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The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World’s Most Elegant Woman

Karen Karbo

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Sep 30, 2015
Category: Biography

Fashion Week recently ended. I looked at the clothes and thought what I so often do: Where is the new Coco Chanel?

Chanel was a cheerleader for self-sufficiency, in good times and bad. She didn’t make clothes for fashion, but for life. If you start there and work back to clothes, you can understand her better. Even if you don’t care about clothes, there is much to learn from her.

Karen Karbo gets Chanel. In her short (240 pages) and addictive “The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World’s Most Elegant Woman,” Karbo lays out what it means to be Chanel and what it means to be a woman who admires Chanel. Karbo is the granddaughter of Emilia Karbowski, known as “Luna of California” for the clothes she designed for the wives of movie moguls in the 1950s. She notes, “I am the average consumer.” She looks for Chanel jackets on eBay. And she writes as if she’s having a conversation with a close friend over double-shot lattes. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Who is Chanel to Karbo?

Chain-smoker. Workaholic, though she could stay in bed all morning with a newspaper. Leo, with a Pisces moon. Born nobody. Fell in love once, but not again. Her bigger love: money. “Money was more than her security blanket. It was her ongoing victory lap.” And restrained: “Even though Chanel insisted on having the best of everything, she didn’t insist on having everything.”

Are you hearing “Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves” in the background? You should be.

Karbo delivers a mini-biography, with perceptive and amusing commentary:

“She looked like the girl at school who conned you into breaking the rules with her, then let you take all the blame.”

“Her childhood was the Belle Époque version of a country-and-western song. The only thing she lacked was a dead dog and a wasting disease.”

“She compulsively lied about her past, and then lied about having lied, and then disavowed the lie about the lie.”

Along the way, great trivia abounds. Yes, French women wore hats adorned with feathers — but did you know that, in 1911, in France, 300 million birds were killed to provide those feathers?

And, because Karbo really is your new best friend, she even labels the punch line: “Cut to the chase, don’t waste time doing stuff that seems essential to your life and business, just because other people do it.”

Just so. The fashion is merely fascinating, a means to an end. The life lessons? For a woman trying to find a safe haven in America, this book delivers more wisdom — and wit — per page than Dr. Phil will dispense in a lifetime.