coco chanel and world war ii -- 3/6/20

Today's selection -- from Condé Nast by Susan Ronald. Coco Chanel and World War II:

"In 1923, Misia, the Russian-born wife of the painter Jose Maria Sert, ruled the heart of Parisian bohe­mian society. Misia was also the inseparable friend of Coco Cha­nel. She boosted Chanel's rise to the dizzy heights as czarina of the Paris fashion world, with her low-waisted, brief-skirted, and 'infinitely graceless chemise frock.' But Chanel's real genius be­gan with the use of simple fabrics like jersey, felt berets, and straw hats, reminiscent of Chanel's childhood in the French coun­tryside. So, when Chanel hit upon this nostalgic note, it caught on. Essentially Chanel was a milliner, and wearing a Chanel hat during wartime became a show of patriotism. Through her long affair with 'Bendor,' Hugh Grosvenor, duke of Westminster, she became accepted among the British upper crust just as she had with the Parisian beau monde who wintered on the Riviera. Cha­nel elbowed aside Poiret, just as he had given Jeanne Paquin the push. But when Chanel disembarked from Bendor's yacht, Flying Cloud, 'brown as a cabin boy,' she shattered the last of the Vic­torian taboos and introduced her longest-lasting fashion -- the suntan. ...

"[Later, in World War II when Paris was threatened by the invasion of Germany,] when there was no immediate bombardment of Paris, ... 'Paul Rey­naud, [the French] Treasury Minister, broadcasted a speech ... in which he asked all non-mobilized people and the wives of the mobilized to do the impossible and reopen their shops or trades. He said it was the duty of all who could work and had not gone into the army, to help bring back money to France.' ... Coco Chanel notoriously resisted the call to return to work by closing her entire business in response to the declaration of war. Why, when others like the Italian couturier Schiaparelli and the Spaniard Balenciaga announced midseason collections? That sum­mer Edna [Woolman Chase] had seen Chanel at Solange d'Ayen's home. Edna thought Chanel looked nervous and depressed. Chanel admitted,'I'm afraid, madame, I'm afraid.' What Edna hadn't known was why Chanel seemed so afraid. Since 1938, Chanel, a notorious anti-Semite, had been the lover of the Nazi spy Baron Hans von Dincklage.

Illustration shows a woman, possibly Coco Chanel, wearing a large hat with feathers, shooting at large white birds with a rifle; two dogs labeled "French Milliner" place the dead birds on a pile at her feet.

"Dincklage, an Abwehr (military intelligence) agent, had been resident in France since 1933 as part of Hitler's silent army of cul­tural spies working to influence France's right-wing intelligentsia. Chanel's pillow talk with Dincklage drifted from her Place Vendome apartment straight to the Nazi foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and then on to Hitler. Given Chanel's prior rela­tionship with the Duke of Westminster, she was deemed a valu­able asset to the Nazi cause. She feared that the Allied forces might defeat Hitler. Then where would she be? At the very least ostracized, and her label worthless. At worst she could be tried for high treason and executed if found guilty. So against any patriotic feelings she undoubtedly had, Chanel hoped for Hitler's victory. Once the so-called phony war was over the following May, Cha­nel moved into the Ritz -- like all good collaborators -- with her lover. ...

"With the liberation of Paris in August 1944 came access to the French couturiers. Those who stayed in business had done so by agreeing to the Nazi edicts. Chanel, while not making clothes for the Nazis, had been an archcollaborator, and hightailed it for Swit­zerland until the dust settled -- which in her case would be 1954. Surprisingly -- shockingly, even -- Chanel's collaboration with the enemy didn't make the American headlines. Instead it was her vi­olation of the General Limitation Order, L-85, by the use of 'Vo­luminous sleeves, widely flaring skirts, the heavy use of elaborate trimmings.' The U.S. War Production Board (WPB), uninterested in true collaboration, held Chanel up as an example of extrava­gance."



Susan Ronald


Condé Nast


St. Martin's Press


Copyright 2019 by Susan Ronald


185, 320-321, 351
barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment