Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, better known as Coco, was born in France in 1883. Growing up in an orphanage, where she was taught to sew, she rose to become an iconic figure in fashion design – particularly noted for popularizing the “little black dress” still popular today – and for developing the Chanel No. 5 fragrance, which she introduced in the 1920s and which is still perhaps the best known perfume in the world. Her personal life was marked by controversy in World War II during the German occupation of France when she was the subject of rumors about a liaison with a German diplomat. Though investigated after the war concerning possible Nazi collaboration, Chanel, who never married, was not officially charged. Her reputation, however, was diminished in some quarters for a time, though she eventually resumed leadership of her highly profitable fashion empire.
Speaker: Rhonda K. Garelick
Rhonda Garelick writes on fashion, performance, literature, visual art, and politics. She is the author of Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History (Random House, 2014); Electric Salome: Loie Fuller’s Performance of Modernism (Princeton University Press, 2007); Rising Star: Dandyism, Gender, and Performance in the Fin de Siècle (Princeton University Press, 1998); and as co-editor, Fabulous Harlequin: ORLAN and the Patchwork Self (University of Nebraska Press, 2010). Her cultural criticism appears regularly in New York Magazine, and she has written often as well for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere.
Garelick is a Guggenheim fellow and has also received awards from the NEA, the NEH, the Getty Research Institute, the Dedalus Foundation, the American Association of University Women, the Whiting Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies. She is Professor of Performing Arts and English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and has also taught at Princeton University, the CUNY Graduate Center, Connecticut College, Columbia University, the University of Colorado-Boulder, and Yale. Garelick received her B.A. and Ph.D. in comparative literature and French from Yale University, and is an ancienne pensionnaire étrangère of the Ecole Normale Superiéure.