Extract from ‘Coco Chanel: the Legend and the Life’ (published by Harper Collins).

“Misia – who was so famous at the time that she was known throughout Paris by her first name – met Chanel in 1917.
This was an era when Misia was queen of the city, a muse who had reigned over artists since her youth, capricious and compelling, a law unto herself, with a court who paid heed to all her pronouncements. ‘What I admire in Misia is that joie de vivre always concealed behind a mask of ill-humour; that perfect poise, even in moments of despair,’ observed Paul Morand in his diary in April 1917. ‘And then Misia is Misia, someone with no equal and, as Proust says, a monument.’ As such, she had been painted by Renoir, Vuillard, Lautrec and Bonnard; inspired the poetry of Mallarmé, the prose of Proust, the music of Debussy and Ravel and the gossip of Cocteau and Picasso. A gifted pianist herself, Misia had sat on Liszt’s knee and performed Beethoven for him as a child. ‘Ah, if only I could play like that,’ he said, with his customary charm, and predicted a dazzling future for her; thereafter, Misia was taught the piano by Fauré, who regarded her as a prodigy. Her powerful position at the centre of the inner circle of Parisian art was consolidated by virtue of her close friendship with Serge Diaghilev, the director of the most sought-after ballet company in the world at that time, Ballets Russes. Chanel was 11 years younger, and not yet as socially pivotal in Parisian society, but Misia fell for her when they met at a dinner party at the home of Cécile Sorel, a glamorous French actress who was already a client at Rue Cambon.”

Justine Picardie is the author of five books, including her critically acclaimed memoir, If The Spirit Moves You, and her most recent novel Daphne. The former features director of Vogue, and editor of Observer magazine, she currently writes for several other newspapers and magazines, including the Times, Sunday Telegraph and Harper’s Bazaar.

Exhibition: Misia, reine de Paris. June 12th – September 9th at the musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Anonymous, Misia Natanson in a black dress, 1896-1897
Duplicate of a silver print photography
Private collection
© Vuillard Archives, Paris


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