Monday, 24 January 2011

The Secret of Chanel Number Five

Review of Tilar J. Mazzeo's book - The Secret of Chanel Number Five - posted on the U.S. version of Amazon:

An ancient Medici manuscript, the Knights Templar, a fortune teller and the coveted jasmine of Grasse - Tilar Mazzeo's fascinating biography of a western cultural monument weaves the threads together in the tableau behind The Secret of Chanel Number Five. And it is an incredible story. The careful balance of two fragrances - jasmine and aldehydes - inside bottles shaped like whisky flasks has endured its creator's anti-semiticism, seen American Second World War soldiers queuing up for sales in the snow along the icy rue Cambon and survived a series of dangerous gambles by the Wertheimer brothers who owned 70 per cent of Les Parfums Chanel in 1940 and who fled to New York just in time.

There's movie material here. When Chanel was arrested in her hotel room at The Ritz after the war as a suspected collabo, it was Churchill (so one rumour goes) who negotiated her freedom: "A decade later, people in Paris also speculated that Churchill - Coco Chanel's next-door neighbour during summers on the Riviera - had sent a chauffeured limousine to police headquarters personally to fetch her, and the driver headed straight for the Swiss border." It's also believed that Chanel's fascist lover, Hans Guenther von Dincklage, was in that car with her.

How Chanel Number Five came into being is just as intriguing. Even if Coco's purchase of Marie de Medici's "cologne" manuscript did not directly lead to the perfume's creation, it was a crucial preliminary stage. The history of perfume-making in France began during the reign of Catherine de Medici in the sixteenth century. Reading this, I wondered how much of an influence Henri II's mistress, Diane de Poitiers, might have had on Chanel's fashion designs given that Henri II's older lover was famous for her black and white simplicity.

Read this book for the lively style, for the facts you haven't yet seen in the Coco movies and for an insight into why Chanel Number Five has seduced so many women for so many years.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Drive Time

I am going to be on Premier Radio's Drive Time review panel today. I think I’ll be on with Nick Battle and The Watchman. We’ll be talking about:

Miss HIV

Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married

The Lion Book of 1000 Prayers for Children

The last time I was on Premier's Drive Time I went in with the intention of talking about Lisbeth Salander’s work ethic (in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) in relation to Ian Coffey’s philosophy in his self-help book Working It Out: God, You and The Work You Do. But in the end I spared everyone.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Pumeza Matshikiza

Pumeza Matshikiza is wonderful. Missed her at the Samling Showcase at Wigmore Hall on December 10... but Sarah-Jane Brandon was very was Sir Thomas Allen...

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Black Swan

Tamara Rojo, principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, has given a cutting review of Natalie Portman in Black Swan in today’s Guardian. She wants to know why they didn’t use a professional dancer for the role. But then Elena Glurdjidze, principal dancer with English National Ballet, seems to think that Natalie had a body double and it was hard to tell when she was being used...

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Jason Wallace Wins Costa Literary Award

Now here is someone who won't take “no” for an answer: writer Jason Wallace finally got his novel recognised after being turned down by ONE HUNDRED literary agents. One hundred! He could use those rejection letters as wall paper. Amazing. I think I am going to cut out that article and stick it on the wall - or keep it filed away somewhere at least.