Most Influential Women of our Time …

My guys are out of town, camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota for five–count ’em, five–nights. Some women hate being alone at home. Me? I love it. Introvert. Workaholic. Writer. Get the picture?

One of the things I look forward to when I’m home alone is catching up on movies that no one else in my family wants to see, like foreign flicks and musicals. So more than a week ago I set my Netflix queue in anticipation of this event. NINE is on the list. So is CREATION, a biopic about Charles Darwin starring Paul Bettany. And THE LAST STATION, a biopic on Leo Tolstoy. Looking forward to all of them.

Last night, I watched COCO AVANT CHANEL, another biopic about the life of Gabrielle Chanel before she became a famous designer. (Don’t ask me why so many biopics are on my list. It just happened that way.) This was good movie that I believe ran fairly true to life. The acting was impeccable. I love Audry Tautou (pictured on the left), and Coco Chanel was much more interesting that I’d expected. I had no idea she was such a major influence in women’s fashion.

She was born in 1883, and while the fashion of her time included dresses with corsets and monstrous hats with feathers, Coco preferred trousers and small straw hats. She got her start in the fashion business with hat-making and was initially financed with funding from a man who was purported to be the love of her life. (Spoiler Alert: their 9 year affair – the length of which was not made clear in the movie – ended tragically when he died in a car accident.) She became known for her loose fitting, elegant clothing for women made out of jersey, a material previously used only for men’s underwear!

I was so intrigued by the movie that I did a little more research and was surprised to find that she stayed on in Paris during the German occupation in World War II, although closed her dress shops, believing there were more important things that fashion during that time. She not only was rumored to have had a spy with an important German officer and Nazi spy, she was also later arrested by the Gestapo accused of being a British spy. The British royal family intervened on her behalf, ensuring she evaded trial.

Here’s the real Chanel.

She refused to marry, but the list of men with whom she was rumored to have had affairs is impressive, including Igor Stravinsky. When asked why she turned down a proposal of marriage from the Duke of Westminster, she replied, “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster. There is only one Chanel.”

An unabashed workaholic, she worked until the day she died at the age of 88. She was listed by TIME as one of the top 100 most influential people of the past century and was the only person from the fashion industry to be included in that list. And she smoked like a chimney. Who knew?

The movie got me wondering about other influential women, so I checked out TIME’s century list. I wasn’t surprised to see Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice or Hilary Clinton listed, but I was surprised to see Lucille Ball, Princess Diana, Aretha Franklin and Marilyn Monroe.

What women do you think have been some of the most influential of the last century?



About Helen Brenna

Helen Brenna is the RITA award winning author of romances for Harlequin's Superromance line. Three more books in her popular Mirabelle Island series will be release in July, August and September of 2011. For more information, check out her website at
This entry was posted in Coco Avant Channel, Coco Before Channel, Coco Channel, Most influential women of our century, Time's 100 list. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Most Influential Women of our Time …

  1. Leanne says:

    Great blog, Helen! Thanks for giving us the scoop on Coco! I love it when reading or watching something piques my interest enough to do more research on the subject. Enjoy your week. Will you sneak in any tv time with Bravo?:)

  2. Helen Brenna says:

    I don't think I've ever watched anything on Bravo, Leanne. What am I missing? lol

  3. Michele Hauf says:

    I loved that movie, Helen. Really interesting to see her beginnings, as a dance hall girl! Nine is another cool movie to see. The plot left me wanting more, but the visuals and the music were awesome. Marion Cotillard is amazing in that flick. I think I fell in love with her a little. ;-)Influential women? For some odd reason Julia Child just popped into my head, but I think she had a big influence on women.

  4. Cindy Gerard says:

    Interesting blog, Helen. I'm thinking Jackie O. She had a huge influence on American culture and fashion. Fun to think about …

  5. Keri Ford says:

    very cool, Helen. I'm surprised to see Marilyn on there! Maybe I don't know as much about her as I think I do. hmm.

  6. Helen Brenna says:

    Nine is coming in the mail today, Michele! Don't know who Marion Cotillard is, but looking forward to finding out.Julia Child is an interesting pick, Michele. I didn't directly feel her influence, but I have this sense that I did indirectly. Jackie O – another interesting one, Cindy. Talk about an icon.

  7. Helen Brenna says:

    Keri – I'm with you. Marilyn Monroe? Maybe she tapped into sexual freedom for women in a way that previously hadn't been done. Makes me want to look into her life, too.BTW, watched THE LAST STATION last night – the Leo Tolstoy biopic. Great performances by Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Paul Giamatti and James McAvoy. Touching story. But was it touching enough to get me to read WAR AND PEACE? We'll see. LOL

  8. Leanne says:

    Helen, I think my husband has put a secret lock on Bravo. I'm late to the party, but I enjoy Project Runway.:)

  9. Paula R says:

    Helen, I second Princess Di and Jackie O. I love those too women. I could also see why Lucille Ball is on that list. I would also say Oprah Winfrey. I would add Nora Roberts, Angelina Jolie, Michelle Obama, Agatha Christie, Audrey Hepburn and her sister, Katherine (LOVE HER!!!). Just of few that comes to mind.I hope you do read War and Peace, it is a great work of literary fiction.Peace and love,Paula R.

  10. lois greiman says:

    Regarding Monroe, I know it doesn't seem that she had a lot of clout besides sexual, but I believe just the fact that she was so popular made people view women differently. Interesting stuff.

  11. Let's see–there's Influential and then there's Influential Lite.I haven't seen the list, but I hope it includes people like Rachel Carson, Betty Freidan, Georgia O'Keeffe, Marian Anderson, Elanor Roosevelt…

  12. Helen, I know what you mean about taking advantage of the change to watch movies no one else in the house would probably like. I watched "Greenberg" the other night. I like Ben Stiller, and I thought the character was well-done. From now on a certain kind of ending will always be a "Greenberg" for me.

  13. I really like "The Last Station." As for biopix of influential women I've enjoyed lately: TEMPLE GRANDIN and GEORGIA O'KEEFFE. Tremendous performances and really eye-opening, both.On the male side, I blogged about TRUMBO recently–not a biopic but a documentary. Highly recommend it, along with the biopic GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, with David Strathairn and George Clooney.

  14. Oh…that's Eleanor Roosevelt.

  15. Okay, found the list. I thought it was 100 influential *women*. It's *people*. (Interesting that The Kennedys are listed as one. Same for the Beatles.) Anyway, I didn't count women vs men–I can guess–but the fact that they have 5 groups of 20–might be interesting to see the ratio by group. Aargh! Helen! Can you guess the WIP is giving me fits?

  16. Helen Brenna says:

    Now that you mention it, Leanne, I have seen Project Runway a time or two. Enjoyed it!

  17. Helen Brenna says:

    Paula, I totally get why Lucille Ball was on the list, it just surprised me. And a great list of influential women! Like it.

  18. Helen Brenna says:

    Good point, Lois. She sure did capture the attention, didn't she?

  19. Helen Brenna says:

    Kathy, how did I know you'd have some great additions? lolOff the top of my head, I don't think any of the women you listed were there, but I may have missed them, or kind of went, "Yeah, yeah, I knew she'd be here."Have seen Good Night and Good Luck, haven't seen any of the others you've mentioned. Would like to see Greenberg – bet it was nice to see Ben Stiller stretching a bit.Now, Kathy, get back to work!!

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