Whenever we hear the name Coco Chanel, there are only a few things that come to mind: high-street fashion. But Nazi spy? This is what we will cover in this piece.
Not much known to many, Chanel, the creator of the little black dress and the perhaps overused quote: “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous,” was also once a Nazi spy for the Third Reich. It is relatively hard to determine how accurate the story about her life was since she created a version of her story that would be welcomed by most.
The Making of an Icon
Before Coco Chanel became a big name in the fashion industry, she was Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, the second child of Jeanne, a laundrywoman, and Albert Chanel, a street vendor selling work clothes and underwear. They lived a nomadic life, transferring from one place to another, usually one market town to another. His dad could only keep the whole family in a single room of rundown lodgings.
Gabrielle was 11 when their mom died at the age of 32. His father then decided to leave them at a Catholic orphanage, where she would stay until adulthood. She would then work as a seamstress and a cabaret singer, where she would also adopt her now-known name, Coco.
She would stick with her name, and soon, she met a wealthy French heir of a textile business named Etienne Balsan. He was the one who introduced Coco to the high life of the society, but she would, later on, have an affair with one of Balsan’s friends, Arthur Capel.
These details of her life she would, later on, find to be below her standards. Thus, she would invent other stories about her life for the biographers and news media.
Her fashion career would begin as a hobby of making hats and then clothes from jersey that was only used at that time in making men’s underwear.
In 1939, Coco already had a couture house, but it was closed when the Germans began occupying France during World War II. So she moved to Hotel Ritz in Paris in 1939, a hotel that would soon become the German Air Force Headquarters. There, she met and warmed up with Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage, an officer in Abwehr and a German military intelligence. Their affair benefited Chanel in the sense that she was able to move into better living quarters at the hotel. Moreover, it allowed her to be part of high society. Moreover, Dincklage also helped her deal with personal problems, like when her nephew was imprisoned in a German stalag in 1940.
She also profited from the “Aryanization” laws that forced the Jews to give up their businesses. Before that, a Jewish Wertheimer family backed the launch of her perfume line, but a large portion of the profits went to them. She wanted to renegotiate their agreement that stood since 1924, but after the invasion, she saw the opportunity of reclaiming the branch.
Working as a Spy
Dincklage introduced Chanel to another Abwehr agent named Baron Louis Vaufreland. He offered a deal with Coco: he would help free her nephew if she rendered service to Berlin. Chanel took the deal. In 1941, she was given the codename Agent F-7124 AKA “Westminster.”
Her job was to obtain political intelligence from her colleagues in Madrid, so she and Vaufreland flew together to Spain, pretending to be there for business reasons. There, she dined with British diplomat Brian Wallace, discussing life in Paris under the Nazi occupation and how the French and Germans despised each other.
They also recruited Nazi sympathizers as spies, with the help of Coco’s social genius and charms.
She once worked with Heinrich Himmler, who was aware of her connections to the British aristocracy. She convinced Winston Churchill to form a truce with the Nazis. Fortunately for the UK, they discovered her affair with Dinklage, and Churchill declined Chanel’s invitation to meet up.
So, would your next Chanel purchase be influenced by this new knowledge that its brand founder was a Nazi spy?
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