Between the World Wars, the French Riviera became a playground for the rich and famous, with Coco Chanel and her villa, La Pausa, at the center of it all. De Courcy takes readers through this flashy era through the lens of the fashionista—including its ultimate demise when the Nazis swooped down, bringing the horrors of evacuation and the displacement of thousands of families during World War II.
In Chanel’s Riviera, Anne de Courcy has written a well-researched and compelling story. She maintains a remarkable balance between, on the one hand, Chanel and her world of the rich and famous and, on the other, the lives of ordinary people desperately struggling to survive in a country on the brink of annihilation. Drawing on an immense volume of material, she has succeeded not only in constructing an intriguing portrait of Chanel herself but also in expertly conjuring the two very different worlds that then existed side by side.
De Courcy juggles an immense cast of characters. In the book, aristocrats, politicians, artists, writers and movie stars show up for cameos on the Riviera and then depart. Except for the politicians and the artists, the participants in that extended bacchanalia are forgotten today, and De Courcy is generally unsuccessful in bringing them back to life ... This book is an odd account, not quite biography, not an in-depth discussion of fashion and not a comprehensive history of the place. Much of the material has been written about before. But De Courcy’s book is entertaining, and it satisfies the need for a peek, at once envious and satisfyingly censorious, at the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
For today’s real estate-obsessed, much of Anne De Courcy’s retelling of the characters, events and properties of the French Riviera in the 1930s reads like a Sotheby’s International catalog punctuated with Page Six-style rundowns of who’s sleeping with whom and banal descriptions of what F. Scott Fitzgerald famously described as 'the diffused magic of the hot, sweet South' ... Although sketches of Chanel’s life, specifically her fashion inventions and her love affairs, are woven throughout the book, she is not the only icon whose habits are chronicled in meticulous detail (making it slightly odd that her name is featured so prominently in the title) ... intoxicating descriptions ... The second half of the book describes in equally meticulous — and gruesome — detail the deportations and persecution of Jews, and the struggle of many along the Côte d’Azur, including Chanel’s architect, to hide Allied prisoners and detention camp escapees in their villas, and then to help them find other safe houses or couriers. That’s the problem with this meandering, occasionally repetitive account: The awkward juxtaposition of the Riviera’s high-society decadence and the gruesome atrocities of the war is difficult to reconcile.