Coco Chanel

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People often ask me, "When did you first become interested in Coco Chanel?" and if I'm honest, I was fascinated long before I started researching her biography more than a decade ago, all the way back to my earliest memories in childhood. For there on top of my mother's dressing table stood a bottle of Chanel No. 5, beyond my reach but not out of sight, and I knew from the moment I began to discern its mysterious letters and number that there was something magical to the black-and-white cipher. I'm not alone in that discovery -- Chanel has come to represent the essence of everywoman, whether in the scent of her perfume or her choice of bold red lipstick or the perfect little black dress -- but the story of Coco feels somehow entwined with…show more content…
But much else was hidden away, hundreds of miles from Rue Cambon, at Aubazine, a remote 12th-century Cistercian abbey high in the hills of the Corrèze, where Gabrielle was shaped by the nuns who raised her. Chanel never admitted to her years at Aubazine, where she lived from the age of 11 to 18, in an orphanage run by the sisters of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Mary. Her father, a feckless peddler always on the run from his family, left his three daughters there after the death of their mother from TB and disappeared forever. The nuns who still live at Aubazine are more concerned with the worship of God than the antecedents of fashion, yet they were kind enough to allow me to visit them, on the understanding that I observed their rules of prayer and silence. Gabrielle came here with her two sisters in February 1895; I arrived at the same time of year, a bitterly cold season, when winter had not yet loosened its grip on the mountains (and I felt lost in the deep despair of a looming divorce). Only a handful of nuns remained, the orphans long since vanished, though their dormitories were untouched, the children's iron beds lined against whitewashed walls hung with crucifixes. Here I walked, and here I sat, contemplating what it meant to be cast aside, not in the expectation of finding an

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