Coco and the little black dress & Cinderella, a fashionable tale

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 3.50.11 PMThese two titles tell us about main characters who rose from rags to riches. They also tell us a great deal about modern fashion history. The first is a biography of Coco Chanel, the second, a Cinderella retelling with a fashion-centric twist.

Coco and the Little Black Dress by Annemarie Van Haeringen (2015).


This picture book biography focuses on how Coco Chanel came from nothing and succeeded through her own hard work and ingenuity, that she bucked conventions of femininity, and that she has had unfathomable influence on fashion right up until today.

She embodies simple, sophisticated cool.

Coco learned to sew and embroider in the convent where she grew up after her mother died. I love the image of that giant nun looking over the girls and can’t help but notice its simplicity and starkness, a signature for Coco’s later self. I also love how Haeringen has given young Coco red lips. Another signature!


“I’ll never wear a corset!” said Coco. “Nor endless skirts with full hips. I’ll make a dress that you won’t even feel when you’re wearing. A dress you can dance in and ride a bicycle with.” And that’s what she did.


Coco made hats for wealthy people, but hats that were less ridiculous than the day’s typical fare. She made a classic perfume. And, yes, she popularized the little black dress.







Big thanks to NorthSouth Books for images of Coco and the Little Black Dress!


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Cinderella, a Fashionable Tale by Steven Guarnaccia (2013).


“Cinderella” is full of fashion. The gown, the shoe!!

From Grimm‘s: “They [the stepsisters] took her beautiful clothes away from her, dressed her in an old gray smock, and gave her wooden shoes.”

Guarnaccia’s version makes perfect sense! It’s a fairly traditional telling but with illustrations brimming with famous frocks.



You may notice that this Cinderella looks  a lot like Twiggy. One nod to fashion history of many!


And of course Cinderella and her fairy godfather must try on more than one gown to get it just right!



The book has a 60s modern feel; only the cruel stepsisters feel decidedly older-fashioned.



The endpapers serve as a kind of visual glossary and I love how this book could be a perfect foray into fashion for a future dressmaker.

Images of the book from Steven Guarnaccia‘s website. 


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Left to right: Jean-Philippe Worth Red Velvet Coat; Vivienne Westwood “Statue of Liberty” dress; Yves Saint Laurent “Barbaresque” dress.


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Clockwise: Miuccia Prada PVC sandal; Katharina Denzinger racing car shoe; André Perugia fish shoe for Georges Braque.


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Kansai Yamamoto bodysuit designed for David Bowie; Varvara Stepanova sports clothing design.



happy_birthday_madame_chapeauYou might also be interested in my post on Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau for some history of fashionable hats!











6 Responses to Coco and the little black dress & Cinderella, a fashionable tale

  1. Deirdre O'Sullivan from Australia says:

    Hmmm…I have a few qualms about this Chanel book. Are little kids really interested in adult fashions? I never was, and neither were my pals. We just used to throw on our jeans and duffle coats as quickly as possible, so we could run outside and play. Seems like this book was written for the yummy mummies, rather than the usual picture book age group. But my main objection is the way this book celebrates a woman who was an appalling anti-semite and nazi collaborator during the occupation of Paris. She had several nazi officers as lovers during the war. This book, like most people obsessed by fashion, is annoyingly shallow.
    I worked briefly in a nursing home, years ago, and got to know one of the residents there – a very old jewish lady who had worked for Chanel as a seamstress in Paris just after the war. She had barely survived Auschwitz, had lost her husband, and was desperate for work. She told me Chanel was a jew-hating horror, who took advantage of all the jewish seamstresses who came to her pleading for work after the war. The old lady told me she was put to work and paid a lot less than her non-jewish workmates. It infuriated her to humiliate herself like this, but she had no choice if she wanted to survive. Chanel, she told me, was the boss from hell.
    Chanel’s nazi sympathies are well known, so I am amazed this book was ever considered for publication. What’s next, I wonder? Eva Braun was a very good dancer, apparently. Can we expect a cute little picture book about her? it really is rather nauseating.

    • Deirdre, My purpose for this post was to highlight fashion history as explored in picture books. I only learned of Chanel’s Nazi sympathies and antisemitism while researching it—something I was surprised and sad to learn. I went ahead and featured the book anyway, with reservations, because it focuses on Chanel’s early life as well as her influence on fashion, which is undeniable. You’re right though that this brings up a question of whether we should venerate someone for their influence or accomplishments despite disturbing and damaging parts of their lives. In terms of fashion, I think Coco Chanel made strides in functionality and is a design and style icon with an interesting life. That said, I’m glad you’re bringing up this less talked about part of her legacy as well and I think it’s something that could be discussed with kids who are old enough: the importance of who you are and what your values are regardless of accomplishments or being in the public eye.

  2. Deirdre O'Sullivan from Australia says:

    I can see your point, Danielle, about Chanel being a style icon. But it’s not enough to just look good, is it? You have to be a good person as well. That’s what we should be teaching our children. It disturbs me that kids are reading this book about her, and being encouraged to look up to a woman who felt entitled to look down on others. Seems like an odd choice for a role model. Clearly, the author has decided to gloss over the sinister aspects of Chanel’s personality – the world of fashion is all about gloss triumphing over the truth. I’ll be intrigued to see how others react to this book…People might dismiss my objections – ‘Get over it – the war was 70 years ago! What does it matter now?’
    Ah, yes, but don’t forget the old Irish saying:
    “Old sins cast long shadows.”
    (It’s my hot Irish blood that makes me enjoy a fiery debate!)

    • Deirdre, I’m glad you brought this up and it’s making me wonder if it was an oversight not to put this information about Chanel in as a disclaimer in the post itself. Live and learn! I definitely hear what you’re saying; I’ve been mulling it over all day. Thanks again for speaking up in your comment.

  3. Deirdre O'Sullivan from Australia says:

    Dear Danielle,
    You aren’t responsible for publishing this book, so I certainly don’t want you to regret including it in your blog. It’s the publishers who need to explain their decision to revere Chanel. I’m glad that you did include it in your review – it’s stirred up a healthy and vigorous discussion! I’m also grateful to you, for having your finger on the pulse of children’s book publishing – showing us all what’s hot off the press. So, please don’t think I’m pouring vinegar into your champagne, Danielle! I love your blog, and really admire your passion for kids’ books. By the way, I think the Cinderella book looks super fab and groovy! (to use some 60s slang!)

  4. Bonnie Eng says:

    Some interesting discussions around here! I didn’t know about this aspect of Chanel’s life…thanks for enlightening me, ladies. Nonetheless, these books are both beautiful…love that endpaper finish, very chic!

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