Friday, 19 August 2011

Coco Chanel – Nazi Sympathizer?

Coming just a few months after John Galliano’s spectacular fall from grace as a result of his ill-judged anti-Semitic remarks in a Parisian restaurant, the fashion world has once again been left reeling by a similar controversy, this time involving la grande dame of haute couture, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel.

In his new book, Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War, author Hal Vaughan puts forward the argument that, not only was the fashion designer ‘fiercely anti-Semitic’, but she was also engaged in some high-level wartime espionage.

Claiming to have used ‘new archive evidence’ in his research, Vaughan insists that Chanel was recruited by the Nazis in 1940, at the age of 57. Identified only by her agent number (F-7124) and her codename (‘Westminster’, after her ex-lover, the Duke of Westminster), the book claims that Chanel travelled to Madrid and Berlin on secret missions with her new lover, the German spy, Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage.

 The notion of Chanel being a Nazi sympathizer is not new. Post war, rumours of collusion with the enemy dogged Chanel until her death in 1971. Numerous biographies, including last year’s offering from Justine Picardie, have alluded to these suspicions, but Vaughan’s book is the first to present these rumours as fact.

A spokesperson from Chanel was today quick to dismiss the book, claiming her close friendships with scions of the Jewish community, including the Rothschild family and the photographer Irving Penn, refuted the assertions that Coco Chanel was an anti-Semite.

The life of Coco Chanel has always been shrouded in mystery. Often economical with the truth, Chanel concocted numerous different versions of her life story. A notoriously slippery interviewee, she seemed to revel in the confusion she created for reporters and biographers. So, has Hal Vaughan at last succeeded in unravelling the mystery of Coco Chanel’s life? Well, that remains to be seen. But if his claims prove to be true, it will make life very difficult indeed for the fashion house’s current owners, the Jewish Wertheimer family, and it’s Jewish head designer, Karl Lagerfeld …

'Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War' by Hal Vaughan is published by Chatto & Windus, an imprint of Random House. Out now.

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