5 Incredible Facts About Coco Chanel


Chanel is one of the most famous names in fashion. We have all seen the classic style of dress; we’ve heard of the famous perfume No. 5. It brings to mind thoughts of elegance and beauty.

How much do you know about the woman behind the name?

Coco Chanel was one of the most powerful women in the world. She worked her way out of a childhood steeped in poverty to create a fashion empire. Though her later life was darkened by controversy as war ravaged Europe, her determination and sense of dignity are things to be admired.

Normally I write blog posts about female authors, but my recent read of The Queen of Parisan excellent, though fictitious, novel by Pamela Binnings Ewen—inspired me to hunt out some facts that will shed some light on this iconic woman.

Coco Was Her Nickname

Though she was known by the world as Coco, the fashion designer was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883 in Saumur, France. Where did she get the nickname that was to become her identity throughout her life?

One theory is that it was inspired by a song she used to sing as a cabaret singer. Two songs became inseparably associated with her—Ko Ko Ri Ko and Qui qu’a vu Coco. She later said that Coco was a name her father gave her.

Wherever it is that she got the nickname, everybody knows it—this is the name that made her famous!

She Started With Hatmaking

Chanel is best known for her delicious perfume No. 5, but she did not begin her career as a fashion designer with perfume. In 1909 she opened a hat shop in Boulevard Malesherbes in Paris. Her hats were simple and notably lacking the fruits and flowers which had ornamented such accessories for years.

Her name became synonymous with simplicity and convenience. Her hats could match any color and style of dress; she upped her game by designing dresses that did not require corsets. These dresses were even so daring as to show the ankles!

Starting with the dignified, elegant hat, Chanel showed women that it is possible to achieve beauty in simplicity.

Pants For Women!

On the subject of useful fashion, we can’t forget Chanel’s trousers! Though she did not invent the idea of pants for women, she became a pioneer in the style after the first world war.

It started with her design for the hiking trousers that she made in order to get into gondolas in Venice. Soon followed her famous yachting pants which took the world by storm. Women could wear pants for their leisure activities and look as elegant as they would have in a skirt.

Chanel was not happy with unnecessary trifles that society forced into women’s fashion. She did more than make pants popular. She cut her hair into her famous black bob, which scandalized the world, encouraging her so-called ‘garçonne style.’

She Said What She Meant

The word bold describes Chanel in every imaginable way. Not only did she dress as she wished, but she was not afraid of stating her opinions on the competitors and critics who disdained her. This sometimes lost her friends, but never enough for her to sink into obscurity.

She accused Dior of dressing women like armchairs with all of the unneeded fabric that was hemmed onto his dresses. Balenciaga’s designs met her approval, but she did not like his ability to cut. Regarding Paul Poiret’s designs, she said they looked more like costumes than evening wear.

Designer Headstone

Coco Chanel designed everything in her life, so why would her headstone have been any different?

Her zodiac sign was Leo. She kept that powerful creature present in her designs throughout her life. Lions decorated her cigarette lighters and scissors. Lions were also engraved on the bottoms of her tweed suits. At the end of her life, she designed a headstone decorated with five lions.

Chanel did not have any known children. At her funeral, the front chairs were reserved for her models. She is buried in Lausanne, Switzerland.


Chanel was a woman with a strong personality who changed how the world looked. Her name remains synonymous with elegance and power. She inspired many leading ladies to carve their own ways with determination and creativity.

Next time you go out wearing No. 5 or cut your hair into an elegant bob, remember that these fashions are strong today because of this outspoken and fiery woman!

River of Life: THE SEINE by Elaine Sciolino


If we made a list of the magical properties found in literature, we would have to include that of transporting us to a different place. When a person can’t afford vacation, a good book can take them to streets far away.

Before visiting Paris with my mother and brother, it was a dream of mine to know her streets. They are works of art; the city was designed over the centuries by her leaders to be aesthetically pleasing. You can call the Louvre a museum, but the streets are mesmerizing. Statues and bridges provide wonders to gaze upon.

When a visit to Paris was still but a dream, I satisfied my wanderlust reading books set in the City of Light. They were written in different time periods and different genres. It might have been ink on a page, but each time I finished a book set in Paris, I felt that I knew France a little better.

This was true in a way; I learned about Paris in the way you know a place after reading about it. If a book is well-written, it can be a powerful tour guide.

The reality is that you never know a country until you’ve been there. The vision of Paris I built in my head with each novel was lovely–but it cannot compare to the reality.

The City of Light is a marvel of human artistry. It’s a testament to development as a civilization as time passed. France boasts of a rich history that most never learn of. There’s more to France than the guillotine during the French Revolution.

I learned so much history in the pages of The Seine by reporter Elaine Sciolino. This book is not heavy like a textbook; Sciolino’s writing style is light and talkative. I never once felt that I was dragging through boring events or struggling with names I couldn’t pronounce. This is history that anyone can appreciate.

Sciolino paints a different perspective of Paris. This perspective is from the river, that ancient body of water pulsing through Paris like a vein. Sciolino has traveled far and wide in search of Seine lore, learning about the river goddess Sequana. She even lived on the Seine during a great flood, when water spilled over the banks.

Elaine Sciolino has witnessed many of the Seine’s moods.

I didn’t have enough time to see all of Paris; it’s bigger in person than you probably think! One thing I remember was the sparkling water of the Seine. I remember how the water shimmered as the sun set. The Seine was the first thing I saw when we arrived; before I had a clear view of the Eiffel Tower, I saw the Seine, dark and mysterious in the moonlight.

The Seine is a treat for the history lover and travel junkie. Sciolino has painted for us a panoramic view of this river. She hiked to its “origin,” a stream way up north. She visited places where the Impressionists painted their works of art, capturing the nature of France in all of her elegance.

The Seine takes us on a fascinating ride through the history of the country, following the course of her famous river. It ends with a sobering chapter about the fire which destroyed Notre Dame in 2019. Sciolino us how water from the Seine was used to help stop the fire.

I will continue to read books about Paris until I can visit her again. I hope that, when the time comes, I will know more about this city. The Seine is one of my favorite books; let it take you across oceans to the place where art and history was made.

5 Books Set In Paris (Part 1)


Before I had the opportunity to visit Paris with my wonderful mom and brother last year, I had a theory. I told myself that, if I found and read enough books set in Paris, I could pretend I had been there before.

With each book that I read set in Paris, I believed that the street names and locations would become more familiar; I could create a sort of map in my head of the City of Light.

Can Books Replace Reality?

The map was not accurate, though, for many reasons. Here are a few:

  • You can only experience a city in a novel to a certain point. Different authors reflect different versions of themselves in their stories. Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens are not going to paint the same version of Paris.
  • The books that I read were set in different time periods. We have WWII-era Paris with airplanes and bombs; then we have Emile Zola’s novels, where marketplaces were described in minute, fascinating detail. This is not a bad thing: It means the city has many faces, and through books, we can see them all.
  • The struggles of the characters change the flavor of Paris. Is the character happy living there, or are they trying to escape? Are they grieving a death or celebrating a marriage? This is the joy of literature.

While I did not create an accurate present-day map of Paris, I still benefited from my collection of books set in France. I felt connected enough with the city to satisfy my inner traveler until the day I made it there. Then I was blessed to see Paris with my own eyes; thanks Mom!

I know there are more books set in Paris and I am still woefully underread as far as the lists go. I have not yet read bestsellers such as The Nightingale or The Lost Girls of Paris; I do plan to read them eventually.

Here are five books I did read and enjoy.

1- Paris by Edward Rutherfurd

Edward Rutherfurd writes novels in which the main characters are cities, rather than people. I have only read one to this day, Paris, a sprawling 800-page glimpse into Paris that covers different time periods. My favorite scenes were those written during the construction of the Eiffel Tower. I enjoyed seeing the city as she grew into what she is now.

2- The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

This was a beautiful and heartbreaking fictional account of Ernest Hemingway’s wife, Hadley. It features legends such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. Imagine becoming such a famous author that you’re a character in someone else’s book. I hope if that happens to me one day, I’ll be an interesting one!

3- Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

For fans of YA fiction, Anna and the French Kiss simply has to be on this list. I like that it showed Paris from a student’s point of view; Anna is going through different life changes. At the time when I read it, her angst was more relatable. The story is simply lovely.

4- The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

If you need a reason to give this delightful novel a try, here’s an excerpt from the blurb on the back:

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

5- Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson

Okay, here I’m cheating. I read Moonlight Over Paris after my visit to that delightful city, but it was still an enchanting read. It’s apparently part of a series, so I will keep an eye out for the others in that series: I found this third installment in a secondhand bookshop.

Books & Travel

While reading didn’t really take me to Paris as it is now, I can’t deny that reading takes you on an adventure. I met Hadley Hemingway and explored the marketplace of La Halle in The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola (who wrote more books set in those remote parts of the city; he loved it dearly.)

Do you have any suggestions for books set in France? Perhaps you have a favorite that isn’t listed here? I would love to know. Leave a comment and I’ll check it out!

Thoughts on the Louvre


I mourn that I was unable to see all the works in the Louvre and appreciate them. It would require a lifetime studying each piece from every possible angle. I would have to make my home in the halls of the museum: each piece of art offers hours of contemplation.

I cannot live in the museum; this is the reason that art books exist, so that we can take the pieces home with us, in a sense.

However, books do not give us chills in the same way as the real works. Gazing at an original painting, we imagine the artist before his canvas, working to shade an eyelid or smile, or chiseling the look of agony on a statue’s face.

Books will not give us the same connection with the creator. Museums have this power: walking from frame to frame, statue to statue, goosebumps rise on our skin.

We feel mixed emotions. First comes hope—because such beauty is possible and can come from the human imagination, can be created by human hands.

Then follows a sense of despair, because to create such glorious pieces, we must dedicate our lives to practice. Most of us give up too easily.

But there is another despair: many of these artists had no way of predicting their work would be loved centuries later. They died in obscurity.

Does this not also give us hope? Art is not about fame, but fulfillment.

I choose to hold onto the positive feelings that gave me chills at the Louvre. My writing might seem scarce at this moment. I sense I am not doing enough to create something immortal. Fame is not the point. Perhaps my words will become famous after I have left this world.

What to do in the meanwhile? I will continue to create—because it heals me and fulfills me. I will not worry about fame.

In peace and in love, I will live a life of creating and learning.

The Lady of Paris


Yesterday, the Eiffel Tower stood before me.

All my life, I had wanted to meet her in person, wanted it desperately; I pined for it, as if anxious she would one day walk away. I feared she would vanish to a different spot if I kept her waiting, for no lady likes to wait.

But there she was watching, steady with wisdom from years she had seen go by, years of revolution, heroes and tragedy. Only the stars could compete with her light. No diamond can outshine her.

She stood in the same spot she’d been all the time I had wanted to see her. I like to believe she waited for me patiently. Perhaps she knew I would one day arrive and bask in her great shadow.

She stood as if I were the reason she had kept to that spot.

As the taxi made its way up the street, her light beamed over the city, settling on me. In that moment, I nearly cried.

Her light settled on me and she seemed to say, “Welcome. I’ve been waiting for you.”

My Own Account of London


When I first started reading books, I discovered their ability to transport the reader to different places. Between covers I have been to many locations, a good percentage of which are not real…but many that do exist somewhere on this planet. Of these I have enjoyed glimpsing between the lines.

How strange to think I am visiting these places. France? England? These were lands I knew because I read of them. For years I devoured written accounts from authors, fiction and nonfiction.

I’ve seen different versions of England, from Dickens to Rowling. Many French authors—classic and contemporary—have taken me to Paris. What a blessing to be going. I will have a chance to see these countries from my own angle; I will be able to tell readers of my own version.

I will have accounts of my own. My feet will tread cities ancient, sidewalks that have seen revolution and change. I’ll encounter buildings immortalized in beloved novels. I will have a chance to visit the graves of great authors, pray in old cathedrals, see castles.

a glimpse of a Peruvian street

As I packed, I listened to The Four Seasons and La Vie en Rose, letting the beauty of song mingle with my excitement. I have chosen Pride and Prejudice to read on the plane from San Francisco to Paris. I have daydreamed.

Oh! the stories I will write. My craft will be changed permanently. I will gather magic wandering these places so old but new to me. The stories growing in me! They might be novels or short stories, but whatever they are, they’ll be the most poignant tales of my life.

I had always thought that, if I were to see these places, I would be old and gray. No, I am blessed to see them with the energy of youth. Thanks to my mother for helping my dream come true so much earlier than I imagined. She is without a doubt the greatest and I love her.

Oh, the poems I will write. I am ready to meet the muses who helped build these great cities. I won’t have enough time to see all I want to, but there will be pictures, and the memories will stay. I won’t forget a moment of this visit—not a smell, taste, sound, flavor—I cannot forget.