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18-08-2011
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New Book Claims Coco Chanel Was Nazi Spy
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PARIS (AP) — Coco Chanel: A fashion icon whose name has become shorthand for timeless French chic, a shrewd businesswoman who overcame a childhood of poverty to build a luxury supernova and ... a Nazi spy?

A new book by a Paris-based American historian suggests Chanel not only had a wartime affair with a German aristocrat and spy, but that she herself was also an agent of Germany's Abwehr military intelligence organization and a rabid anti-Semite.

Doubts about Chanel's loyalties during World War II have long festered, but "Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War" goes well beyond those previous allegations, citing as evidence documents culled from archives around the world.

The book, published in the U.S. on Tuesday by Knopf, has ruffled feathers in France, where the luxury industry is a pillar of the economy and Chanel is widely regarded as the crowning jewel.

The House of Chanel was quick to react, saying in a statement that "more than 57 books have been written about Gabrielle Chanel. ... We would encourage you to consult some of the more serious ones."

Hal Vaughan, an 84-year-old World War II veteran and longtime journalist who previously wrote two other history books, insists that he is serious. "Sleeping with the Enemy" is the fruit of more than four years of intense labor born out of an accidental find in France's national police archive, he said.

"I was looking for something else and I come across this document saying 'Chanel is a Nazi agent, her number is blah, blah, blah and her pseudonym is Westminster,'" Vaughan told The Associated Press. "I look at this again and I say, 'What the hell is this?' I couldn't believe my eyes!

"Then I really started hunting through all of the archives, in the United States, in London, in Berlin and in Rome and I come across not one, but 20, 30, 40 absolutely solid archival materials on Chanel and her lover, Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, who was a professional Abwehr spy," Vaughan said.
Born in 1883 in a hospice for the poor in France's western Pays de la Loire region, Gabrielle Chanel had remade herself into the famed couturiere and proudly independent Coco Chanel by the outbreak of World War II. During the conflict, she holed up with von Dincklage — a dashing German officer 12 years her junior who was one in her long string of lovers — in Paris' Ritz Hotel, which was then under Nazi control.

The book alleges that in 1940, Chanel was recruited into the Abwehr — her nom de guerre borrowed from another of her lovers, the Duke of Westminster. A year later, she traveled to Spain on a spy mission — on condition that the Nazis release her nephew from a military internment camp — and later went to Berlin on the orders of a top SS general, the book says.

It also suggests that Chanel's alleged anti-Semitism pushed her to try to capitalize on laws allowing for the expropriation of Jewish property to wrest control of the Chanel perfume lines from the Wertheimer brothers, a Jewish family who'd helped make her Chanel No. 5 a worldwide best-seller.

The Chanel statement refuted the claim, although it added that company officials have yet to read the book and had only seen media excerpts.
"She would hardly have formed a relationship with the family" — which currently owns the entire Chanel brand empire — "or counted Jewish people among her close friends and professional partners," it says.

A US-based organization of Holocaust survivors said it was "shocked" by the book's allegations and called on Chanel to launch an independent investigation into the book's claims.

"The documents on Ms. Chanel's past are too serious and historically important to be cavalierly dismissed by the fashion house without any effort to confirm their veracity through objective research," said Elan Steinberg, vice-president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants.

After the war, Chanel was arrested and released hours later, saved by "the intervention of her old friend Winston Churchill," the press release for the book said. She fled to Switzerland.

Asked why the book, which is chock-a-block with allegations of Chanel's shady dealings before, during and after the war, had turned up so much more dirt than the scores of previous biographies about the fashion icon, Vaughan had two explanations. Firstly, many of the documents he cited had only recently been declassified.

Secondly, he said, many people have a vested interest in protecting Chanel's aura of unsullied chic.
"A lot of people in this world don't want the iconic figure of Gabrielle Coco Chanel, one of France's great cultural idols, destroyed," said Vaughan. "This is definitely something that a lot of people would have preferred to put aside, to forget, to just go on selling Chanel scarves and jewelry."

Despite the doubts that have long lingered over Chanel's wartime doings, the multi-billion-dollar fashion brand that bears her name has sought to spotlight its founder. For the set of its last runway show — the fall-winter 2011 haute couture collection in July — the brand recreated a life-sized version of Paris' tony Place Vendome, swapping the towering Napoleon statue for a sculpture of Coco Chanel in her iconic tweeds.

Asked whether he thought "Sleeping with the Enemy" would tarnish the brand's reputation or adversely affect sales, Vaughan snickered.
"There's an expression in French, which translates as 'the dogs bark and the caravans pass,' and that's exactly what's going to happen here with this book," he predicted. Karl Lagerfeld — the brand's current designer whose ponytailed silhouette is almost as iconic as Chanel herself — "is not going to let this thing drift off anywhere, and Chanel will be a name for the next, I don't know, hundred years."
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18-08-2011
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honestly, I'm not surprised by this at all. when the whole John Galliano fiasco happened, people were saying that it was most likely that many luxury fashion houses were founded upon Nazi money, propaganda, etc.

I'm NOT saying that it's ok, but I thought more people knew about this.
I hardly doubt it will effect any of those luxury houses monetarily though

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18-08-2011
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This I didn't know.
Now I've really read it all.

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18-08-2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by japoelflaco View Post
This I didn't know.
Now I've really read it all.
Don't believe everything you read. As the title of the article says, "New Book Claims Coco Chanel Was Nazi Spy".

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18-08-2011
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Quote:
It also suggests that Chanel's alleged anti-Semitism pushed her to try to capitalize on laws allowing for the expropriation of Jewish property to wrest control of the Chanel perfume lines from the Wertheimer brothers, a Jewish family who'd helped make her Chanel No. 5 a worldwide best-seller.
I always thought that the Wertheimers gained control of the perfume line by having conned her. And doesn't that family still own the Chanel brand? Wouldn't surprise me if they themselves had sought to paint her as an anti-Semite.

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18-08-2011
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I saw a documentary about that that some months ago, she absolutely wanted nothing to do with the Wertheimers family, as she thought they had steal in some way the perfume line. She is probably rolling in her grave that they now have control over the whole brand.

Anyway, it's quite well-known that she had ties with nazi officers but I've never heard anything about her being a spy though.

Also, the brand Chanel wasn't founded upon Nazi money at all, she had stores in France long before the break-out of WWII.

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18-08-2011
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I read the piece about this on The Daily Beast...sounds fascinating. Can't wait to pick it up.

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18-08-2011
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interesting, but who wasn't involved in the war after all? I mean, this is just to dig deep into history that doesn't really have any relevance today...

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18-08-2011
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I actually don't find this hard to believe. Not that I actually do believe it (who knows), but it's not a stretch. She used to live with a Nazi captain/soldier boyfriend, so it's not too much of a stretch. And there's a difference between being involved in a war, and being on the side of a group of people in the process of exterminating another group of people.


Last edited by chickadee; 18-08-2011 at 10:42 PM.
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18-08-2011
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Ahhh, so that's who designed those snappy looking SS uniforms.

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19-08-2011
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It's very easy to say in hindsight - and from the safety of history textbooks that put everything in black and white so that we can pass exams by giving the right answer - that we would never have anything to do with those bad men.

But the reality of war is that even decent people had to resort to terrible compromises in order to keep their lives together - while ambitious people throughout history have always hedged their bets when it comes to the people they keep company with. At certain points, it was impossible to tell who'd win the war. How many other business owners went the same way?

That doesn't mean we shouldn't examine these accounts and bring such things to light, but instead of making me feel virtuous because I was born too late to have any part in these activities, it makes me wonder what I'd end up doing if the world seemed to be falling apart around me and I didn't possess any answers from the future.

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20-08-2011
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I see what you're saying, tigerrouge, and I definitely understand. We often view history through a modern lens, but I don't think there is any excuse for anyone to associate with--let alone aid a group of people who were in the process of exterminating an entire race. I just can't see it. Not in any context, not under any circumstances. Thinking about the depth of hate it took to participate in the Holocaust is scary. But who knows if it's even true or not. I just think it's probably likely considering she did have a boyfriend who was a Nazi.

Now, I'm perfectly capable of separating the art from the woman. Her designs will always be classic. But honestly, Coco Chanel was never really a shining example to look up to to begin with.


Last edited by chickadee; 20-08-2011 at 01:32 AM.
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20-08-2011
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hmmmmm speculations,not into it.

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20-08-2011
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Based on the reviews I've read so far, it definitely sounds like something I might be adding to my reading list.

Her antisemitism and Nazi boyfriend aren't new information, although her being a spy certainly is. However, I'd have to echo what chickadee said, it really isn't a stretch. And from what I've read, it seems that the evidence presented may actually be pretty concrete.

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20-08-2011
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I'm interested to read this.

I agree completely with tigerrouge. War is something that is completely unimaginable for anyone who has not been in it. People will resort to anything to stay alive, even if it means "sleeping with the enemy". I remember my parents did some pretty dishonest things during a certain unspeakable war just to get us to safety.

Anyways, I think it's interesting to see someone digging things up and questioning history. Just goes to show that real heroes don't exist.

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