C.W. Gortner: Mademoiselle Chanel Talk and Book Signing
For fans of historical fiction and fashion, our in-store event for Mademoiselle Chanel was the place to be on Friday, March 20th. Author C. W. Gortner came to the store to talk about his newest novel and its star, the complex and controversial Coco Chanel.
Gortner began by introducing himself and describing his career path. He studied fashion design in school, but quickly realized that sewing and pattern-making would never be his passion, so after graduating he worked as a retail buyer and freelance publicist and fashion show coordinator. He worked in this field for over a decade, but when many of his friends and colleagues were lost or suffering because of AIDS, he transferred his skills from fashion over to public health. During this time, he was also writing, and had even completed a manuscript for a historical epic novel about Anne Boleyn. But though the book came close to being published, it was ultimately his book about the mad Queen Juana of Spain became Gortner’s debut. Writing about strong, complicated women has become Gortner’s passion, and a few years ago he made the transition to full-time writer.
He next moved on to talking about Coco Chanel, and the challenges that she presented. Compared to many of his previous subjects like Juana or Catherine de’ Medici, the documentation about Chanel is far more extensive. Chanel herself further complicated matters by obfuscating her past with lies and omissions. Some of her choices would be sympathetic to the modern reader; her lifelong struggle to balance love with her passion for her work is as recognizable today as it was in her lifetime. Other decisions of hers still generate criticism today. When the Nazis invaded Paris Chanel initially fled the city, but returned and reopened her boutique. Her relationships with certain German officials made it very difficult to stay in France after World War II ended, and she was eventually exiled. But as Gortner pointed out, as much as we all like to believe we would do the noble and good thing in a bad situation, the truth is that many of us will do whatever it takes to survive, even if it isn’t the heroic stance.
After answering questions from the audience, Gortner signed his books and chatted with guests. Champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries were served by Steve and Cheryl, the store owners. We thank everyone for coming and enjoying this wonderful evening with us!