Who Was Coco Chanel?

See the film Coco Before Chanel on Monday, Sept. 16; then meet the author of The Improbable Return of Coco Chanel, Richard Parker, on Thursday, Sept. 19 at PPL!

Who was Coco Chanel?  Providence Public Library (PPL) and author Richard Parker have the answer and invite the public to learn about Coco Chanel this September.

The Library will screen the film Coco Before Chanel (2009) in its 3rd floor Auditorium at 6:00 pm on Monday, September 16 and follow with a book talk and signing by Richard Parker, author of The Imrobable Return of Coco Chanel on Thursday, September 19 at 7:00 pm in its 3rd floor Meeting Room, 150 Empire Street, Providence.

Coco Before Chanel (Director: Anne Fontaine; Starring: Audrey Tautou, Benoît Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola; 110 minutes) is the story of Coco Chanel’s rise from obscure beginnings to the heights of the fashion world.

Several years after leaving the orphanage where her father abandoned her, a young Gabrielle Chanel finds herself working in a provincial bar. She is both a seamstress for the performers and a singer, earning the nickname ‘Coco’ from the song she sings nightly with her sister. A liaison with the charismatic Baron Balsan (Belgian actor Benoît Poelvoorde) gives her an entry into French high society, and a chance to develop her gift for designing increasingly popular hats.

Coco falls in love with English businessman Arthur Capel (American Alessandro Nivola, who learnt French especially for the film), unaware that he is betrothed to a woman in England. Capel believes in Coco’s talent making hats and her refusal to follow the whims of fashion; as he says to Coco, “There’s no one else like you.” As Coco’s business flourishes and life is going well, Capel dies in a car accident; she is devastated. However, Coco still has the business that Capel helped her start as a reminder of their love.

The Improbable Return of Coco Chanel

 About the Book & Author

“Finally…a first-hand peek into an untold chapter of Coco Chanel’s amazing life. Richard Parker’s recollections of his time as the assistant to the fashion industry icon, chronicles the untold challenges encountered in opening a new showroom for Chanel Perfumes in New York; the hand-to-hand corporate infighting between Gregory Thomas, the powerful Chairman of Chanel America, and Tom Lee, its legendary designer; and the ultimate resurrection of Coco Chanel’s reputation and legend. Parker’s insights and comfortable writing style bring this industry-defining event and its era to life in page-turning fashion.” 

Archie J. Thornton, President and CEO, The Thornton Works, Inc., formerly Managing Director, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide

 “Coco Chanel’s effervescent and strong personality is clearly delineated in this lively story of the launch of the Chanel Perfume Showroom in New York. After years of exile, her return to fame, as personally witnessed by her assistant, Richard Parker, was the second act in the astounding career of this fashion icon. Parker brings a sharp eye and dry humor to his first-hand account of working with Coco on the project which revived her career and made her a fashion star again.”   Holley Flagg, noted New York artist


Richard Parker ended his career as one of the Mad Men of the New York advertising world, having worked as an artist, account executive, sports and movie promoter, textile executive, and fashion authority. Of all of the rewarding positions he has held, says Parker, “the time I served as Mademoiselle’s assistant was beyond comparison.”

Contact Louise Moulton, Program Coordinator at Providence Public Library at 455-8134 or lmoulton@provlib.org .

Parking is available at the Providence Hilton Parking Garage: $3/3 hours. Bring ticket for stamping at the Library.