Book review: The Chanel Sisters by Judithe Little

On the morning of my engagement, I walked down Yonge Street from my husband’s condo in downtown Toronto to the Eaton Centre to kill some time before we announced the big news to our parents. The first place I walked into was the Chanel makeup counter at the Hudson’s Bay on Queen Street. As that was all what I could really afford from Chanel, I wanted a small token to remember that precious moment. The beautician recommended a red shade of the Rouge Allure lip stick along with a complimentary lip liner and cream eye shadow. How exhilarating that feeling was! I still have that very lipstick to this day as a reminder of that exciting period in my life. There is certainly something special when one mentions the name Chanel.

Women who carry the iconic Chanel 2.55 bag are both equally admired and envied. Fragrances such as Chanel No. 5 and Coco Mademoiselle are considered to be some of the most celebrated perfumes of all time. In Judithe Little’s novel “The Chanel Sisters,” she explores the beginnings of the House or Chanel. This story is told through the eyes of Antoinette, Coco Chanel’s youngest sister. In this historical fictional novel, we learn about the difficulties Coco Chanel and her sisters endured and how those experiences shaped her future.

Photo by Kimberly Brianna on

The novel takes place during Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s formative years. She and her siblings were left as orphans in the care of Catholic nuns. During their time in the convent, the Chanel sisters learned how to sew and create with what little they had. Through Antoinette, we learn about the life of Coco Chanel from the perspective of a supportive and loving sister.

During that time in France, women weren’t supposed to be independent, free-thinkers, but Little illustrates how the Chanel sisters chose to play by their own rules. Lacking a father figure, Antoinette describes their difficult beginnings in the convent as young girls who worked very hard and overcame the odds. Despite many challenges that they faced- poverty, abandonment, war, to name a few, the sisters overcame all odds. Little eloquently ties these themes of love, independence and success together. Through Antoinette, Little takes us through the sisters’ romantic relationships and demonstrates that despite the men they had in their lives, their greatest love and devotion was towards one another.

Many historical figures are also discussed in the novel, such as Coco Chanel’s partners Boy Capel, who invested in Chanel’s business and Etienne Balsan. However, some characters were added by Little which was done for effect. The story also depicts a Windsor, Ontario connection, which I personally found quite surprising considering I am from Windsor. Although I hoped for more for Antoinette and quite frankly, they way the book ended surprised me (in a positive sense), Little demonstrates that the story of the Chanel Sisters is simply one of unconditional love.

Overall, Judithe Little eloquently tells the story of the Chanel Sisters in this latest novel. Little delivers the fact that Chanel is more than just a fashion house, but a story of success and hope. An excellent read specifically from a historical perspective, the story of the Chanel Sisters by Judith Little left me intrigued and yearning to learn more about the House of Chanel. This is a book I highly recommend for both fashionistas and history bluffs alike.

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