Coco Chanel has influenced celebrity style for decades. The house of Chanel has dressed some of the biggest stars, who flock to the red carpet looks despite the price tag, or maybe because of it. Jessica Biel wore a $100,000 Chanel gown to the Oscars in 2014. The question is, would the star have worn the dress had she known the dark history behind the founder of the house of Chanel, Coco Chanel herself.
The icon died in the ’70s, and her brand eventually fell into the hands of Karl Lagerfeld, who built on its reputation for high fashion. But before Lagerfeld, before Biel’s six-figure dress, and before Chanel the design, there was Coco Chanel the woman, and her unsavory history.
Coco Chanel was a Nazi spy
In Chanel’s case, there’s no hiding from the truth. Although the designer is French, she was sympathetic to the Nazi regime. According to Biography, she even worked for them as a spy. Chanel was already a fashion maven by the time World War II broke out.
In fact, despite being sent to an orphanage at the age of 12, Chanel’s clothing was making a splash around the time the first world war-devastated Europe. Chanel was a big enough name before World War II that she knew Winston Churchill and Pablo Picasso personally.
But as Chanel’s star rose, things looked grim for her home country of France, and Europe in general. Hitler’s German forces were invading surrounding countries, and France was on his list. When Paris fell to Hitler’s Nazi army, Chanel didn’t join the resistance. Instead, she joined the Nazis and became a spy.
Coco Chanel was romantic with a German officer
The disturbing truth is that Chanel’s closeness with the German army probably came from a place of greed, at least at first. When Paris was invaded by the Germans, Chanel quickly found a German officer and started a personal relationship.
Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage seemed to be a stepping stone for Chanel, a way for her to cope with the new regime, and maintain her hard-won social status. Chanel also used her relationship with Dincklage to negotiate the liberation of her nephew, who was imprisoned by the Germans.
All in all, Chanel’s relationship with Dincklage was advantageous, and maybe a survival tactic for the designer. No one could blame her, or anyone else, for doing what they needed to do to survive in wartime. But Chanel also profited from Hitler’s genocide of the Jewish people and even took her role in Hitler’s regime a step further by becoming a spy for the German army.
Many of Coco Chanel’s fans want to believe she was a passive participant in the Nazi regime
The truth is, Chanel did not just use her ties to the Nazi army for survival. She attempted to leverage Hitler’s new laws prohibiting Jewish people from owning businesses to make more money off her perfume line. Although she did some work for the Nazi army in order to secure freedom for her nephew, it seems like she went above and beyond what was required of her, and continued to serve as a spy after her nephew was freed.
Chanel was given a mission in 1944 to deliver a message to her friend Winston Churchill. She organized the release of another friend close to Churchill, Vera Lombardi. However, upon learning that Chanel and her associates were German spies, Lombardi blew up the mission and chose to return to Italian prison rather than support the Nazi party.
The war ended soon after, and Chanel was left to explain her actions to various French courts. The justice system never punished Chanel for her participation in the Nazi regime, but she was never able to erase the truth about her participation in a genocidal regime.
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