August 13, 2022

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Passion For Fashion

Robust Whiff of Wartime Scandal Clings to Coco Chanel

4 min read
A quarter-ounce of the fragrance retails for $130. Or purchase it in a “deluxe, constrained-edition grand flacon” for $4,600. (Chanel.com graphic via CNS)

PARIS (AFP) — When Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel died in her suite at the Ritz in Paris 50 several years ago this week, the planet mourned the finest vogue designer of the century. 

What no one talked about was that Chanel experienced used Globe War II in the luxury lodge with her German officer lover working as a spy for both equally German military services intelligence and the SS.

Immediately after the war, Chanel — who had risen from grim childhood in an orphanage to befriend, and in some cases sleep with, some of the richest and most impressive adult males in the globe — did her utmost to go over her tracks.

So successful was her rewriting of historical past that AFP, like the relaxation of the world’s media, was taken in.

“At the commencing of the war, Chanel shut her couture residence and withdrew to the shores of Lake Geneva, exactly where she lived for 15 years on the royalties of her perfumes,” it noted following her loss of life, quoting her official biography.

The reality was pretty distinctive. 

Although Chanel did near her famed studio on the rue Cambon when the French capital was occupied by the Nazis, her perfume boutique stayed open so German troopers could get bottles of Chanel No. 5 for their sweethearts.

German lover

Quickly Chanel, then 57 but just as glamorous as at any time, was on the arm of an aristocratic attache at the German embassy, Baron Hans Guenther von Dincklage.

Dincklage was 13 several years her junior and a spy.

The two took up with each other in the Ritz the place Chanel had lived due to the fact 1937, and which experienced been requisitioned by the Germans to provide as their headquarters and to accommodate the luxury-loving head of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Goering.

Chanel started doing the job for Dincklage’s colleagues in Germany’s Abwehr military services intelligence in return for her young nephew Andre Palasse staying launched from a German stalag immediately after becoming captured defending France’s Maginot Line.

She grew to become Abwehr Agent F-7124 in 1941, codenamed “Westminster” following her longtime lover the Duke of Westminster, Britain’s richest landowner.

Dealing with the satan

More darkly, Chanel began pulling strings to claw again the rights to her perfumes from the Jewish Wertheimer brothers, who had fled to the U.S. when the Germans invaded.

She hoped to use the Nazi’s “aryanization” laws to choose again regulate of the perfumes that she signed away to the Wertheimers in 1924.

But the brothers had foreseen the hazard and signed their enterprise in excess of to a non-Jewish businessman before fleeing France.

Chanel’s function as a spy included wining and eating British diplomats in neutral Spain.

But as the tide of the war turned towards Germany, and her efforts to get her brand name again were pissed off, Chanel established her ambitions nonetheless bigger — on ending the war alone.

‘Operation Modelhut’

In April 1943 she built one particular of two visits to Berlin to see Standard Walter Friedrich Schellenberg, the head of SS intelligence.

He preferred to deliver term to Chanel’s old good friend, British prime minister Winston Churchill, that senior SS officers desired to negotiate a peace.

But “Operation Modelhut” (this means style model’s hat, right after Chanel’s well-known boater) finished in farce with Chanel and Dincklage forced to hot-foot it out of Madrid when English socialite Vera Lombardi, who was carrying Chanel’s letter to Churchill to the British embassy, denounced them as German spies.

Chanel had organized for Lombardi — a mutual good friend of hers and Churchill’s — to be launched from an Italian prison where by she was being held as a British spy.

Lombardi had been close to Chanel since the 1920s, introducing her to her good friend, the upcoming king Edward VIII, an admirer of Hitler, and the product of London culture.

Saved by Churchill

When Paris was liberated in 1944, Chanel was arrested by the French Resistance but launched a couple of several hours later on when Churchill intervened.

She was quickly securely out of the country in Switzerland when she set up property in a luxury lodge in Saint Moritz.

She did not return until eventually 1953, when she created a comeback at 70 and reopened her vogue household, possessing accomplished a deal with the forgiving Wertheimers.

It wasn’t until eventually the French writer and Resistance heroine Edmonde Charles-Roux released her book, “Chanel: Her Existence, Her Planet, and the Lady Driving the Legend She Herself Established,” a few years following the designer’s loss of life, that the truth started to trickle out. 

In 1995 the French weekly L’Express uncovered a lot more compromising testimony, which its German counterpart Der Spiegel included to in 2008.

But the veil was truly lifted in 2011 with the publication of “Sleeping With the Enemy” by the American Hal Vaughan.

‘Vicious anti-Semite’

His biography, supported by paperwork from French, German, British, Italian and Polish archives, promises that Chanel was a “fanatical anti-Communist” and “a vicious anti-Semite.”

“Hal Vaughan’s book demonstrates incontestable evidence that Mademoiselle Chanel significantly compromised herself with the Germans,” Charles-Roux advised AFP ahead of her dying in 2016.

But she insisted that Chanel by no means reported nearly anything anti-Semitic to her. “I wouldn’t have set up with it,” she additional.

Right after Vaughan’s reserve was posted the Wertheimer loved ones, who continue to have Chanel, denied the fantastic designer was anti-Semitic. 

And they argued that there was however “an element of mystery” about just what Coco did in the course of the war.


by Frédéric DUMOULIN
© Agence France-Presse