Coco Chanel

In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Chanel closed her shops, maintaining her apartment situated above the couture house at 31 rue Cambon. She claimed that it was not a time for fashion. [19] Three thousand female employees lost their jobs. [37] The advent of war had given Chanel the opportunity to retaliate against those workers, who lobbying for fair wages and work hours, had closed down her business operation during the general labor strike in France in 1936.

In closing her couture house, Chanel made a definitive statement of her political views.

Her visceral loathing of Jews inculcated by her convent years, and sharpened by her aristocratic associations over time, had solidified her right-wing beliefs. She shared with most of her circle the conviction that Jews and liberal politicians were a Bolshevik threat to Europe. [38] During the German occupation Chanel resided at the Hotel Ritz, which was also noteworthy for being the preferred place of residence for upper echelon German military staff.

Her romantic liaison with Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a German officer who had been an operative in military intelligence since 1920, [39]facilitated her arrangement to reside at the Ritz.

[40] World War II, specifically the Nazi seizure of all Jewish-owned property and business enterprises, provided Chanel with the opportunity to gain the full monetary fortune generated by “Parfums Chanel” and its most profitable product, Chanel No. 5. The directors of “Parfums Chanel,” the Wertheimers, were Jewish, and Chanel used her position as an “Aryan” to petition German officials to legalize her claim to sole ownership.

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Operation Modellhut

On May 5, 1941, she wrote to the government administrator charged with ruling on the disposition of Jewish financial assets. Her grounds for proprietary ownership were based on the claim that “Parfums Chanel “is still the property of Jews”…and had been legally “abandoned” by the owners. [41] “I have,” she wrote, “an indisputable right of priority…the profits that I have received from my creations since the foundation of this business…are disproportionate…[and] you can help to repair in part the prejudices I have suffered in the course of these seventeen years. [42] Chanel was not aware that the Wertheimers, anticipating the forthcoming Nazi mandates against Jews had, in May 1940, legally turned control of “Parfums Chanel” over to a Christian, French businessman and industrialist, Felix Amiot. [41] Ultimately, the Wertheimers and Chanel came to a mutual accommodation, re-negotiating the original 1924 contract. On May 17, 1947, Chanel received wartime profits from the sale of Chanel No. 5, an amount equivalent to some nine million dollars in twenty-first century valuation. Further, her future share would be two percent of all Chanel No. sales worldwide. The financial benefit to her would be enormous. Her earnings would be in the vicinity of twenty-five million dollars a year, making her at the time one of the richest women in the world. [43][44] [edit]Activity as Nazi Agent Archival documents verify that Chanel herself was a Nazi spy, committing herself to the German cause as early as 1941, when she became a paid agent of General Walter Schellenberg, chief of SS intelligence. [45] Her clandestine identity was Abwehr Agent 7124, code name “Westminster. [46] At war’s end, Schellenberg was tried by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, and sentenced to six years imprisonment for war crimes. He was released in 1951 due to incurable liver disease, and took refuge in Italy. Chanel paid for Schellenberg’s medical care and living expenses for himself, wife and family until his death in 1952. [47] [edit]“Operation Modellhut” In 1943, Chanel traveled to Berlin with Dinklage to meet with SS Reichsfurer, Heinrich Himmler to formulate strategy. [48] In late 1943 or early 1944, Chanel and her SS master, Schellenberg, devised a plan to press England to end hostilities with Germany.

When interrogated by British intelligence at war’s end, Schellenberg maintained that Chanel was “a person who knew Churchill sufficiently to undertake political negotiations with him. ” [49] For this mission, named “Operation Modellhut,” (“Model Hat” in English) they recruited Vera Lombardi. Unaware of the machinations of Schellenberg and her old friend Chanel, Vera played the part of their unwitting dupe, led to believe that the forthcoming journey to Madrid would be a business trip exploring the possibilities of establishing the Chanel couture in Madrid.

Vera’s role was to act as intermediary, delivering a letter penned by Chanel to Winston Churchill, and forwarded to him via the British embassy in Madrid. [50] Schellenberg’s SS laison officer, Captain Walter Kutcschmann, acted as bagman, “told to deliver a large sum of money to Chanel in Madrid. ” [51] The mission was a failure. British intelligence files reveal that all collapsed, as Vera, on arrival, proceeded to denounce Chanel and others as Nazi spies. [52] [edit]Protection from prosecution

In September 1944, Chanel was called in to be interrogated by the Free French Purge Committee, the epuration. The committee, which had no documented evidence of her collaboration activity, was obliged to release her. According to Chanel’s grand-niece, Gabrielle Palasse Labrunie, when Chanel returned home she said, “Churchill had me freed. ” [53] The extent of Winston Churchill’s intervention can only be speculated upon. However, Chanel’s escape from prosecution certainly speaks of layers of conspiracy, protection at the highest levels.

It was feared that if Chanel were ever made to testify at trial, the pro-Nazi sympathies and activities of top-level British officials, members of the society elite and those of the royal family itself would be exposed. It is believed that Churchill instructed Duff Cooper, British ambassador to the French provisional government, to “protect Chanel. ” [54] Finally induced to appear in Paris before investigators in 1949, Chanel left her retreat in Switzerland to confront testimony given against her at the war crime trial of Baron Louis de Vaufreland, a French traitor and highly placed German intelligence agent.

Chanel denied all accusations brought against her. She offered the presiding judge, Leclercq, a character reference: “I could arrange for a declaration to come from Mr. Duff Cooper. ” [55] Chanel’s friend and biographer Marcel Haedrich provided a telling estimation of her wartime interaction with the Nazi regime: “If one took seriously the few disclosures that Mademoiselle Chanel allowed herself to make about those black years of the occupation, one’s teeth would be set on edge. ”[56]

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Coco Chanel. (2019, Dec 05). Retrieved from

Coco Chanel
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