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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Révélations sur la part sombre de Coco Chanel

by Romain Silvi

New revelations on the dark side of Coco Chanel

Translated Monday 22 August 2011, by Jayne McKenzie and reviewed by Derek Hanson

A new biography of Coco Chanel written by American journalist Hal Vaughan accuses the French designer of having been a spy for the Nazis during World War II. The Chanel group has quickly responded, confirming that the fashion house founder’s role during the war still has “an element of mystery”.

“Sleeping with the enemy, Coco Chanel’s secret war”, by journalist Hal Vaughan, is the fifty-eighth biography about the French designer. Edmonde Charles-Roux, author of another Chanel biography considers this new release a “time-bomb”. She says “I have met the author. There was written proof for everything he showed me”. This book suggests direct links between Coco Chanel and the Nazi regime. According to the author, Chanel was recruited in 1940, at the age of 57, by the Nazi regime as a secret agent for the regime. She had a relationship with German baron Hans von Dincklage, “a high-society spy” according to Mrs Charles-Roux, who downplays the political role held by the officer in love with the designer.

The Chanel group, owned by the Wertheimer family, insisted on responding, maintaining that the accusations of anti-semitism levelled against the founder were without substance. “It was common in France to have anti-Semitic prejudices. If we had to count up all of the anti-Semites we’d be here for a very long time. It was something terribly evil, and it manifested itself in Chanel’s immediate circle” added Mrs Charles-Roux.

The new biography also reports the designer’s attempts to take back the perfume department, primarily controlled by the Wertheimer family, through her Nazi contacts. “Gabrielle Chanel was quite a character, like many designers. She never completely accepted having given up her rights to create and sell the perfumes she considered to be her own”. This attempt, cleared by the current owners, did not taint the designer’s relationship with the Wertheimers, as she went on to sell them the fashion house in the fifties, the group recalls. “Moreover, Miss Chanel apparently approached Winston Churchill in order to act as a mediator between the Allies and the Germans in the prospect of a peace accord," even though Coco Chanel’s role and motivations in this operation also still have their “element of mystery”.

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