Coco Chanel is currently a household name having shaped our perception of fashion for the past century, but her life holds many controversial secrets. Coco was born as Gabrielle in Saumur, France, where she had been abandoned to an orphanage by her father. Gabrielle eventually earned the name Coco working as a cafe singer. It was there that she caught the eye of wealthy aristocrats who supported her in creating a line of sportswear catered to women; which was unheard of at the time. Fashion was still tethered to the Victorian era and cinched corsets, so a loose silhouette was an innovation for wealthy women looking for a reprieve from their usual style. This was only the beginning of the brand that would bring us the classic “little black dress” and Chanel No5. However, Coco’s success would be placed on pause during the height of WWII when she became dedicated to the Nazi cause as an intelligence operative.
Chanel entered the regime following her love affair with Hans Günther von Dinckladge, a Nazi officer. Dincklage and Chanel toured Europe looking for recruits to support the Third Reich. Chanel also gathered information for the Nazi cause and was a known German Agent under the code name “Westminster”.
Following the war, Chanel was able to avoid persecution because of her involvement with Winston Churchill and her dealings with the Weirtheimer family. When Chanel was arrested as a Nazi sympathizer in Paris, Churchill was able to intervene. He spoke highly of her as they frequently exchanged letters during the war. The Weirtheimer family was also a major supporter in Chanel’s couture business, and being one of the most wealthy families of the era, they were determined to protect their investments and Chanel by default.
Much remains a mystery about the life of Coco Chanel and the extent of her involvement with the Nazi party is still to be determined. Chanel is still a person many of us admire for her determination, independence, and her humble beginnings make her a relatable figure. However, given what we do know and the Chanel family’s efforts to conceal the truth of her past, should Coco remain in the light we place her in considering her direct involvement in the Third Reich and the suffering of millions? Yes, she was a fashion revolutionist who transformed our closets, but is that all we should take into account when we hear her name?
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Picardie, Justine. “Chanel’s war years: secrets and style | Chanel.” The Guardian, 21 April 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/apr/22/coco-chanel-second-world-war. Accessed 16 November 2022.
The Hidden Life of Coco Chanel