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It’s funny — as I perused the shelves of the fashion section at my local bookstore over the weekend, it struck me that almost every other title was about Chanel. Her importance in the field of fashion has transcended almost anyone else, so it’s natural for her and her work to receive so much documentation. But how will Hal Vaughan’s new biography of the genius behind the tweed suit stand out from the rest? By showing the couturier’s Nazi roots, of course.
While she closed up shop when the Germans invaded France in 1940, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, like Jean Cocteau and Edith Piaf, remained in the country under Nazi rule. Naturally this was enough to cause heads to cock, making her reasons for staying immediately suspicious. In Vaughan’s new book, Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War, the author attempts to prove that Chanel actually worked for German military intelligence during World War II. That’s right, folks, the maker of your fabulous quilted purses was a Nazi Spy!
The crux of the allegation stems from an affair she had with Baron Hans Guenther von Dincklage, who Vaughan says was “ … a professional Abwehr [German military intelligence] officer, who had been operating in France since the late 1920s” in a report from the BBC. Vaughan states that, through researching extensive archives worldwide, that Dincklage coerced her into becoming a secret agent for the Abwehr, and that she was a raging anti-Semite, to boot. She is not, however, credited with designing the Third Reich’s uniforms, which, at the risk of sounding like a Nazi sympathizer, were kind of sexy. Doesn’t everyone like a guy in knee-high leather Gestapo boots? Maybe I’m alone on that.
Of course in a clearly knee-jerk reaction, a representative from the House of Chanel issued this statement to British Vogue:
Such insinuations cannot go unchallenged … She would hardly have formed a relationship with the family of the owners or counted Jewish people among her close … such as the Rothschild family, the photographer Irving Penn or the well-known French writer Joseph Kessel … It is unlikely.
The anonymous representative also noted that she was a close friend of Winston Churchill and even suggested that she wished to play a role in an effort dubbed “Operation Modelhut” to aid in arriving at a peace settlement between Allied and German forces. No further information on said operation has ever been found, however, making these claims about as verifiable as Vaughan’s in the end.
The House also included a scathing condemnation of the book:
More than 57 books have been written about Gabrielle Chanel. To decide for yourself, we would encourage you to consult some of the more serious ones.
And with that, Hal Vaughan might find himself on the New York Times bestseller list. The question is, if Chanel was a Nazi, how would that impact her legacy, if at all? It’s not like she would’ve been the only one in the creative field to be a fascist.
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