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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.

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