Q&A and Upcoming Reading with Rhonda Garelick
This Monday, November 3rd at 7pm, Professor Rhonda Garelick launches her fascinating new book, Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History.
Coco Chanel transformed forever the way women dressed. Her influence remains so pervasive that to this day we can see her afterimage a dozen times while just walking down a single street: in all the little black dresses, flat shoes, costume jewelry, cardigan sweaters, and tortoiseshell eyeglasses on women of every age and background. A bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume is sold every three seconds. Arguably, no other individual has had a deeper impact on the visual aesthetic of the world. But how did a poor orphan become a global icon of both luxury and everyday style? How did she develop such vast, undying influence? And what does our ongoing love of all things Chanel tell us about ourselves? These are the mysteries that Rhonda K. Garelick unravels in Mademoiselle.
We took some time to ask Professor Garelick a few questions about what inspired her to delve into the life of Coco Chanel, her personal reading, and upcoming projects…
How did you come to write Mademoiselle?
Actually the book began as a study of Chanel’s work as a costume designer for dance, drama, and cinema. I am a scholar and critic of performance and had realized that no one had studied the vast range of Chanel’s work in this field. She had a 30 year career doing costumes–and they were very interesting. Her collaborators for stage work had included Picasso, Diaghilev, Cocteau, Stravinsky, Visconti, Alain Resnais, Jean Renoir, Balanchine, Nijinsky, and so on.
But as I was working on that project, it dawned on me that Chanel was indeed a costumer–but not just of performers– of the entire world. I realized that the women of the industrialized world were all still walking around essentially costumed by Coco Chanel–in our trousers, jersey separates, neutral colors, flat-heeled shoes, eyeglasses, short hair, skirt suits, costume jewelry, shoulder bag purses, chain link belts, T-shirts, etc. Her influence is so vast and deep that most of us no longer even recognize it. She is like the air we breathe, all around us but invisible. I decided that no other woman of the twentieth century had had even close to as much influence as this woman, so I expanded the project’s scope into a full biography.
What are you currently reading?
I’m in the middle of a fascinating book by Toril Moi, Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism–which offers a very new perspective on Ibsen, whom I love.
Do you have a personal favorite book of all time? If so, can you share it and tell us why?
That’s one of those nearly unanswerable questions, there are so many. Lolita is at the top of the list, because Nabokov’s astonishingly gorgeous, jewel-like prose makes us fall in love with one of literary history’s most heinous protagonists and one of its most disturbing stories. It’s a tour de force that owes a lot to the French decadents. Other favorites are De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, King Lear, Middlemarch, The House of Mirth, Jane Eyre; and Song of the Lark.
Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to the publication of?
What’s next? Any upcoming book projects in the works that you can tell us about?
I am working on a few things, a translation of Victor Margueritte’s scandalous novel of 1922, La Garçonne and a much larger project on the history and role of admiration in America–its function, its decline, and how that change affects politics, religion, education, fashion and popular culture.