In A Nutshell
Even if you don’t know anything about fashion, you either have a little black dress or you’ve admired someone wearing one. That was one of the creations of fashion icon Coco Chanel, who established a fashion empire in France during the years before World War II. Once thought of as someone who self-sufficiently co-existed with the Nazi party, documents have now shed light on the idea that Chanel was actually not only an anti-Semite and lover of a high-ranking Nazi officer, but that she was actively working to recruit others to the Third Reich.
The Whole Bushel
Even if you’re not familiar with the world of fashion, Coco Chanel is going to be one of the names that you recognize. She’s the one with the perfume—Chanel No. 5—which has its own weird wartime history (agents were sent by shareholders in her company into German-occupied territory to make sure the recipe for the perfume wasn’t acquired by the Third Reich), and she’s also the one that’s credited with inventing the idea of the little black dress. She was also a fanatical anti-Semite and a Nazi collaborator.
It’s long been known that Chanel was not only living in Paris during World War II, but that she had taken Nazi officer Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage as her lover. At the same time, this not only put her in close contact with other, more notorious Nazi names like Goebbels and Goering, but it also gave her the freedom to travel through Nazi-occupied Europe as she liked.
For a long time, it was thought that it was no more than that—perhaps an affair of convenience at best. But more documents have surfaced, including a record of her code name—Westminster. She also had an Abwehr designation—F-7124. Her German lover, who was a well-documented and highly successful German spy, was F-8680 and reported directly to Goebbels.
They traveled together across France, recruiting others to the cause. She was also often in the company of fellow Frenchman and German agent Baron Louis de Vaufreland; on the surface, she was simply his traveling companion. In actuality, they were scouting for others that could be turned into informants and agents.
One thing Chanel was certainly never shy about was her anti-Semite bias, in spite of the fact that many of her clients were Jewish. In the 1930s, she spent some time in Hollywood, during which it was well documented that great lengths were gone to in order to keep people of the Jewish faith away from her. It was also well documented that she couldn’t wait to get back to mingling with the upper echelons of British nobility, as she firmly believed they were so much more her class of person.
Previously, references to her Nazi involvement have been toned down to imply that she simply co-existed alongside them for her own survival. That’s a harder thing to claim with the emergence of new documents, however, but it’s not entirely surprising that just how deep her involvement with the Nazi party was got covered up pretty neatly.
(It’s said that she even paid off the families of former Nazi officers to keep her name out of their memoirs, journals, and other published materials.)
At the end of the war, she did a good bit of covering up her involvement herself. She informed on those that had previously been her collaborators, including de Vaufreland. It wasn’t long after the war that she had already gone a long way in re-establishing her fashion empire, backed by plenty of money and plenty of big names.
She was a French icon and in the years after the war, an icon was needed. What she did during the war didn’t matter so much.