The late French designer Coco Chanel was indeed an anti-Semite who spied for the Nazis during World War II, her latest biographer insisted Wednesday, despite firm denials from her fashion house.
In "Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War," US historian Hal Vaughan expands on long-standing evidence that the celebrated designer had a double life and was the lover of a German spy during the occupation.
On Tuesday, the Chanel group firmly denied the book’s additional claim that she was also "fiercely" anti-Semitic, while a previous biographer insisted he had never heard her say a word against Jews.
But, in an interview with AFP, Vaughan insisted that his book was the fruit of three-and-a-half years of research in US, French, German, British, Polish and Italian archives, where he found 225 references to the designer.
"That’s how I discovered 12 anti-Semitic phrases attributed to Coco Chanel, who was also a fierce anti-Communist who sold herself to the Germans because she thought Hitler would crush Stalin," Vaughan told AFP, speaking French.
Vaughan, an 84-year-old writer who has published two previous books on World War II, said he had found a 1946 French police dossier that identified Chanel as agent F-7124 of the Abwehr, German military intelligence.
"I couldn’t believe my eyes when I found a 15-page handwritten document entitled ‘Gabrielle Chanel, known as Coco,’" he said, adding that she was known by the codename "Westminster" as a former lover of the Duke of Westminster.
During the German occupation of her homeland, Chanel fell in love with Nazi spymaster 57-year-old Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, who recruited her as an agent of his espionage ring operating in Paris and the Mediterranean.
"Coco Chanel may have been manipulated by her German lover, but she was an opportunist," Vaughan said, explaining that he had seen Chanel’s contract with the German spy agency and her mission instructions.
He said he had also been able to consult a document from the British Secret Intelligence Service, now known as MI6, which recounted the confession of a German spy who defected in Madrid in 1943.
Out of 103 pages in the account, three are devoted to Chanel.
Chanel, an orphan who became a celebrated fashion designer and was the subject of two recent major movie biopics, moved to Switzerland after the war before returning to Paris to take up her career in fashion.
Although Vaughan says he discovered in French resistance records that she was placed by them on a list of known Nazi collaborators and sentenced to death, she was never charged with any wrongdoing and died in 1971.
The new revelations about Chanel’s past are the second anti-Semitism scandal to ruffle the Paris fashion world this year, after Christian Dior designer John Galliano was charged with making bigoted insults to a couple in a Paris bar.
A verdict is due in his trial on September 8.