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Who knew that Coco Chanel had a lifelong love affair with books? Although she traveled extensively, she once said that her best trips were the ones she made on her couch with her nose in a book.

I’m working my way through six Chanel books published in the past year. (Yes, there were SIX.) Chanel’s love for art and literature are prominently mentioned in the four I’ve read. Why the fascination with Chanel? Marlon Brando said it best: “She is the single most fascinating woman I ever met. I detested every word that came out of her mouth but was hypnotized by her.” I know just what he meant.

Chanel was a study in contradictions, mixing truth with fiction, baubles with gems, and ruthlessness with generosity. Despite suspicions that she was a Nazi sympathizer, she was and still an American darling. Nearly everyone who didn’t leave Paris during the German occupation suffered the same accusation. After the war ended she was hauled in for questioning but never charged. To hedge her bets against being arrested again, the ever cunning Chanel hung a sign in her window offering American GIs free bottles of Chanel No. 5, the most recognizable and sought after French perfume on the market. Evidently, the gauntlet of American soldiers lined up to claim a bottle for a wife, girlfriend, sister or Mom was sufficient protection for Chanel, who moved to Switzerland soon after the war ended. Living off the wealth she had created from perfume and couture, Chanel remained there until 1954, the year of her comeback.

Why do Americans love Chanel? Because she epitomizes our idea of success through hard work. As a girl who was basically from the wrong side of the tracks, she never let anyone keep her from her destiny. No one dared to look down their nose at Chanel; she beat them to the punch. What she didn’t like, she revised, whether it was clothing, the past, or her life. By hook or by crook, she built one of the most successful brands ever, helping forge an industry from what was once considered a cottage art. When she staged her return to couture at the ripe age of 70, Chanel’s formidable work ethic was still very much in tact. When she wanted something, she went all out for it.

I’m becoming an official Chanel nerd. On my nightstand: Intimate Chanel, by Isabelle Fiemeyer. Don’t forget to enter the Freedom Style Fest! Show us yourself styled in something completely outside the box. It must be vintage or thrift! The winner takes home a $50 gift certificate and a copy of The World According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World’s Most Elegant Woman.

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.