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Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel, Nazi Agent Hardcover – 18 Aug 2011
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"It takes a spy to catch a spy...Hal Vaughan, a former newsman and CIA operative, has finally done what the legions of Coco Chanel's other biographers resolutely failed to do: uncover the French fashion queen's secret past as a Nazi agent...Vaughan, who writes with welcome economy and flair, deserves a lot of credit for finally unravelling the strands of Chanel's deeply deceptive personality." (Financial Times)
"His research is valuable, adding crucial pieces to the jigsaw puzzle of Chanel's war" (Justine Picardie Mail on Sunday)
"It's a fascinating story" (Daisy Goodwin Sunday Times)
"Not for the first time, the ghosts of the holocaust are returning to haunt the industry. Sleeping with the Enemy reveals that Coco Chanel, the 'high priestess of couture' had a long affair with a German Nazi agent and collaborated with the Nazis during the Second World War...if the truth about Chanel had been revealed at the time, her reputation would have been utterly destroyed" (Aoife Drew Irish Independent)
"Sleeping with the Enemy claims that not only was the designer the lover of a German officer, Hans Gunther von Dincklage, but they were spies who went on missions to Madrid and Berlin" (Christine Kearney Evening Herald Dublin)
The first book to uncover the true story of Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel in occupied Paris during the Second World War. Hal Vaughan reveals: her life as an Abwehr secret agent; her long love affair with a Nazi master spy; her missions on behalf of German military intelligence; and her astonishing escape from retribution through the intervention of Winston Churchill.See all Product description
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This fascinating book begins with the birth of Gabrielle in a hospice for the poor. Descended from itinerant peddlers, when her mother died, she was sent to a convent orphanage at the age of twelve. With great strength of character, she became 'Coco' (possibly from the word 'cocotte' or 'kept woman')and reinvented herself as a seamstress and nightclub singer. From this time came a stream of rich lovers (never husbands) who helped change Coco into the success she became - funding her lifestyle and her business. The names of these men are really evocative of the European aristocracy of those times - Etienne Balsan, an ex-cavalry officer, Arthur "Boy" Capel, Pierre Reverdy, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, "Bendor", the Duke of Westminster, and more. She seemed not suitable to marry, but had many lovers, and, as the old world of privileged aristocracy drew to a close, she became a symbol of the Roaring Twenties. She designed for the ballet, for Hollywood (with less sucess) and began new, lucrative, businesses with perfume and jewellery.
The story of her successful perfume business is very relevant in this book, as it was Pierre Wertheimer, who was a highly successful, Jewish businessman, who produced, marketed and distributed her perfume. Chanel, an extreme anti semite, whose almost every boyfriend was also racist and right wing, later regretted her decision to allow Wertheimer to have control of her business and tried to wrest it back from him when the Germans aryanised businesses. I do not wish to give anything away, but there is no doubt that Pierre Wertheimer was an extremely able, intelligent and far sighted man, who was very aware of what was coming in Europe.
The coming of the war led Chanel to her last major love affair, with the German spy Lieutenant Baron Hans Gunther Von Dincklage. Formerly married to a half Jewish wife, he was forced to divorce because of the Neuremberg laws, and had served as a diplomat at the German Embassy at Warsaw before being sent to Paris to build a Nazi propaganda and espionage network in France.
Coco Chanel was an obvious collaborater in that she was, without doubt, sleeping with the enemy as the title implies. She had little sympathy with the plight of either the Jewish citizens of Paris or the average inhabitant who suffered much during the occupation. Virtually the whole city was living in poverty and near starvation, while Chanel and her friends lived in pre-war luxury in the Ritz. She used the war as an excuse to sack the majority of her staff, who had entered into the general strike of 1936 and by whom she felt betrayed. Admittedly, she was desperate to have her nephew released from a POW camp, where he was ill, but she also tried to use her former friendship with Churchill before the war, as bargaining power with the high ranking members of the Nazi party. People in Paris listened to the BBC, although banned, who warned how collaborators would be punished when France was liberated. As the war went on, and the winters became harder, resistance grew and Chanel must have been aware how her wartime behaviour would be viewed.
This really is a fascinating account of a very turbulent time and how, basically, wealth and influence, saved Chanel after the war. I have only touched on her wartime activities, as I do not want to spoil the book, but it covers all her war years and exactly what her activities were during that time. I found it a remarkable story and Chanel a deeply troubled character I struggled to find sympathy with. It was obvious that, even during the war, some of the British aristocracy were pro-fascist and that alarm of Russia was greater perhaps than anything else. What is even more remarkable is that, Churchill, with everything going on at the end of the war, could still be concerned with the smaller picture and individual concerns. Overall, a highly recommended read. Lastly, I read the kindle edition of this book and it contained illustrations.
This book was recommended to me as a most interesting read. I admit to being uninformed about Coco Chanel’s life, and knew nothing about her before reading this book apart from her being a French fashion designer and founder of the Chanel brand. Born to a penniless family in 1883, she died in 1971 leaving a fortune estimated to be worth around US$54 million in today’s money. In her lifetime, she changed fashion, but she also changed people’s lives. She lived through two World Wars, and it is her involvement in the Second World War that really is the focus of this book. However, to understand that, you need to know where Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel came from and how she got to be in the position she was in in 1940.
What really strikes me is that while clearly she had unbounded creative and financial talent and unlimited ambition, she was also lucky in some of the people she knew, and she used those relationships ruthlessly, often coupled with her obvious sexuality. In 1920 she met the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, exiled from the court of his cousin Nicholas II, tsar of Russia. He helped her, among other things, to successfully promote her Chanel No. 5 perfume developed in 1921 by Dmitri’s Russian émigré friend, Ernest Beaux, the ex-tsar’s official perfumer. In 1923 she began a long relationship with the Duke of Westminster, through whose set she met David, the future King Edward VIII and struck up a lifelong friendship with Winston Churchill. In 1930, Grand Duke Dmitri introduced her to Samuel Goldwyn who offered her a million dollars (about US$14 million in today’s money) to spend a few weeks in Hollywood to clothe some of his studio movie stars. By that time American, French and German fashion journals were all celebrating Chanel couture, and Chanel No. 5 was the biggest selling fragrance in the world largely thanks largely to the partnership with the large perfume factory and distribution network owner Pierre Wertheimer. By 1935 the House of Chanel was employing nearly 4,000 women, and selling 28,000 dresses that year in Europe, the Near East and America. She used priceless jewellery given her by her wealthy lovers to create designs for costume jewellery that sold like hotcakes.
But by 1933 Hitler was moving quickly to consolidate his own power in Germany, and to infiltrate agents in France to work for Nazi Germany. By the time France and Germany were at war in 1939, Chanel was living very comfortably in the Ritz in Paris, as were many others. For them at first, war was largely an inconvenience. Chanel fired her workers and shut her fashion house, convinced that war meant the end of fashion, but still lived well from her income from perfume, jewellery etc, most of which was stashed in Swiss bank accounts. Parisians were convinced the Maginot Line would stop Les Boches; the war was ‘phoney’. But by June 1940 Mussolini declared war on France; the Maginot Line was demolished; Paris was deserted; refugees fled south from the German war machine, Coco Chanel among them; France surrendered to Germany. Returning to Paris, Chanel entered into a romance with a man she had met years earlier who had posed as a poor journalist, but was in fact a German spy and had been since 1920, Hans Gunther von Dincklage. Dincklage was now openly in Paris working for the German army intelligence. He ensured Chanel had official permission to continue living at the Ritz, one of few non-Germans allowed to do so. Chanel became an active collaborator with the occupying forces.
Coco Chanel’s life seems like a movie – what happened during and after the Second World War even more fantastic than that which came before. Chanel does not seem to have been a particularly likeable person, but she attracted total loyalty and obedience from so many people in her life. Ambitious, inconstant, selfish, addicted to morphine, she seems like she was driven by her own desires throughout her life. This book is a great read; I’ve no doubt it does not tell the whole story of Coco Chanel, but the section of her life regarding the War, it tells very well and very compellingly. Well worth a read.
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This book was recommended to me as a most interesting read.Read more
A gripping story, well-told.
She was certainly exceptional and merited her success
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