April 15, 2021


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Potent whiff of wartime scandal clings to Coco Chanel – Art & Society

4 min read

When Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel died in her suite at the Ritz in Paris 50 several years back this 7 days, the earth mourned the finest style designer of the century. 

What no a single stated was that Chanel had invested Globe War II in the luxurious lodge with her German officer lover performing as a spy for both German military intelligence and the SS.

Just after the war, Chanel — who had risen from grim childhood in an orphanage to befriend, and in some cases rest with, some of the richest and most impressive guys in the globe — did her utmost to deal with her tracks.

So thriving was her rewriting of history that AFP, like the relaxation of the world’s media, was taken in.

“At the starting of the war, Chanel closed her couture home and withdrew to the shores of Lake Geneva, the place she lived for 15 several years on the royalties of her perfumes,” it noted after her demise, quoting her formal biography.

The actuality was pretty diverse. 

Although Chanel did shut her popular studio on the rue Cambon when the French cash was occupied by the Nazis, her perfume boutique stayed open up so German troopers could obtain bottles of Chanel No. 5 for their sweethearts.

German lover

Soon 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 many years her junior and a spy.

The two took up together in the Ritz where Chanel had lived considering that 1937, and which experienced been requisitioned by the Germans to provide as their headquarters and to accommodate the luxurious-loving head of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Goering.

Chanel began operating for Dincklage’s colleagues in Germany’s Abwehr military intelligence in return for her youthful nephew Andre Palasse remaining introduced from a German stalag soon after currently being captured defending France’s Maginot Line.

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

Working with the satan

Additional darkly, Chanel began pulling strings to claw again the legal rights to her perfumes from the Jewish Wertheimer brothers, who experienced fled to the US when the Germans invaded.

She hoped to use the Nazi’s “aryanisation” guidelines to consider back manage of the perfumes that she signed absent to the Wertheimers in 1924.

But the brothers had foreseen the risk and signed their business about to a non-Jewish businessman before fleeing France.

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

But as the tide of the war turned from Germany, and her efforts to get her brand again ended up disappointed, Chanel set her ambitions nonetheless larger — on ending the war alone.

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

He needed to deliver phrase to Chanel’s old pal, British key minister Winston Churchill, that senior SS officers needed to negotiate a peace.

But “Operation Modelhut” (that means vogue model’s hat, after Chanel’s famed boater) ended in farce with Chanel and Dincklage forced to very 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 arranged for Lombardi — a mutual close friend of hers and Churchill’s — to be unveiled from an Italian jail where she was remaining held as a British spy.

Lombardi experienced been close to Chanel since the 1920s, introducing her to her mate, the long run king Edward VIII, an admirer of Hitler, and the cream of London culture.

Saved by Churchill

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

She was soon securely out of the region in Switzerland when she set up household in a luxurious resort in Saint Moritz. 

She did not return until finally 1953, when she manufactured a comeback at 70 and reopened her manner household, owning completed a deal with the forgiving Wertheimers.

It was not until the French author and Resistance heroine Edmonde Charles-Roux published her e book, “Chanel: Her lifestyle, her environment, and the lady powering the legend she herself made”, a few a long time after the designer’s dying, that the truth began to trickle out. 

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

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

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

“Hal Vaughan’s ebook shows incontestable proof that Mademoiselle Chanel seriously compromised herself with the Germans,” Charles-Roux told AFP just before her demise in 2016.

But she insisted that Chanel never said nearly anything anti-Semitic to her. “I wouldn’t have set up with it,” she additional.

Soon after Vaughan’s guide was revealed the Wertheimer spouse and children, who continue to own Chanel, denied the wonderful designer was anti-Semitic. 

And they argued that there was nonetheless “an factor of thriller” about precisely what Coco did all through the war.

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