Gabrielle Bonheur Coco Chanel was a French businesswoman and fashion designer. She was the founder and namesake of the Chanel brand and is credited with popularizing sporty, casual chic as the feminine standard of style in the post-World War I era. This style replaced the previously dominant corseted silhouette with a style that was simpler, far less time-consuming to put on and remove, more comfortable, and less expensive, all without sacrificing elegance. But did you know that she was an anti-semite and even spied for the Nazis?
Hal Vaughn, a foreign correspondent and World War II veteran, used contemporary intelligence documents in her 2011 biography of Chanel, Sleeping with the Enemy, to chart the path that led Chanel to her secret life as a Nazi sympathizer and informant during the 1940s.
Coco Chanel: The Fashionista Nazi Agent
During the German occupation of France, Chanel became involved with Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a Nazi military officer. She obtained special permission to stay in her Paris apartment at the Hotel Ritz, which also served as the German army headquarters.
Chanel was interrogated about her relationship with von Dincklage after the war, but she was not charged as a collaborator. Some have speculated that Chanel’s friend Winston Churchill worked behind the scenes on her behalf.
Chanel suffered in the court of public opinion even though she was not officially charged. Some saw her affair with a Nazi officer as betraying her country. (Source: Biography)
Coco Chanel’s Love Life
Chanel had a brief relationship with composer Igor Stravinsky beginning in 1920. Chanel had attended Stravinsky’s infamous world premiere of “Rite of Spring” in 1913.
She met the wealthy Hugh Grosvenor, Duke of Westminster, aboard his yacht around 1923. They began a long-term relationship. There have been several Duchesses of Westminster—but there is only one Chanel! she reportedly said in response to his marriage proposal, which she declined saying. (Source: Biography)
Coco Chanel’s First Perfume
Chanel expanded her thriving business to new heights in the 1920s. Chanel No. 5, her first perfume, was the first to include the designer’s name.
Perfume is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate fashion accessory. That announces your arrival and delays your departure.Coco Chanel, Owner of Chanel
The fragrance was supported by department store owner Théophile Bader and businessmen Pierre and Paul Wertheimer, with Chanel developing a close friendship with Pierre.
A deal was eventually reached in which the Wertheimer company would receive 70% of Chanel No. 5 profits for producing the perfume at their factories, with Bader receiving 20% and Chanel receiving 10%. With No. 5 being a massive source of revenue, she repeatedly sued to have the terms of the deal renegotiated over the years. (Source: Biography)
Coco Chanel, the Fashion Icon
Chanel introduced the now-famous Chanel suit with a collarless jacket and well-fitted skirt in 1925. Her designs were groundbreaking for the time, borrowing elements from men’s wear and emphasizing comfort over the constraints of popular fashion. She assisted women in saying good-by to corsets and other confining garments.
Chanel’s little black dress was another revolutionary design of the 1920s. She took a color previously associated with mourning and demonstrated how chic it could be for evening wear.