Coco before Chanel

“This is the story of Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel…through an extraordinary
journey to become the legendary couturier who embodied the modern
woman and become a timeless symbol of success, freedom and style.”

From the official film site

The truth is that Coco Chanel spent the occupation of France holed up
in the Paris Ritz with her Nazi lover Hans Gunther von Dincklage. He
was a spy sent to Paris as part of an advance party preparing for the
Nazi invasion.

She used the law banning Jewish people from owning businesses to try
and rob her business partners the Wertheimer’s of their share in their
co-founded perfume business. Described by French commentators as
“indomitably anti-Semitic,” Chanel moved in the highest Nazi circles
in Paris and even played a part in a failed Nazi plot called
‘Operation Modelhut’ that involved her being an intermediary to
Winston Churchill.

Disgraced in post war France, Coco Chanel was arrested for war crimes
but mysteriously released. Facing the possibility of being attacked
and having her head shaved as a ‘collaboratrices horizontales’ she
fled to Switzerland with Hans Gunther von Dincklage where she lived in
exile for fifteen years. Her comeback into the fashion business in the
1950’s was coolly received in France and only the American market
saved her from disappearing into obscurity.

In the new film biopic of her life ‘Coco avant Chanel’ it’s as if none
of these things ever happened. Instead viewers bathe in the warm glow
of the story of a woman who struggled through hardship to bring us the
little black dress, the Chanel suit and Chanel No. 5 perfume.

The reality of Coco Chanel is something that the fashion and film
businesses want to avoid at all costs. Chanel, the luxury goods
company, has an estimated worth of $10.3 billion to $14.8 billion. A
company that can sell blouses for $3,000 does not want its reputation
tarnished by a Nazi past. Especially since this film is acting as an
hour and a half long advert for the brand. Lead actress in the film
Audrey Tatou is the new face of Chanel allowing the forthcoming
advertising campaign and the film to merge neatly into one.

For the film business it’s a similar issue, had they continued the
biopic by just a few years then their heroine would have been exposed
as a Nazi loving anti-semite. Not something that would go down well
with cinema audiences. Thus capitalism has crudely rewritten history
to make money.

Instead of the truth, Chanel the brand, with Coco as its timeless
ambassador, is sold to us as pure glamour. Chanel has been distilled
into the idea of a woman with style, ‘pluck’ and a ‘colourful private
life.’ One review website even admires Coco Chanel for her Nazi past:
“Her rags-to-riches story has it all: glamour, money, aristocratic
suitors, even a treacherous liaison with a German Nazi officer in
occupied Paris.” The Nazi sympathiser gets normalised and a German
Nazi officer is turned into this month’s must have accessory.

Typically Coco Chanel was not the only one from the world of fashion
that collaborated with the Nazis. Hugo Boss was a member of the Nazi
party and became the official supplier of uniforms to the SA and SS
guards and Christian Dior is also renowned for the part he played in
dressing the wives of the Nazi officers and French collaborators.

To edit and sanitise history as ‘Coco avant Chanel’ does, is a
dangerous path to take and a betrayal of those that suffered at the
hands of the Nazis. This is not a woman to be emulated, she couldn’t
be less of a symbol of freedom.