Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History

by Rhonda K. Gaerlick
Published by Highbridge

Booklist Starred Review

Top 10 Biographies and Memoirs on Audio 2015, Booklist

Top 10 Arts on Audio 2015, Booklist

Coco Chanel was more than an iconic designer and an immensely wealthy, successful businesswoman. Her cultural influence transformed women’s clothing, and, as Europe changed with two world wars, she became a major international figure, with friends and lovers throughout the political spectrum, some overtly so and others so covert as to be spies—as Coco herself has been thought to be. Gilbert shines as she brilliantly brings to life “Mademoiselle’s” on- and offstage life—from her impoverished childhood, then girlhood spent learning to sew with nuns, to becoming a designer of hats and women’s clothing eventually known worldwide. Gilbert’s readings of Chanel’s quotes subtly change as voice lessons erase Chanel’s humble origins. The voices of her friends and lovers (English spoken with French, German, Russian and royal-class British accents) are impeccably spot-on, as are the snatches of French, German, and Russian dialogue rendered with total credibility. As WWII rages, Coco’s tones become harsher as she’s sometimes likened to the occupying Nazi forces around her. Gilbert’s wide-ranging reading takes listeners into a transformative era where Coco’s most extraordinary creation was, it seems, herself—a tale sure to attract many. Booklist


As Tavia Gilbert leads the listener through Coco Chanel’s countless alliances and conquests, she reveals Coco’s driving ambition and eccentricities. A dominant and colorful influence in twentieth-century fashion, Chanel has already been the subject of numerous biographies, but Garelick delivers historical context to render this account worthwhile. Gilbert elegantly portrays the multitude of Chanel’s wealthy lovers and financial backers, ranging from the Duke of Westminster to a Nazi officer. Gilbert’s smooth pronunciation of French names is melodic but understandable to the American listener, and her consistent pace carries through the author’s complex comparisons of Chanel’s relationships to the politics of her time. Gilbert’s vibrant narration almost—but not quite—compensates for the absence of the print edition’s photographs. AudioFile Magazine