50 years after the tragic death, we are still ‘Living with Coco Chanel’. Exclusive Interview with Caroline Young, an author of the book.

Coco Chanel Trousers

With the 50th anniversary of Gabrielle’s Chanel heart-breaking death this Sunday 10th January 2021, we are sharing an interview with Caroline Young, an author of Living with Coco Chanel.

Being able to hold the final book in my hand – it’s such a great feeling to see all that hard work finally come to life. – Caroline Young

1. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? Where are you from? How did you get into fashion journalism and writing? And why?

I’m a writer from Edinburgh, and author of a number of fashion, subculture and film books. Including Style Tribes, Kitted Out: Style and Youth Culture in the Second World War, Hitchcock’s Heroines, Roman Holiday: The Secret Life of Hollywood in Rome, and Living with Coco Chanel

interview with Caroline Young
Caroline Young, an author of ‘Living with Coco Chanel’

I studied a masters in Journalism and Mass Communications. After my first job as a journalist at a press agency, I worked as an editor on the fashion pages of the Herald website. I began my author career researching the history of Hollywood costume design, which informed my first book Classic Hollywood Style.

2. What inspires you the most in your work/writing? 

I just enjoy the whole process really, from being transported into a different time and place as I write, gathering the information together and then doing the final edits, relieved that I’ve finally met the deadline. And then being able to hold the final book in my hand – it’s such a great feeling to see all that hard work finally come to life. 

3. How do you choose the topic for your next book? How do you go about the research for the book?

The ideas are usually sparked by a film I’ve watched, a costume I’ve seen in a museum, an article I’ve read. And from there I begin researching and developing this idea further, to see if there’s a wider book in there.

For research, I scan through old magazines and newspapers, set up interviews with relevant people, read lots of other books on the subject and gather material from archives. Then pull it all together to see where it takes me. 

4. How do you approach the writing process of the book? What does the process involve? Do you have a set routine or does it vary?

The first process is putting a book proposal together, which is what I, or my agent, will send out to publishers to gauge their interest. To write it, I do a lot of initial research, plan out the content with a chapter breakdown, and then write a sample chapter.

So I use this as a framework when it comes to writing the book. I do a lot of information gathering at the start. Then divide this up into the relevant chapters, which I then work through one-by-one. 

I like to start work early in the day, as it’s when I’m at my most energetic and productive. Ideally, I’m up at 6 am, as I find it really peaceful at this time, but that’s a lot more difficult to achieve in the winter!

living with Coco Chanel book

5. For those who don’t know, could you start off by telling us a little bit about your book Living with Coco Chanel

It’s a beautifully-illustrated guide to the life and loves of Coco Chanel, exploring how the places in her life shaped her designs. It offers an insight into the codes you can find in her timeless creations. Such as why she chose number five, which inspired her monochrome colour palette, and how she led a fashion revolution to free women’s bodies from the confines of their restrictive clothes. 

Coco Chanel working in her Paris atelier in 1962, shot by Douglas Kirkland
Coco Chanel working in her Paris atelier in 1962, shot by Douglas Kirkland

6. In your book, you show how Gabrielle’s childhood, life events, family, friends, traumas, formed her way of thinking and lifestyle. Can you tell us a little bit more about this?

Gabrielle Chanel was born into poverty in rural France in 1883. She was raised in a convent from the age of twelve. So it’s really quite remarkable how she came from nothing to build up a fashion empire.

Spending a childhood at Aubazine Abbey as an orphan really shaped her views on the world. Not only did it teach her how to fight for survival, but it was this convent education that inspired the austerity of her designs.

"Fashion changes, but style endures." – Coco Chanel Click To Tweet

She also found herself in Paris as a young woman at a very exciting time, just before the First World War. With help from two very rich men in Coco Chanel’s life, she began creating radically androgynous designs. They were very different from the over-the-top fashions of the time.

Coco Chanel Trousers
Coco Chanel in 1930, with her dog, Gigot

They immediately attracted attention, and she became one of the most popular designers in Paris by the twenties. Gabrielle’s short hair, her little black dresses and strings of faux pearls all shaped how the modern woman wished to dress at this time. Coco Chanel really represented the avant-garde movement of the time.

Coco Chanel’s life was also shaped by tragedy when the love of her life Boy Capel was killed in a car crash. While she had a number of romances, including controversially with a German officer in World War 2, she chose never to marry. While some of her views and political actions are quite problematic, Chanel’s life is really remarkable. 

chanel sland shoes

7. Can you share a little bit of your personal point of view with us? Do you think the childhood of every person forms us and sets a certain way of thinking? Or are we all born already formed and have strong talents and ambitions? 

I think our personalities are in our DNA, as to whether we are outgoing or more introverted, or whether we are artistic or more science-inclined. But I think a sense of determination and creative temperament is often triggered through our circumstances.

In Chanel’s example, she was determined to succeed in life and raise herself out of poverty to transcend her circumstances. She had this willfulness within her, and an extraordinary set of skills in coming up with her designs.

I always hope to achieve in my writing – to help take people to another time and place, and to provide something thought-provoking and entertaining. – Caroline Young

8. Apart from Gabrielle Chanel’s story, what are the main topics you covered in the book. Why are they important to you? Is there a message that you are trying to send with this book to young ladies across the Globe?  

The book also offers a sense of the social history of the time. I sought to transport the reader to bohemian Paris in the twenties, for example. Or to the Highlands of Scotland. That’s what I always hope to achieve in my writing – to help take people to another time and place, and to provide something thought-provoking and entertaining.

I think there are many lessons people can learn from Gabrielle Chanel in following your own path in life and staying true to yourself. She could be a difficult character, but she found success at a time when women were expected to only marry and raise a family. She dressed the way she wanted, and ignoring society’s set rules, she followed her own instincts. I think that’s a lesson we can all learn from.

9. Were there ‘difficult times’ in your career? How did you deal/cope with them? 

Being able to earn money as a writer can be very difficult, as it’s a lot of work for minimal monetary reward. That is why I have always had to combine it with other jobs. A book takes months, and even years, of research, and you just hope that people ultimately want to read it and enjoy it! When I first decided I wanted to be an author, I spent years perfecting my writing, sending out book proposals, dealing with rejections. And rejection still happens, as each book stands on its own merits. 

10. What would be your best advice to young writers and journalists? 

Writers always need to write. So you have to just keep on working away and doing it for your own enjoyment too. I think there’s this sense that if you are destined to be a writer, you just know it, as it’s the only thing you want to do.

Even when you are on holiday, you are still writing, or thinking of new ideas and playing around with little storylines in your head.

You also need to have a sense of determination to find success, and even if you get told no a hundred times, you have to believe in yourself and keep persevering. Just believe that you will get there!

Life of Gabrielle Chanel

11. Are you working on a new book or another exciting project at the moment? What is it? 

I have a new book on Coco Chanel, called What Coco Chanel Can Teach You About Fashion, which will be published in August. I also have a couple of new projects underway, including a book called Crazy Old Ladies, which explores a sub-genre of movies in the sixties and seventies which cast classic Hollywood stars of the golden era in horror roles. I’ve also finished a novel, so I’m looking forward to being able to send it out to publishers. 

Caroline Young is the author of Living with Coco Chanel, published by White Lion, RRP £22.

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