated to see their paradise turn into a nightmare zone.
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This was a very interesting exploration of the years leading up to the Second World War and then the war itself. It focused on the Riviera and the very wealthy who lived and holiday-ed there, although there is also a lot of description of Paris and Vichy France, particularly during the War. I found the mixture to be very interesting, if at times a bit unfocused. 

The book was unusual in that a lot of it was standard historical nonfiction covering a wide variety of people's stories, from the famous to the more humble, but there was also a lot of gossipy detail that I found fun although not always as impactful - largely because I did not know who a number of the socialites and magnates referenced actually were. Still, it was interesting to read the development of Vichy France and the progression of the war, particularly the highlights between the war experience of the very wealthy and of the regular citizen. I had no idea, for example, that for so many of the very wealthy even occupied France was very lush and extravagant during the War years. 

There wasn't quite as much emphasis on Chanel as I expected from the title and blurb. While she does make appearances throughout the course of the book, large swaths of the story have little to nothing to do with her, which didn't bother me but is worth noting in case that is why one picked up the book. 

All in all I quite enjoyed this one. It was a slow read, and the descriptions of the war years were difficult, but I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed the read.
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Wonderful book. Cruises through the private and professional lives of the many famous people who made the French Riviera their home prior to WWII. Great descriptions of their personalities, foibles, triumphs and failures. There are many fascinating people in here that I had never heard of, even though I've read quite a bit about this era and this locale. Of course there is Chanel as a centerpoint but this is by no means only about Chanel.
It's about not just a time gone by, but a time that can't be recovered. It's about the wealthy, the foolish, the rags to riches, the royalty, the dangerous, the crazy, the patriots and the rebels.
I highly recommend it.
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"Chanel's Riviera  1930 1944".  Anne de Courcy.    A story of glamour, love and survival.  It could be categorized as history, biography & Arts and culture.  Read of the glamorous pre war days of the French Riviera, through the eyes of Coco Chanel.  Bask in the elaborate parties and lives of Hemingway, Cold Porter, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, the romance of King Edward VIII and Willis Simpson, W. Sumerset Maughan,  
 along with many others.  Coco built her Villa on the Riviera in 1930 and had an apartment in Paris as well.  I'm 1933 the take over of Nazis, was far removed from those living the luxury life.  Eventually, people , especially those connected to the arts had to escape.  Coco had a German lover. Post war the Riviera life returned and libraries, galleries and museums and restaurants, hotels flourished.
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Note: there are two different versions of this book on Goodreads - I am going to put my review on both of them.

When you don't have a car for a month due to a predatory car insurance industry, you can get a LOT of reading done!!			
I received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  			
From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸.			

In the tradition of Calvin Tomkin’s classic Living Well is the Best Revenge, Anne de Courcy's Chanel's Riviera brings to life the French Riviera through the eyes of the legendary queen of fashion.

This is the story of an era and a place, as much as it is of a woman. The Cote d’Azur in 1938 was a wildly glamorous world poised on the edge of destruction as the rumblings of war got louder. It was a world of incredible wealth, luxury and sexual promiscuity, of people with bold-face names like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Somerset Maugham, Gloria Swanson, Joe Kennedy, Nabokov, Colette, and Winston Churchill himself. Then, in a matter of months, the Nazis swooped down and the party was over.

Coco Chanel is our entrée to this glittering dance. Born an orphan, her beauty and formidable intelligence drove men crazy, but it was her incredible talent, relentless work ethic and exquisite taste that made her an icon. Only the crème da la crème were invited to the elegant soirees at her magnificently appointed villa, La Pausa. She knew absolutely everyone and through her social and artistic connections, we learn about their scandalous affairs, listen to their brilliant gossip, and admire their inimitable style.

In the way that Laura Thompson used the Mitfords to capture 1930’s London society, de Courcy uses Chanel to make the Riviera and its denizens dazzle.

This was such a great book - we all hear of the French Riviera with Cannes and Monaco and wish that we could afford to go there.  Reading any de Courcy book is a look into a storied history - it is complex and well written and enjoyable to people who know nothing about the subject and those who do. There are some very famous people in this book so it is like reading about aunts and uncles that misbehaved in a wonderful way that almost a century later people are still talking about it. 

Chanel had a lot to do with the era but she is not alone - she is a welcome entrance into the society that glittered so brightly before being dimmed by Hitler.  Book clubs will love this book - there is so much to talk about and discuss over some excellent French wine or Evian/Perrier for those who don't imbibe!
As always, I try to find a reason to not rate with stars as I love emojis (outside of their incessant use by "Social Influencer Millennials" on Instagram and Twitter) so let's give it 🏖 🏖 🏖 🏖
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