Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Starving on the French Riviera

Anne de Courcy
Phyllis Court Club

FESTIVAL favourite Anne de Courcy made a return visit to talk about her latest book, Chanel’s Riviera.

Subtitled “Life, Love and the Struggle for Survival on the Côte d’Azur, 1930-1944”, Anne described her book as a biography of the Riviera.

Illustrated with photographs from the book, Anne’s talk showcased her detailed knowledge of the subject as she mentioned some of the famous figures who flocked to the Riviera in the Thirties.

These included artists such as Picasso, writers Ernest Hemingway, W Somerset Maugham, HG Wells and Jean Cocteau, as well as Winston Churchill, Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII. And, of course, Coco Chanel herself, who entertained a string of lovers at the villa she designed and had built — the first thing she actually owned.

Anne described how the atmosphere changed following the outbreak of war. Many refugees from Northern Europe, including Jews fleeing persecution, sought refuge on the Riviera, and with the fall of France in 1940 food shortages made life really tough.

Anne gave us a vivid picture of Chanel as a self-sufficient, independent woman with considerable business acumen, despite her difficult childhood.

Abandoned by her father and brought up in a convent, Anne found it remarkable that Chanel did not become institutionalised but managed to be an original.

Responding to audience questions, Anne revealed she is currently in negotiations for her next book, provisionally titled Five Love Affairs and a Friendship, about writer and heiress Nancy Cunard and set in the Twenties.

Asked what she thought Chanel would make of her brand today, Anne said she’d probably approve of the pieces reminiscent of her early designs. However, being always impeccably turned out, she didn’t believe Chanel would think much of the fashion for “bed hair”.

A knowledgeable and thoroughly entertaining speaker, I can see Anne de Courcy making many more return visits to Henley Literary Festival.

Cathy Johnson

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