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'Coco Chanel Cared About Clothes, Not Fashion'

And other words of wisdom from the legendary designer's biographer, Justine Picardie.

By Karl Lagerfeld. Courtesy of Chanel.

As a student of fashion, I've spent a good part of my days—and pretty much all of my career—examining the life and work of Coco Chanel. Because to me, Chanel is everything. Without her, we wouldn't be wearing Breton stripes. Or ballet flats. Or costume jewelry. In Coco, we find the origins of high-low dressing, the dropwaist, the absence of a corset, wearing black beyond funerals. We use the word visionary a bit too loosely these days, but Chanel really was one.

So it was with great pleasure that I spent a cozy lunch at New York's La Grenouille last week with Chanel's preeminent biographer, Justine Picardie. The writer, whose book was released about a year ago, is celebrating a new edition, featuring incredible illustrations by current Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld. (Buy Chanel: Her Life here.)

Before lunch, Picardie chatted about the book extensively with New York fashion director Amy Larocca in front of a small group of editors. To me, what distinguishes this biography from others is the personal connection the author seemed to form with Chanel, as well as her living relatives. From spending time at the convent in rural France where Chanel was raised, to examing the designer's personal wardrobe with one of her last living descendants, Picardie knows more about Chanel than anyone else in the world.

The most important takeaway from the event, though, had to be Picardie's precise conclusion regarding Chanel's significance as a designer. "I think the reason we still wear her designs today," Picardie said, "is because she cared about clothes. Not fashion." Unlike many of her contemporaries, Chanel made the clothes she wanted to wear. It wasn't about trends. And that gives her designs an authenticity that few contemporary fashion designers have been able to achieve.

Learn more about Chanel: Her Life here. And shop pieces inspired by Chanel here.

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