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Best Chanel books for fashion lovers — including V&A Chanel exhibition book

Updated: Jan 18

Unless you’ve already secured your ticket — or you’re happy to shell out to become a member — the only way you'll be able to enjoy the V&A's Chanel blockbuster is through the accompanying exhibition book.

Yes, Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto is totally sold out, and it happened just four days into the London exhibition's five-month run. That’s what you call a hit.

Thankfully, the new Chanel book by the V&A is a very good alternative. And even more thankfully, there’s plenty of those still available (for now at least!).

Simply titled Gabrielle Chanel the catalogue is introduced by exhibition curators Oriole Cullen and Connie Karol Burks.

Over 288 pages it presents over 230 beautiful illustrations, many of which are objects on display in the sell-out exhibition. There’s a dazzling array of Coco Chanel’s most notable designs, which are mainly drawn from the collections of Patrimoine de Chanel in Paris and the V&A's own collection.

The items have been captured in stunning detail by renowned American photographer Nicholas Alan Cope, and they cover the breadth of Chanel’s 60 years at the forefront of fashion.

A selection of Chanel dresses on mannequins in a glass cabinet. Many of them are red
Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto (c) Victoria and Albert Museum,

The clothing itself is also brought to life by accompanying historic images, including fashion illustrations, archive photos, and shots of clients including Elizabeth Taylor and Lauren Bacall. The Chanel book examines the cut, construction, embellishment and provenance of each ensemble, as well as the themes and motifs Coco returned to throughout her career.

Published by the V&A itself, the book is the best way to get up close and personal to Chanel’s fashion masterpieces without a ticket — which also means you can do it without having to leave the comfort of your own home.

Best of the other books on Coco Chanel

Of course, with a career spanning six decades and a legacy that has endured long after her death, there are plenty of other books about Chanel.

If you’re looking for a full-bodied, comprehensive Chanel coffee table book, then Chanel Catwalk: The Complete Collections is for you. It's the first book to gather every Chanel collection ever created by Karl Lagerfeld in a single volume, and is a bestseller.

It was fully updated in 2020 to include Lagerfeld’s final collections for the house and those of his right-hand and successor, Virginie Viard. Cent Magazine call the book “a unique opportunity to chart the development of one of the world’s most influential fashion brands.” It’s a very thick book, coming in at 760 pages. But that just demonstrates it’s comprehensiveness.

Perhaps a biography is more what you’re looking for? After all, it’s great to experience the V&A Chanel exhibition to marvel at the all the clothes and creations, but no exhibition will be able to show objects that cover ALL aspects of her extraordinary life.

Book cover showing an illustration of Coco Chanel
Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life by Justine Picardie

One of the most popular Chanel biographies is the 2010 book by Justine Picardie, who spent years trying to get to the truth about the designer.

The standout theme of the book – titled Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Lifeis that what lies underneath Chanel’s life is far darker than her own glossy myth-making would have you believe. The Telegraph described Picardie’s book as “elegant” and said it shows that for a woman “who introduced simplicity into women’s wardrobes, [she] was far from simple herself.”

Or maybe you want to simply discover her unique insight? This means that the little book of Chanel wisdom is likely for you. The Little Guide to Coco Chanel: Style to Live By is a perfectly-sized publication featuring over 170 quotes and fascinating facts about the creative genius who gave us the Little Black Dress and Chanel No. 5.

It’s full of interesting facts about Coco Chanel's life and influence, and there’s a ton of quotes from the icon herself, plus some of the many people inspired by her. And the price makes it the perfect stocking-filler this Christmas.

And as we head towards this festive season, then these Chanel books might be the perfect gift option for the fashion lover in your life. And the good news is they will likely enjoy them, whether they have been able to see the V&A Chanel exhibition or not.

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