The secret history of Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel is arguably the most influential and powerful female designer that has ever lived.  Her little black dress, her iridescent pearls, and her iconic quilted bag are just a few of her timeless and universal inventions that remain staples in people’s wardrobes. But what do we really know about her? Amongst her greatest accomplishments, there’s a dark history to the person, and the brand, Coco Chanel …

In 1909, Chanel’s business launched and in 1913 she opened stores in Deauville and Biarritz that sold sports clothes to women and thus created her couture brand. However, in 1924 the Jewish Wertheimer family invested in the launch of her perfume line, starting with Chanel No.5 (which is the top selling perfume of all time). This exchange involved the Jewish family making most of the profit from this perfume line (you will see why this is important later) …

Chanel lived in Paris during the 1930s and 40s – a time in which the Nazis took over Paris. Through their invasion, Chanel was able to meet the Nazi Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage, an officer in Abwehr, the German military intelligence. Perhaps she was inclined to feel romantic with him as he enabled her to live a high-class lifestyle: Chanel was born into poverty in 1883, so being with someone who gave her access to live in the Ritz Hotel in the capital of France may have seemed too glamorous to be true. High society in France in the 1940s became very affiliated with German Officers – most of whom became a part of her social sphere. This friendship and love interest gave her business vested interest. During the Second World War Coco closed The House of Chanel leaving only the jewellery and perfumery collections available. The Nazis introduction of ‘Aryanisation’ laws – which forced Jews to give up their businesses – which she believed would enable her to reclaim her perfume branch in order to solidify her fashion and beauty empire. However, this was unsuccessful as the Wertheimer family had transferred control to Félix Amiot (a non-Jew) so she still did not receive most of the profits from her perfume line. 

However, Chanel also had personal vested interest in being friends with the German officers. Her nephew, André Palasse,  was imprisoned in a German stalag (prison camp) in 1940. Chanel became Agent F-7124 in 1941 because Baron Louis de Vaufreland (another Abwehr agent that her lover Dincklage introduced her to) promised if she became a German spy for them, then her nephew would be released from prison (and he was).

In 1944 Chanel was outed as a German spy; however, she was able to avoid any real consequences from her affiliation with Nazis. She returned to fashion in 1954, after World War II had ended, and she continued to be a fashion icon and revolutionised women’s fashion by introducing masculine tones and textures to her clothes. Her clothes were androgynous and comfortable, as she famously said “Nothing is more beautiful than freedom of the body” which was fairly radical for female fashion at the time. Therefore, despite her widely documented relationship with a Nazi and her role as a German spy, her clothes were and continue to be timelessly celebrated and admired. 

Featured Image: Wikimedia with license 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Our YouTube Channel