Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney, Fig Tree, $39.95
By the end of this biography I didn't know whether to love or hate Gabrielle Chanel. The designer helped liberate women from being purely decorative, giving them freedom to move for work and play, and became one of the world's first female business moguls.
But she also lived with a Nazi spy during the occupation of Paris, forcing her to flee France after the war and resettle in Switzerland.
Lisa Chaney is not the kind of writer who digs for dirt, but Chanel's life offers up a wealth of scandal, including lesbian affairs and a drug addiction.
The mistress of a playboy during her youth, Chanel went on to become muse or mistress to the 20th century's greatest artists, and yearned for a child with the Duke of Devonshire, one of the world's richest men.
Despite her many loves she was fiercely independent until the day she died. Chaney gives new insights into the life of the first truly modern woman.