Coco Chanel epitomized style and timeless fashion. She created a look for women from the 1920s to the ’50s. Vintage Chanel clothing is still sought after by movie stars and women of fashion today. Chanel No. 5 perfume is probably the best known and most popular cologne in the world. The name is synonymous with France even today.
Chanel was born in poverty and rose to wealth through hard work, talent, determination and a willingness to accept financial help, real estate, and expensive gifts from a series of wealthy lovers. She made friends in high places in France, in Germany, and in England, including Winston Churchill and members of the royal family.
But there was another, darker side to Coco Chanel that few people knew about before the release of this book.Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War reveals that secret side.
Chanel was virulently anti-Semitic and dedicated to preserving her own standard of living. During the War, she lived at The Ritz and was barely touched by the severe deprivations ordinary French citizens suffered. She seems to have had little concern for anyone outside her social circle or family or for anything outside her business.
When Chanel took a German spy, Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage, she became a German spy herself. Dincklage ran a spy ring with many informants, and Chanel joined that ring as an official collaborator.
While this may be shocking to many readers, there is no clear evidence that Chanel actually gathered any useful information for the Germans. She apparently had some idea that she might be able to use her friendship with Churchill and the British royals to promote a pro-German peace treaty which would allow Hitler and the Nazis to remain in power. This, of course, was highly unlikely, although the book does reveal that there were many more pro-Germans among the British nobility than most people realize.
Nevertheless, Chanel was a Nazi collaborator, and the story of her wartime life and activity and how she escaped detection and punishment after the war to maintain her reputation and career until her death is a fascinating and eye-opening one.
Hal Vaughan has done an outstanding research job for this book, piecing together the evidence and presenting the story with flair, introducing the reader not only to the complex Chanel but many other fascinating characters as well. This is a different view of World War II, unlike any other I have read. It is factual and never overly dramatic, yet it does not hide the evil of the times or make excuses for the actions of Chanel and the other German collaborators.
In the end, Chanel’s genius overshadows her shallowness and self-centered view of life, but her story only proves how much darkness can be hidden in even the most brilliant and creative individuals. The enemy, after all, may not look like the devil but like a beautiful, sophisticated woman, a handsome playboy, or any person you pass on the street.