Coco Chanel – Truly a “Dandy” for our Age: The Rest of her Untold Story

“If you were born without wings,

do nothing to prevent them from growing “


 “I don’t do fashion, I am fashion.”   she said ‘With her trademark suits and little black dresses, fashion designer Coco Chanel created timeless designs that are still popular today. After all, to quote Coco, “Fashion fades. Only style remains the same.”

And whatever we might say about her…and today that encompasses a wide world of compliments and equally wide range of condemnations, she certainly had “style’. It was not just what she did, it was how she did it…and, as stunningly at times, what she said about it and herself.  “Saint Laurent has excellent taste. The more he copies me, the better taste he displays.”

Coco Chanel wasn’t just ahead of her time. She was ahead of herself. If one looks at the work of contemporary fashion designers as different from one another as Tom Ford, Helmut Lang, Miuccia Prada, Jil Sander and Donatella Versace, one sees that many of their strategies echo what Chanel once did. ‘

 The way, 75 years ago, she mixed up the vocabulary of male and female clothes and created fashion that offered the wearer a feeling of hidden luxury rather than ostentation are just two examples of how her taste and sense of style overlap with today’s fashion. If we look around at today’s fashion, we now take for granted so many of the innovations which came from “Coco”?
   Coco Chanel had a personality and an ability to innovate in fashion that essentially was “feminism’ a long time before the media theorists came along. And it radically transformed fashion so that just about everything we wear today and how we wear it were more influenced by Coco than by any other single designer
   In fashion, she threw out a life jacket, as it were, to women not once but twice, during two distinct periods decades apart: the 1920s and the ’50s.  She not only appropriated styles, fabrics and articles of clothing that were worn by men but also, beginning with how she dressed herself, appropriated sports clothes as part of the language of fashion.
  She was ahead of her time and proud to be so, in terms of being a woman who designed for she saw and knew women to be, as a woman who was able to develop and launch her own businesses, and as a marketer who was able to generate a “brand” like no one else prior to her did.
   Chanel would not have defined herself as a feminist–in fact, she consistently spoke of femininity rather than of feminism–yet her work is unquestionably part of the liberation of women.
    Coco Chanel’s origins as an orphan in a monastery,  her Madonna-like self-invention, seemingly endless and legendary magical inventions in fashion, together  with her genius for Trump-like self-promotion, and Yoda-like pronouncements that resonate with as much truth today as they did back then, along with her intense and convoluted love life (famously, when she launched her career as a couturier she was a kept woman; and notoriously, she was accused of being  a “horizontal” collaborator during the Second World War), have made her a legend, and quintessentially larger than life, Of course she said, “How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone.”
    Cocteau once said of her that “she has, by a kind of miracle, worked in fashion according to rules that would seem to have value only for painters, musicians, poets.”
   Yet, more recently that writers of all sorts have scrutinized her persona and biography more intently than the clothes she created and the look she defined.  They have not attended to chronicling her genius for ‘invention’ of fashion and herself as well as much as they have attended to and disparaging her ‘other genius” as a survivor and woman who emerged from an orphanage with nothing but her wits and became “Coco”.
   A book came out a couple of years ago, “Sleeping with the Enemy”, as part of the political correctness inspired cascade of”social justice fulminating’ of our times   It’s narrative was undoubtedly based on the inflammatory marketing potential of an astonishing range of judgmental claims of shock and dismay at her various  ‘ism’s.
We were not surprised at all to find that the Washington Post, for example, devoured the entire flow of gossip with passion and served as an ideal conduit for the mantras of the social justice crowed by spreading and even embellishing the extent of the “story telling’.
So, while mixing up the facts  of the Chanel book by Vaughan, even further to actually better fit their own plot with, of course, no time or need to fact check, we see the Post headlines blaring. One might almost believe, if one didn’t know the Washington Post better, that there was some basis for the splashy opening of their review!!

“Salome danced. Scheherazade told tales. In the face of powerful, dangerous men, they used their skills differently. But both were beautiful, cunning, unafraid to employ sex for political ends. It’s a well-worn story, an archetype for the ages. But give that mythic siren a bit of documentary detail, ally her with Nazis, make her a spy and a Jew-hater, and the plot becomes startling. It shocks us all over again.”


The epidemic of “fake news” in our society, though the alarms of it are mouthed by those major establishment “organs” such as the Post and the Times, has really been due to another kind of “fake” news that they themselves have engulfed us with
When one has a strong and strident bias, as is the wont with those elitist media , one doesn’t need to loudly proclaim it, and in fact one can achieve one’s ends better by more subtly faking the news. It is a much simpler matter, and one less likely to result in the kind of backlash that they have experienced in recent years with the availability of access to the facts by all of us (that they now brand as “the fake news”), to simply serve up a story that conveniently omits all the facts one needs to make proper sense of it.
 Such a concoction can mirror the bias of the demons inhabiting the publisher’s minds (much as the Nazi support of the New York Times for years and years as WWII approached was not generated by  conspicuously “fake” news, but by a fakery which just presented what was convenient to the Nazi preferences of the New York Times editorial board and its publisher.
In our time, a time during which media monkeys on their media monkey keyboards have no longer been satisfied with the profit potential of the Jerry Springer/Reality VT epidemic of ogling the failings and flaws of ordinary citizens,  they sought to make their voices, with so little else so say, be heard by  tapping into the “political correctness” disease of our age and they have found new purpose it seems ,in trying to bring down to earth, every “icon” of our times to which they could append an “ism”.
We have seen Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, John Kennedy, Steve Jobs and just about any other “legendary” figure excoriated by our media babble for “crimes and misdemeanors’  and “sins of lack of sensitivity” which did not even exist in their times, but, perhaps, if we and our well padded couches were to embark on time travel, with our exquisitely enlightened sensitivities,  would find find egregious.
Tt is not surprising that Coco Chanel should now in turn be the target of those vicarious social media presences. eager and willing to pickup a “pitchfork” and chase yet another  ‘icon turned monster” for as long as they have nothing else to do.
So, as we take a look through a fresh prism at the Coco Chanel life and legend we hope to finally by the time the light has bounced off some of the forgotten and ignored and never published contextual aspects of her times, to arrive at something more than the comic book version or cartoon like drawing of an arch super powered demon that is the media’s preoccupation these days.
As a bit of hint of the trail to which our explorations have brought us, we excerpt here a bit of an interview between Chanel and a fellow named Malcom Muggeridge.  Younger readers may not know him, but we remember, as children, seeing him often on TV, as an erudite British commentator, with an erudite British accent, an editor of the renowned Punch magazine and a TV celebrity pundit of those days. We did not know at the time that he also had been a prominent intelligence operative in M16 during the war.
   Malcom Muggeridge/ Sunday Times Weekly Review
What we excerpt from here is an interview that he conducted with Coco Chanel in 1944 apparently as part of his duties for M16, and which was only made public for the first time in 1973 after Chanel’s death, but which, for some odd reason, or some reason having to do with the oddness of our media, has been almost entirely neglected.  Yet it matches for its drama and wit, just about anything we might ever have seen on Dick Cavett or David Frost or ..gasp…Barbara Walters.
   But this was no television chat between a pundit and a celeb, it actually was during a war still not over, and despite its glamour setting a posh venue in Paris, it was clearly a bit of reallife “life and death”,as part of intelligence work being done by Muggeridge, to ascertain just how scandalous, the scandalous Coco had been during the previous years of the war and what the British government would treat her afterwards.
   So, here is just a part of it for now..the only “interview” Coco ever gave about her years during the war. .Forgive us for the “teaser”…but we just couldn’t help it.  It’s a glimpse that is very telling, and tells us not only how “cool” she could be under fire, but how it is hard for us not to resonate with much of what she says here…as she is being “grilled” but does some serious grilling of her own.


COCO CHANEL:    I have heard so much about you, Mr. Muggeridge. I believe you have come to liberate us. How very solicitous of you.

MALCOLM MUGGERIDGE:    Even so. Could I perhaps elicit some intelligence from you concerning your valiant deeds during these past years? By the way, please understand that I have liberated no-one and nothing.

Coco:    Have you been acquainted with the FFI investigation?

Malcolm:    If I wished, a copy of their report on you could reach me by tomorrow. But I would much prefer to hear your side of the story. Did the FFI demean themselves towards you with reasonable courtesy?

Coco:    It is odd how my feelings have evolved. At first, their conduct incensed me. Now, I feel almost sorry for those ruffians. One should refrain from contempt for the baser specimens of humanity, for whom liberation amounts to shaving the heads of women who have slept with Germans.

Malcolm   Should I take it that you have a low regard for the Resistance?

Coco   A major shortcoming of the Resistance is the outnumbering, before long, of the genuine warriors by camera-carrying midgets intent on leaving a record of their purported heroism.

Malcolm:    Surely General de Gaulle does not fit this description?

Coco:    You’re right. He is too tall to qualify as a midget.

Malcolm:    Does he not inspire in you one spark of appreciation?

Coco:    I wholeheartedly welcomed his eulogy of French valour, to which he attributed the liberation of Paris. Have you listened to him lately? He will soon be claiming that the Resistance has liberated the world. And why shouldn’t he? A countless following of French half-wits will believe him.

Malcolm:    Have politics ever riveted your attention?

Coco:    No. Mediocrity doesn’t appeal to me.

    As seems to inevitably happen to all those celebrities who “self invent” and come to rewards only befitting legends and way beyond what even they  themselves might have imagined, today’s  never-ending search for flaws and chinks in the icons now is fed by the toxic fumes of political correctness that is suffocating us all.
    Much of our post here however  is based on getting a feel for her life  as it progressed from “being one of us” in a cold cruel world,perhaps, at best, to being the one who imaginings and fancies determined pretty much how all of us dressed to feel that world  One of our sources is. a very fine and more historically balanced review .of a book
Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History“_ by Rhonda K. Garelick

   And the best antidote to the wave of sound bites and mind bites resulting from the debunking of the icon’s myth, and upon which we shall rely below, can be found 

The Secret life of Coco Chanel. a serialisation of Justine Picardie’s new biography of Coco Chanel, Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life’ (HarperCollins, £25)




    ‘I don’t like the family,’ Coco Chanel said. ‘You’re born in it, not of it. I don’t know anything more terrifying than the family.’  So she circled around and about it, telling and retelling the narrative of her youth, creating a legend not only by her brilliance in taking the “old” and boring and tedious, such as the  ‘jersey’ which introduced by coopting the fabric that had only been used prior to that for men’s underwear, or taking the boring suits of the men around her to create a glam concept of a woman’s suit , remaking history just as she remade the sleeves of a design, taking elements that had been left behind and never used, leftovers of our culture’s fashion trends and then putting them together to surprise and stun a world with the delicacies she created from those scraps.

    Chanel was born  in poorhouse in Saumur, a market town on the river Loire.  when her father Henri-Albert (known as Albert) listed as a marchland , or merchant  was 28.  Her mother figures only as a shadowy invalid in Gabrielle’s memories. Chanel was to claim that her mother died of tuberculosis, which was not necessarily an accurate diagnosis of what killed Jeanne; poverty, pregnancy and pneumonia were as likely to blame.  After their mother’s death Albert took the children to Aubazine, and there he abandoned them. Her brothers were left with a peasant family and the three girls were handed over to the nuns who ran an orphanage within the abbey walls.


    The sisters at the convent in Moulins, who took her in when she was 17, must have raised their eyebrows when the young woman left the seamstress job they had helped her get to try for a career as a cabaret singer. But they would likely have been even more startled to find out that soon enough the cabaret singer, known as ‘Coco” to the clientele….probably connoting “cocotte” or “kept woman” at that time, had, in almost not time morphed herself and her songs  into a designer and a force which echoed through out the post WW I world and  shaped how all women came to look and wanted to look.
    She didn’t have much of a voice at all but she managed to entertain and get a laugh out of her audience when she sang “Qui qu’a vu Coco sur le Trocadéro” (Who’s Seen Coco on the Trocadéro?). During her brief career as a singer, Chanel performed in clubs in Vichy and Moulins where she was called “Coco.”   Some say that the name comes from one of the songs she used to sing,
   At one time, before the truth of that name was widely she invented a story that is revealing in its untruth, and how it showed the usual Chanel alchemy at work..or at least in its early efforts to transmute lead into gold.   ‘My father used to call me “Little Coco” until something better should come along,’ she told Marcel Haedrich (editor-in-chief of Marie-Claire). ‘He didn’t like [the name] “Gabrielle” at all; it hadn’t been his choice.’
    Chanel herself later said that it was a “shortened version of cocotte, the French word for ‘kept woman,’” according to an article in The Atlantic.  That she willingly took on the nickname, which was less than flattering in its implications, was just like her.  She knew all too well that she had not been born with wings, but it was most emphatically not her way to anguish and run around looking for those wings in order to take flight.  On the contrary, as she tells us, she was intent on ‘growing them” and not donning those of other. And so, if ‘Coco” it was, then “Coco’ it had to be, but  the name “Coco” itself  was to grow as wings do  and to propel her to fame rather than weighing her down.
   According to Coco, “I invented my life by taking for granted that everything I did not like would have an opposite, which I would like.”

703c22c09ca004917237ec7fc099d14cUnsurprisingly, at the start of her life..and her new career in design, Coco dressed like a young convent girl or a schoolboy  One can see how her style evolved out of necessity and defiance time and again over those years and decades to follow.  She couldn’t afford the fashionable clothes of the period–so she rejected them and made her own, using, as she did later some common elements, such as  the sports jackets and ties that were everyday male attire around the racetrack, where she was climbing her first social ladder


The loose-fitting sweater, which she belted and teamed with a skirt  were similar to the clothes she had been making for herself–women’s clothes made out of Everyman materials such as jersey, usually associated with men’s undergarments.


   She started with hats and made hats that were stripped of embellishments, of the frills and furbelows that she dismissed as weighing a woman down, and being too cumbersome to let her think straight. They weren’t entirely original – at first, she bought simple straw boaters from the Galeries Lafayette department store, and then trimmed them with ribbon – but they were chic.  And she worked with what she had at hand, to suit the agility of her fingers and her mind.


‘Nothing makes a woman look older than obvious expensiveness, ornateness, complication,’ she said to Claude Delay in old age, still wearing the little straw hats of her youth. ‘I still dress as I always did, like a schoolgirl.’


But by then of course she had conjured up an entirely new meaning for those straw hats as part of her legend and everyone else in the world had found themselves dressing out of choice, and costly choice at that,  to look like someone else..just like the young Coco  who, instead, no choice but had to dress out of necessity. Her boyish “flapper” creations were in stark contrast to the Belle Epoque millinery that was in vogue at the time, and about which she asked, “How can a brain function under those things?” Something that Chanel can never be accused of is not using her brain.


   Before Coco Chanel, women had to be longhaired. Once Coco cut her hair and proudly walked out into the world, and we can see that same inexorable logic of the alchemist  explaining to us all…that it was simply a consequence of the fact that everything in her house caught on fire, and it burned her curls.

     Her story about her hair “Justinc Picardie tells us, “started with a trip to the opera with friends. She was dressing for the evening. ‘I’d never been to the Opera before. I had a white dress made by my own modistes.


“My hair, which came down below my waist, was done up round my head in three braids – all that mass set straight upon that thin body.’ She had so much hair, she said, that it was ‘crushing me to death’; but fate intervened, and gave her freedom. ‘There was a gas burner in the bathroom. I turned on the hot tap to wash my hands again, the water wasn’t hot, so I fiddled with the pilot-light and the whole thing exploded. My white dress was covered in soot, my hair – the less said, the better. I only had to wash my face again – I didn’t use make-up. In those days only the cocottes used make-up and were elegant. The women of the bourgeoisie weren’t groomed – and they wore hats that flopped all over the place, with birds’ nests and butterflies.’


   Unlikely, but surely quite true to the Chanel own logic, if not all the facts.  It probably pleased her in some way to explain to the world how some misfortune that befell her was now to all others on the planet a sign of chic and glamour. And soon, magically,  a trend for short man’s hairstyle among women was prevalent.
   As early as 1915, Harper’s Bazaar raved over Chanel’s designs: “This season the name Chanel is on the lips of every buyer….The woman who hasn’t at least one Chanel is hopelessly out of fashion … “

    And, so, no doubt, the nuns at the orphanage of her youth would also have raised their eyebrows even further when they heard that brain of hers had pieced together her legend  with its own wings sprouting from nothing but  bits and pieces of  fancies  of her own imagination, that transformed  her “identity” and who she was, at least to all others, just as she so ably and inventively did in her design work.  She could make the entire world see one thing as quite another , time and time again.  And merely by changing  the way the world viewed things, the world would change as a result.  And that seems to have been how she sought to shape herself.


There could be no more clearcut view into the mind of Coco Chanel than the story of the famous ‘double-C” logo, which she designed back in 1925 and is still one of the most famous logos in fashion today.  There are, of course, a few theories, but if we take a closer look at those C’s we have to opt for one above all others.  Of course, it might stand for her two initials…but that would be far too simple an inspiration.



Her early life, as we have seen, was spent in an orphanage at Aubazine.  The explanation that Chanel (the modern company) and biographer Justine Picardie subscribe to is that the answer can be found at the Chapel of Aubazine, the  Cistercian monastery and abbey that also housed that  orphanage where Chanel spent the latter half of her childhood.


There, we can still today see the double “C”s  and they have been there since long before Coco became Coco but, even if those windows were not actually the inspiration, surely she had to be smiling inside from 1925 onwards, as she know that once again the “wings’ had just grown and now and forever the world would see those double “C’s not as a mere window in a French abbey , and she had the last laugh again.


What might have up been a symbol of her early and sorrowful life became  through no more than an act of her will, the symbol of the legend and the company she built.


   One of her first successes was the loose-fitting sweater, which she belted and teamed with a skirt. These early victories were similar to the clothes she had been making for herself–women’s clothes made out of Everyman materials such as jersey, usually associated with men’s undergarments.

  Her past and the sadness of those  early experiences were simply morphed by changing how the world viewed them. Just as the elements of the outfits were just the same as they had always been…but now they seemed different and chic and magical.  resemblance to the sadness in which those experiences might those facts might have connoted to anyone else but Coco. Were those “wings” that Coco had?  Well, if the world saw them as wings, then she was enabled as the “Coco of legend’ to soar as high as she wished.


   The girl who grew up in an orphanage and had to then make ends meet as a seamstress and sing and dance in  a cabaret,  had a disdain for the overdressed, the ostentatious attempts at “luxury “Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.”  And that vulgarity is what her fashion novelties rebelled against

   Her first taste of clothing success came from a dress she fashioned out of an old jersey on a chilly day. In response to the many people who asked about where she got the dress, she offered to make one for them. “My fortune is built on that old jersey that I’d put on because it was cold in Deauville,” she characteristically once said.

    This innovative use of jersey fabric was truly her first major triumph. This fabric was traditionally relegated to the manufacture of undergarments. Considered too “ordinary” to be used in couture, it was also disliked by designers because the knit made it difficult to handle compared to woven fabrics.  Yet there it was, so ordinary, just waiting to there to be  seen differently and then put to another use,.



The war had changed women’s attitudes toward clothing. Proust has one of his characters say that it’s no longer a matter of parading around in a dress made by a great couturier, but rather of obtaining “charming results in the realm of fashion, without ill-considered and unseemly luxury, with the simplest materials, [and creating] prettiness out of mere nothings.”


Jersey fabric Charles-Roux, Edmonde (1981). Chanel and Her World. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.



It only remained for Chanel to again transform   the ordinary in the world’s eyes to something  ‘extraordinary”. And yes  she must have done well very well with this bit of alchemy, when she had a machine knit material manufactured for her by the firm Rodier when no one else wanted it.

So, with yet another sleight of hand that became a sleight of ‘mind”, during the 1920s, Coco Chanel became the first designer to create loose women’s jerseys, traditionally used for men’s underwear, creating a relaxed style for women ignoring the stiff corseted look of the time

She was of the opinion that designers had forgotten that women are inside the dresses they create, and thought that fashion should have a more natural shape. Her designs were menswear inspired, suitable for leisure and sport, introducing trousers and suits for women. Chanel was increasingly intrigued by the casual elegance of men’s clothing, especially for wear in the country, and took many ideas from Capel’s wardrobe. She sought to make women as modern and comfortable in their clothing as men were — especially active, outdoor types like Capel.


screenshot-2016-12-29-01-26-22    Her design aesthetic redefined the fashionable woman for the post World War I era. The Chanel trademark was a look of youthful ease, a liberated physicality, and Chanel’s ascendancy was the official deathblow to the corseted female silhouette.  The frills, fuss, and constraints endured by earlier generations of women were now passé; under her influence—gone were the “aigrettes, long hair, hobble skirts”  – and her unencumbered sportive confidence.

   She did not have to innovate by means of elaborate and excessive frills and fancies, she only needed to look at things in a different way and then, somehow it followed, that the world would like at them the same new way.   Her vision for fashion was one of comfort, practicality and simplicity.   It is said that Capel’s sartorial style is what inspired many of Chanel’s fashion concepts As Chanel once said,“luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury”

      That is exactly what Chanel was offering and, by so doing, she attracted the notice of the American press. Chanel’s early wool jersey traveling suit consisted of a cardigan jacket, and pleated skirt, paired with a low-belted pullover top. This ensemble, worn with low-heeled shoes, became the casual look in expensive women’s wear.

  An article in Women’s Wear Daily in July 1914 praised her sweaters and her jersey suits.   Very quickly she turned from courtesan into something almost unheard-of for the era: a self-supporting businesswoman. She herself became a much revered style icon known for her simple yet sophisticated outfits paired with great accessories, such as several strands of pearls.
   As we learn from a costume designer. Letterier, who helped with the making of a recent film about her,  Chanel Before Coco,  “I already appreciated Chanel’s designs, and I already appreciated her intellectual approach to fashion,” she said. Chanel is known for rethinking women’s clothing, embracing simplicity, modernity and androgyny over the elaborate outfits in fashion at the time.
“The key to understanding Chanel’s impact is” however,  as Leterrier says, “. So Chanel was the first designer to look to herself for inspiration – “she was her own muse”, – and the first to indelibly link her own image with that of her business. She was “so interested in herself”, that others couldn’t help but be interested too.”  At the time, other couturiers were fat. Even famous singers were not good-looking! But she was good-looking – everyone wanted to look like her. She was like a movie star
“Fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear”, this is the famous quotation from Oscar Wilde. And she certainly played that card to the point where the rest of the women in the world feared they were unfashionable if they were not wearing what Coco wore.




The Coco song  back in her cabaret days, won her not only her nickname, Coco , but also brought her first protector, Étienne Balsan, the heir to a large textile fortune. When Balsan suggested she come live in his château of Royallieu, not as his titular mistress but as just one of his many gigolettes, she cheerfully accepted, eager to escape the poverty in which she’d always lived. But she despite her proud wearing of the name, Coco, she was most definitely not going to be anything like the ordinary “kept woman”.  “As soon as you set foot on a yacht, she said, “you belong to some man, not to yourself, and you die of boredom.”  And that was not about to be “her story”

    It was at this point that her life took another sharp turn. She fell in love with one of Balsan’s friends, Arthur “Boy” Capel, an English businessman whose mother was French.
 In 1908, Chanel began an affair with him   In later years, Chanel reminisced of this time in her life: “two gentlemen were outbidding for my hot little body.” Capel, a wealthy member of the English upper class, installed Chanel in an apartment in Paris  and financed her first shops. Unlike Balsan, Capel was not truly a playboy, although he certainly lived ‘the good life’.
He understood work, finances, and had grasped the scope of Coco’s talent and ambition. It is said that Capel’s sartorial style influenced the conception of the Chanel look.



    At the same time, Capel was collaborating with her on an even more surprising venture: the birth of the couturière-celebrity, a fashion designer whose life as well as work would be accepted into society. Capel made it possible for her to set up her atelier and boutique in Paris at 21 rue Cambon. They openly lived together, even as Capel carried on his social life as a bachelor, unconcerned with maintaining any pretense of fidelity. As an adviser, he remained unbeatable.

In 1913, Chanel opened a boutique in Deauxville, financed by  Capel, where she introduced deluxe casual clothes suitable for leisure and sport. Those ground breaking fashions from humble fabrics such as jersy and tricot, at the time primarily used for men’s underwear.Here Chanel sold hats, jackets, sweaters, and the marinière, the sailor blouse.


  “Boy” Capel was also an accomplished playboy and polo player, sharing an enthusiasm for fast horses and pretty women with his friend Etienne Balsan. In the obituary of one of Capel’s daughters, he was described as “an intellectual, politician, tycoon, polo-player and the dashing lover and sponsor of the fashion designer Coco.

    In 1915, Boy and Coco traveled to Biarritz in the south of France for a romantic holiday. The First World War was raging Europe, and Biarritz on the Côte Basque, located near the border of neutral Spain. in proximity to wealthy Spanish clients, had neutral status  allowing it to become the playground for the moneyed and those exiled from their native countries by the hostilities, and just about everyone from all sides of the Warfront. In jyly they opened the ‘House of Chanel”  was installed not as a storefront, but in a villa opposite the casino. After one year of operation, the business proved to be so lucrative that in 1916 Chanel was able to reimburse Capel his original investment.

   Chanel, determined to re-create the success she had enjoyed in Deauville, opened, with Capel’s help again, an establishment in Biarritz, in 1915.  Biarritz, situated on the Côte Basque, in proximity to wealthy Spanish clients, had neutral status during World War I, allowing it to become the playground for the moneyed and those exiled from their native countries by the hostilities.[37] The Biarritz shop was installed not as a storefront, but in a villa opposite the casino. By 1916. when Coco was 33 years old, the combined staff of the Chanel stores in Paris, Deauville, and Biarritz exceeded three hundred workers.

After one year of operation, the business proved to be so lucrative that in 1916 Chanel was able to reimburse Capel his original investment.  ‘I was my own master, and I depended on myself alone,’ she told a biographer. ‘Boy Capel was well aware that he didn’t control me: “I thought I’d given you a plaything, I gave you freedom,” he once said to me in a melancholy voice.’

   Their affair lasted till  1919 . Capel, the only man she seems ever to have loved, married a young Englishwoman from one of the best families in society   Even after Capel married an English aristocrat, Lady Diana Wyndham in  he did not completely break off with Chanel. But notably, and not as the Washington Post misleadingly wrote,  this sudden marriage did not arise till almost ten years into their romance, in 1918.  Capel died in a car accident on 21 December 1919, as the story goes, on his way to visit Coco at Christmas time.

Chanel heard the news a few days later, and quickly packed and drove with an old friend, Leon de Laborde, to Cannes. Reportedly she sat up all night and never shed a tear. The next day she did not attend the funeral, but instead went to the scene of the accident.  The charred car was still on the read with the wreckage.

As she told the press, ‘I lost everything. He was my brother, my father, my home family” Twenty-five years after the event, Chanel, then residing in Switzerland, confided to her friend, Paul Morand: “His death was a terrible blow to me. In losing Capel, I lost everything. What followed was not a life of happiness, I have to say.”

“1919, the year I woke up famous and the year I lost everything.” That was when she became a cynic, according to Garelick ( “Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History) and when Coco developed her passion for her work .

B    y the 1920s, Maison Chanel was established at 31, Rue Cambon in Paris (which remains its headquarters to this day) and become a fashion force to be reckoned with. Chanel became a style icon herself with her striking bob haircut and tan placing her at the cutting edge of modern style.    “When I realized that my business had a life, my life, and a face, my face, a voice, my own, and when I realized my work loved me, obeyed me, and responded to me, I gave myself over to it completely and I have had since then no greater love.”

When Coco turned 40 in 1923, business was strong that she had to expand her premises in Paris, for the House of Chanel now employed almost 3000.  The renewed popularity of the French Riviera led to Chanel opening yet another shop in Cannes.


The writer Colette   who moved in the same social circles as Chanel, provided a whimsical description of Chanel at work in her atelier, which appeared in “Prisons et Paradis” (1932). “If every human face bears a resemblance to some animal, then Mademoiselle Chanel is a small black bull. That tuft of curly black hair, the attribute of bull-calves, falls over her brow all the way to the eyelids and dances with every maneuver of her head.v4]

“The meanness of life gave me strength, pride; the drive to win and a passion to greatness,’ Coco said, “… and when life brought me lavish elegance and the friendship of a Stravinsky or a Picasso I never felt stupid or inferior. Why? Because I knew it was with such people that one succeeds.”

She never married, having once said “I never wanted to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird. She had almost married one of her lovers, one of the richest men in Europe, the Duke of Westminster;and was rumored to be bound to do so by the press , giving the media of that time one of their ultimate “glam” couples. . When she didn’t, her explanation was,  “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster. There is only one Chanel.”  However, it might have been that she was cast aside and the Duke married a younger noblewoman in 1930.

And who was to argue with her when, in later years,  she was widely quoted, “Women must tell men always that they are the strong ones. They are the big, the strong, the wonderful. In truth, women are the strong ones. It is just my opinion, I am not a professor.”  But, perhaps, despite all her strengths, that was not quite true, even for her
    The following year matched its success with her legendary little black dress, her signature revolutionary design..
   We can  see most strikingly how, she  was her own seamstress and put together all the seams of an identity by means of which she faced thew world   She pieced together her life legend very much as she did the striking invention of one of the landmarks of style of the past century, her ” little black dress”  She took a color once associated with mourning and showed just how chic it could be for evening wear. As the story goes, the little black dress was one he loved so much..that she wore it in her bereavement and that would become the staple of her line.  She is quoted in the press as saying” I’m going to put the   whole world in mourning for her ‘Boy”
   She took a sombre and less than festive color which had only stood for the boring, uniform of the males in the urban world  or for women to wear in mourning and sorrow, and turned it into the badge of glamour and sexuality that became de rigeur for any formal celebratory occasion.
    She invented the famous “little black dress”, which seemed, at first, glance, artless, rustic garb and impersonal. “She invented  simplicity, a style. It’s like a uniform,”says Letterier, ” which is outside of time. If you see somebody with a black vest and a skirt today, it’s OK, but it was revolutionary at this period [when Chanel started wearing black]. All the other women of this time thought it was so austere. “
   Allowing women to dress in black and not like flowers and birds….was surely seen as part of her overall liberation of women reshaping of what they  could and would wear to be more themselves, but this magical conversion of the quality of black to become a  symbol of glamour and festivity rather than mourning and tedium was very much a liberation of her own self which radiated a unique dark brilliance to become a symbol of the same freedom and glamour, and recast her identity and its glow in terms of charm rather than sorrow…just as she did with color, black.

 d79ff28378373f926397133a42520e6aThis decisive step brought the 44 -yeardesigner worldwide fame and made her finding a symbol of elegance, luxury, and good taste. The first models of the dresses were made of forgotten fluid crepe marocain, knee-length, straight cut with narrow sleeves to the wrists. An incredibly accurate, adjusted and revolutionary cutting length of skirts distinguished them from other ones.

 The little black dress quickly became a cult clothing and acquired a status symbol “One is never over-dressed or underdressed with a Little Black Dress.”

Nothing makes a woman look older than obvious expensiveness, ornateness, complication,’ she said to Claude Delay in old age, still wearing the little straw hats of her youth. ‘I still dress as I always did, like a schoolgirl.’
   In 1925, she introduced the now legendary Chanel suit with a collarless jacket, long tight fitting sleeves  and with awell-fitted and realitively shorter skirt. In 1925, she launched her first signature cardigan jacket   She also helped pioneer the bias cut dress – labelled a Ford by one critic because everyone had one, the shoe string shoulder strap, the floating evening scarf, the wearing together of junk and real jewels.
   The rewards were considerable, for her work, like her clothes, liberated Chanel from other constrictions . They soon became very popular with clients, a post-war generation of women for whom the corseted restricted clothing seemed old-fashioned and impractical. Her authority was so great that women from different social classes unhesitatingly were wearing Chanel clothing.


   “Fashion, she is know to have said, ” is not simply a matter of clothes. Fashion is in the air, born upon the wind. One intuits it. It is in the sky and on the road.”
   Surely, the single element that most ensured Chanel’s fame and fortune  even when it would have been easier to write her off, is not a piece of clothing but very much the fragrance she invented, called “a form of liquid gold”–Chanel No. 5, in its Art Deco bottle, which was launched in 1921.  She was right at the forefront of the realization that “fashion brand” could be extended beyond the confines of the garments and to the world of fragrances and beyond
    But as with everything with Chanel , we must know that something more had to be behind the move, now dazzling into fragrance from fashion.  “Where should one use perfume?” a young woman asked. “Wherever one wants to be kissed.” And with Chanel #5 she truly meant that and much more, as we believe is clear from the facts of how that enduring scent like no other was born.


    The scent she was after was one that was one that had to be unique ,  a fragrance that filled the air like nothing else…and to be unique, of course, it could not be like anything else…just as her black dress was, in its abstract purity not like any other of the countless colors of the rainbow that adorned the women of her time….and it seems now after almost a hundred years,  that she succeeded in finding that.


    With the help of the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia  who  had been exiled from Russia before the 1917 Bolshevik revolution for his role in the assassination of Rasputin and now, in France, who then had become Chanel’s lover in an affair that lasted for about a year., Coco  engineered a meeting in the summer of 1920 in the South of France with  the a noted Russian perfume designer, Ernest Beaux.

   And the rest is truly history. She hired  Beaux, the onetime perfumer to the Tsar, in 1920 and challenged him to create a scent that would make its wearer “smell like a woman, and not like a rose.”    She told him exactly what she wanted, or to be more accurate, what she didn’t want: “I don’t want hints of roses, of lilies of the valley.” Rather than create a single note scent, as was de rigueur back in the Twenties, Beaux played with a modern mix of vetiver, ylang ylang, orange blossom, sandalwood, essence of neroli, tonka bean, Mai rose and jasmine (Coco’s favourite) notes to create over 80 versions to present back to Coco.She wanted her perfume to smell like “a bouquet of abstract flowers.”

As with her styling of her fashions, she was led by what she did not like to find what she would like.  And as she was inclined, she chose abstractness in its simplicity, much like her stylings or her fascination with black, an abstractness that suited her and the was “her” in many ways

And the perfume she invented from nowhere that is now everywhere,  was as unique as was she, herself, and the two have since been intertwined.  It could not have been coincidence  or mere clever business enterprise that  prompted her to she to begin on quest for that enduring scent like no other only a few months after the sudden death of Boy Capel, whose motor accident was in December, 1919.

   Beaux did what she asked by combining “impossibly expensive” jasmine essence with a synthetic compound that “added a note of clean northern air.” A final stroke of genius, so they say, instead of giving her perfume a romantic or Oriental name, she named it after herself and her lucky number. But of course, she wouldn’t,its uniqueness demanded it could not be confused with any other scent or of any other woman.  And as always was the case, Coco’s uniqueness ultimately became that of every woman as well.


  As legend goes, Chanel picked the fifth sample, declaring, “I show my collections on the fifth of May, the fifth month of the year, so let’s leave the number it bears, and this number five will bring it good luck.”  Coco Chanel’s debut marketing strategy for the scent involved inviting a group of elite friends to dine with her at a restaurant on the French Riviera, where she surprised them by spraying them with the perfume.
The official launch of Chanel No. 5 was, however,  in the label’s Paris boutique on the fifth day and fifth month of 1921. On the black wax seal of the neck of the 1921 No. 5 bottle, Chanel placed a ‘C’, the first letter of her surname. She would then turn this into a monogram by doubling it and the luxury label’s famous logo was born
  The bottle design for the fragrance was startling new and also abstract itself. It was a simple rectangular design and not anything like the more ornate containers for the ordinary perfumes of the world. The inspiration for the magic elixir had two probable origins..and both of them go directly to Boy Capel.  It is believed that Coco  adapted the rectangular, beveled lines of the Charvet toiletry bottles he carried in his leather traveling case or that she adapted the design of the whiskey decanter Capel used; she so much admired it that she wished to reproduce it in “exquisite, expensive, delicate glass” (according to Mazzeo, Tilar J. The Secret of Chanel No. 5. HarperCollins, 2010: p. 103)  But, in either case, it was about Boy Capel.  The glass that carried her scent was always a direct reminder of  Capel.

”  Apparently there have been unfold millions of women who found just the perfect uses for that truly unique blend….and, as we can see it was truly the direct outgrowth of Coco’s being led by what she did not like to finding what she liked.  In this case it was truly quite an elaborate invention.  It is hard to estimate what the financial value of that blend has been since then.  In more recent years,  its eternal lure has been sealed by the fact that it was ironically, an infatuation which was shared by both Jacqueline Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe

  It was the first perfume to bear a designer’s name, “A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future,” she said, and she wore the fame of that perfume well herself. And much of her future was engulfed in the struggles over that famous brand.”
Here is a remix video of rare fashion show footage of Chanel’s from the 1930’s onward:

Here is the interview video during which Marilyn’s famous unsolicited endorsement was delivered in typical Marilyn fashion

    In 1924, she naively signed a contract with immensely rich Wertheimers, who, importantly enough in retrospect, were Jewish, as later parts of her story turned out. Pierre Wertheimer became her business partner (taking on 70% of the fragrance business), and reputedly her lover. The Wertheimers continue to control the perfume company today
    For decades thereafter, she felt that she had tricked into signing into a contract which didn’t reward her fairly for the sensational success of Chanel #5 (in fact, she had lost control of her name and only had 10% of the company). There was a lawsuit that she commenced in 1935 against the immensely powerful and connected Wertheimers, and which, given their clout at the time, did not turn out successfully for her.
   It was not until after World War II (and some very bizarre and controversial events during the Nazi and Vichy government occupation of France) that she and the Wertheimers arrived at an agreement, which finally made her truly financially independent and one of the wealthiest women in business at that time.
    During a visit to S. Klein on Union Square in the 1930’s, a decidedly low-end department store, she found that not only were copies of her style being sold, they were actually very accurate copies of entire ensembles, but made with cheap fabrics and sold at popular prices.
    Far from being upset, she immediately saw the advantage of being copied as a form of free publicity, especially for her perfumes. Once she returned home, she organized a private runway presentation in London and specified in the invitations that her guests were welcome to bring their dressmakers, who would be free to make sketches and take notes. This innovation underscored not only Chanel’s intelligence but also her ambition.
Chanel wanted to create women in her image. All her fashion models were narrow-waisted, small-breasted brunettes who looked like her.
    “In 1933, a profile of Chanel for [a French magazine] announced: ‘Gabrielle Chanel imposes fashion upon the feminine world like a dictator…all women listen to her as if to an oracle,’” while Elsa Maxwell went even further, imagining Chanel as the “miniature female Stalin of the Rue Cambon.”
    Moreover, an attempt to renegotiate her terms with the Wertheimers ended in such bitterness that she was forced out as chairman of the company. Last of all, in the personal sphere, she once again found herself alone: in 1935, her latest male lover and confidant, Paul Iribe collapsed and died on a tennis court just as she was walking toward him.


   Chanel worked on from one innovation and success to the next. Did anyone say, tweed:” “There is nothing quite as iconic as a classic Chanel tweed piece.: Elle Magazine recently wrote. “If you’ve had the honor of wearing one—a jacket, a dress, a skirt—you know that its texture, its weight, and its very aura are the things magic is made of.,”

Her use of the now legendary fabric was once again, not only inspired by menswear, but by a man—and this time it was her beau, the Duke of Westminster. After borrowing sportswear from him, , Chanel realized the comfortable, supple fabric had a sophisticated quality that would lend itself well to her designs.  We really have no indication that she was inspired by any of the Duke’s more outrageous antisemitic notions, any more than Winston Churchill, a close friend of the Duke’s was when he repeatedly warned the Duke away from those attitudes, but we do know she borrowed some of his ‘look’ if not his “outlook ” on Judaism.

Beginning in 1924, after visiting Scotland with him, Chanel enlisted a Scottish factory to produce her iconic tweed fabrics for everything from sportswear to suits and coats Chanel switched factories in the ’30s to northern France and began combining her classic tweeds with wools, silks, cottons, and even cellophane to give them a more high fashion (and lighter weight) style.


   In 1936, her employees went on strike, and though she tried to break the strike with a lockout, she was ultimately forced to give in to their demands. That she was never over her conflict with her employees might have shown up later after the German’s had taken over Paris. At the start of the Second World War in 1939, Chanel closed her shops stating famously “that war was not a time for fashion.” and the fact that 3,000 of her workers lost her jobs – was seen as a dastardly aspect of Nazi collaboration. it was seen as partly retaliation for the previous conflict. Who knows? That may indeed have been her mood.


(more to come on this topic)


   Those familiar with even the most basic biography of Chanel may not be surprised to learn that with her penchant for finding herself surrounding by admiring men of power and influence,  she was a “horizontal collaborator” (the term used to describe women who had affairs with Germans during the war); but a recent book “Sleeping With The Enemy”, (by Vaughan in 2011)  claims to have discovered that she went even further than this.

    The book,  while based on a few known facts, and facts which are  truly not flattering to Coco Chanel,    unrelentingly seeks to portray her as a homophobe, antisemitic, Nazi collaborator, and, unconvincingly enough – except to generate marketing–as a Nazi spy and secret agent.  Like many luminaries, including the singers Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier, the writer Jean Cocteau and the late president Francois Mitterrand, Chanel remained in her native country following its occupation by German forces in the summer of 1940.  however, it is not at clear whether it was accurate to simply describe this period of time, as Vaughan has, “Chanel was a consummate opportunist. The Nazis were in power, and Chanel gravitated to power. It was the story of her life.”  Her life actually is what makes this story more interesting than the one that Vaughan seeks to paint for the all too eager readers of today.


    If one actually looks to what is being claimed in the book, it is nothing near the fanatically politically correct outcry, presumably cutting the iconic Coco “down to the size” of her critics, to a level where social justice warriors types no longer themselves feel inadequate. All this done, though admittedly on the basis of yet more extraordinary aspects of her extraordinary life,on the basis of very little actual connecting of any dots…

   However, when we consider the details of the context from which those facts apparently emerged, and also the context of who Coco Chanel was and why she did things the way she did, we have a different picture of her and the times.  Of course, she was not up to the role model standard of super heroes or icons…even though her achievements in fashion were on that  legendary level.


    Vaughan says in, ‘The Sleeping” book,” By 1940, France had fallen, the Wehrmacht was goose-stepping down the Champs Elysees, and Hitler strutted up the steps of the Palais de Chaillot to take command surprisingly easily. The Eiffel Tower flew the swastika. Chanel’s nephew and adopted son, Andre Palasse, was now a young soldier stationed at the Maginot Line; he had been captured along with 300,000 others and shuffled off to a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. Within months, Chanel — still svelte and alluring at 57 — took on a new lover: He was Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a senior officer for the Abwehr, known as “Spatz.”

“I don’t know why women want any of the things men have when one of the things that women have is men,” Chanel is quoted as having said, and for her the two almost seemed to be inseparably connected. At each step in her life and legend as it grew, and even in those darkest days during the Nazi occupation, there were always men who were utterly charmed by her and how did help her perhaps attain at least one of the goals in her life.


 According to Chanel’s grandniece, “Spatz was sympathetic, attractive, intelligent, well-dressed and congenial.” Perhaps Chanel thought that when she took him on, she was assuming protective coloring, but Spatz would become the last great affair of her life.

    At first, as Vaughan rather vaguely further explains, “what Chanel wanted most from Dincklage was Andres freedom and safe passage , but war soon led to a far more complicated labyrinth” .

We must add, however, that as anyone familiar with the fact of life of those times for those living, with their loved ones , under Nazi occupation, the facts of those times are that not only were people’s lives on the line each day…if they did not watch their steps very closely, but then, additionally, their souls were also in danger every day as they had to cope with actualities and possibilities that those who write columns here for social media just do not seem able to grasp.

    Some of the sensationalist deductions which are more of the kind that one sees in Facebook gossip where ‘the dots between ‘facts” are connected without any attempt to adequately portray the facts in context” is treated more adequately here:…

The New Republic review says, “To be fair to Chanel, her activities as a spy were underwhelming—hardly the stuff of Le Carré, and nowhere near as scandalous as Vaughan would perhaps wish them to be. Yes, she did visit German headquarters in Berlin, and yes, she was acting on behalf of the Nazis, but one of her missions (she only went on two, and the other was in essence a glorified vacation in Spain), was actually a peace-finding one.

    Towards the end of the war, a number of powerful Nazis were considering brokering a peace with England behind Hitler’s back (Hitler had declared he would settle for nothing less than “total war,” total success or total failure). Chanel’s friendship with Churchill sparked the idea that she might be able to secure an audience with him for a number of German officials. The plan was doomed from the start, as Chanel never got her audience with Churchill, who was very ill; and according to Vaughan, the Nazis never really expected her to succeed anyway.”

    The New York Times Review of Vaughan’s hatchetwork echoes the scepticism that any rational reader would have to have about Vaughan’s claims: “Vaughan able charts Chanel’s clever opportunism as she works, first, to free her nephew André Palasse from a German prisoner-of-war camp, and later seeks to use the Nazis’ Aryanization of property laws to wrest control of her perfume empire away from the Jewish Wertheimer brothers,” they say (more on this below)

In todays world, today’s media in their media cage, thrash around trying to get out, and take just about  any statement out ot context., without understanding its time and era, or understanding the nature of people and conflicts around the actions, and then without understanding the action in the meaning of overall life of the person whose action is being either lauded or criticized.   Instead they take the moments of other people’s lives and steadfastly refuse to see them in terms of anything, anything but our own little bit of “triggering”, triggering of?

But, if we get beyond the self triggering of the media,  what did Chanel really do as an agent? Well, after having been promised the release from imprisonment in a Nazi war camp of her nephew  and adopted son of  her older sister who committed suicide when they both were young it seems that she travelled to Madrid in August 1941 with the special dispensation of the Germans, in order to use her contacts to gain political intelligence.  Many observers m now sense that this young man, whose life she saved, was not just her nephew in fact quite possibly her own child.

Vaughan readily accepts that Chanel was never a spy. “Espionage ­- you take photographs, you take documents.­ Chanel never did that,” he says. “She was a facilitator. She knew everybody in Spain, she knew everybody in England, and she helped out the Nazis.

So then what was really happening we might ask?

Vaughan seems to have felt as though his rich source materials could speak for themselves, but they don’t “  In fact, Vaughn seems content do say nothing more than  “She was a facilitator. She knew everybody in Spain, she knew everybody in England, and she helped out the Nazis.”

According to a document cited by Vaughan, though, this visit only saw her exchanging banalities with a British diplomat who reported that: “the Germans cannot understand the French and this is making them hate them to the point that she, Mlle Chanel, is afraid of what will happen.”

“Yet of Vaughn’s storytelling ’, the Times writes,” “his account of her one real mission for the Germans — a 1943 covert operation code-named Modellhut (“model hat”) in which she was meant to use her contacts to get a message to Winston Churchill from the SS stating that a number of leading Nazis wanted to break with Adolf Hitler and negotiate a separate peace with England — emerges neither clearly nor logically from his highly detailed telling.
“Too many diplomatic documents are reproduced at too much length,” says the Timess. “Contradictions are not clearly sorted out,” And why ‘sort things out” if they might complicate another provocative marketing gambit for a book to appeal to the social justice warriors being triggered every day in every which way…and just waiting for another trigger.


    The widely trumpeted anti-semitism charges arise pretty much solely (as we see quoted in the media) from her efforts to finally get some justice, as she felt it and sought to capitalize from the Nazi seizure of all Jewish-owned property and business enterprises.
The opportunity to seize control presented itself at the onset of World War II, when the fragrance was being manufactured in Hoboken, NJ using materials imported from France. Since the Wertheimer brothers were a Jewish family, their business and ownership was susceptible to Nazi seizure.
The media self triggering report from Vaughan, ‘This provided the ever-calculating Chanel with the opportunity to gain the full monetary fortune generated by Parfums Chanel and its most profitable product, Chanel No. 5.”
But surely we can observe there was more behind her actions than simply a merchandising opportunity.  Yes, the Chanel fragrance was “her” and her invention and her name.  And it was and since has been worth countless of millions as it endures today even a hundred years after its concoction.  And yes her own business had been shut down and the Wertheimers had the means for her to survive in the future.   But there was, of course more.
Clearly the “theft” of this act of hers born when Capel was taken from her and imbued with his presence and the means by which she grasped to hold on to their love was not something that she might ever have forgotten..or willingly accepted.
    In  May  of 1941, in order to take advantage of the opportunity for which she had been fighting for two decades, Coco 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.
 The plot really thickens. Justine Picardie, whose biography, Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life, was published last year, believes that Chanel’s motives were “a bit more subtle and nuanced”. Everything she did was a paradox. She was so contradictory. On the one hand, she did make anti-Semitic remarks. But then some of her best clients were Jewish, like the Rothschilds, and indeed her business partner was Jewish, and he continued to be her business partner after the war.”
The Wertheimers were Jews who presciently predicted the forthcoming mandates against Jewish business interests, and put control of their prestigious fragrance house, “Parfums Chanel” under the directorship of a fellow named Felix Amiot, so that, by doing this, they effectively blocked Chanel from using the German regulations to her advantage.
  At the end of World War II, Amiot turned “Parfums Chanel” back into the hands of the Wertheimers. We have to recall that the French were not a nation invaded and taken over with a struggle, but that the Vichy French run government quickly lept in to run the country for the Germans. There were heroic French who resisted in hiding, but that was not the way it was back then.
    It is interesting to note that Felix Amiot, involved in the manufacturer of airplanes. the buddy of the Wertheimers who was passed the Chanel company to keep it away from Coco, was a notorious Nazi collaborator, his businesses supplying the occupiers with armaments for of the prime and actual collaborators with the Vichy government and the Nazis in providing manufacturing support for them… The Wertheimers had sweetened the deal for Amiot by purchasing a fifty percent share in the Amiot airplane propeller industry. It was said that his alliance with the Wertheimers “saved his [Amiot’s] little neck” from prosecution by the Allies after the war for his outrageous actual collaboration in providing the Germans aircraft parts and services.
    What Coco did was clearly far more about the bitter business that than about politics, spying or even anti-semitism. Of course she would have been highly like to express hatred for those particular Jews…What she did…and what they did, as well.. was merely playing the card that they had been dealt…And surely the Wertheimers and Amiol  were in tighter..or just as tight with the Germans than she was. The letter she wrote at the time also said, “I have, 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.”
 material28_1712896aHere is a quote of hers that makes “sense” in a way that we can appreciate” though not necessarily identify with, When asked in later years about her Nazi ties, she coolly responded, “I don’t ask my lovers for their passports.” As for the French, a Portuguese site, Fashionatto, quotes her as saying, “The French got what they deserved” and “Not all Germans were bad guys.” The columnist adds, “No, not all Germans were bad, and yes, the French behavior during the Vichy Government was abominable, but Chanel’s callous dismissal of the details goes a step too far”. Perhaps but she always went a step too far, didn’t she.
    And it appears that there is more melodrama added to the Chanel story by the inevitable echo chamber of the social media, the story of her secret agent name “Westminster”. As to the “drama” of the “code name” attributed to Chanel:  here is what was actually known: The French secret services also had files on celebrities that they deemed suspicious. Designer Coco Chanel’s file includes a note written in Paris in November 1944.
    “A source in Madrid informed us that Madam Chanel was in 1942-43 the mistress and agent of Baron Guenter von Dinklage. Dinklage used to be an attache at the German embassy in 1935. He worked as a propagandist and we suspect him of being a (German) agent,” the document says.
    According to Frederic Queguineur, in charge of the secret services’ archives, the file shows that Coco Chanel was documented as an agent by the Nazi intelligence organization, the Abwehr.”From the German point of view ,they registered her, so it means she potentially could be a source of information, fulfill a mission, work for them. But from her point of view, we don’t know if she was really aware of that,” So it’s not likely that she ran around in cloak and dagger fashion exchanging code names.
    Just one more thing to add here. She apparently continued in residence at her home in the Hotel Ritz in Paris. Unsurprisingly that is where all the luminaries, Nazi officers or officials or otherwise chose to stay when they were in Paris. That she did not move out. presumably in a “classic huff’ has been cited by some readers that she had to be “Nazi higher up”.
And no doubt, as the gossip mongers note, “It was von Dincklage who arranged the 57-year-old Chanel’s stay in the Ritz and who managed her business relations with the occupation authorities.” But, the Ritz was her home to which they had come. They did not invite her for an outing. It is not at all clear furthermore what her financial situation was, beyond her inability to simply get up and leave…to go where…to the French countryside?
    The other aspect of this life situation of hers is also not spoken about very much by the critics,, presumably because among today’s social justice critics, drugs and addiction are not vices, while talk and innuendo are the ultimate evil. Wikipedia tells us, however, that
Here, in 1935, via Man Ray, is a shot of her where she certainly does not look very happy all
“By 1935, Chanel had become a habitual drug user, injecting herself with morphine on a daily basis, a habit she maintained until the end of her life.” So we have to wonder just how that aspect of her life…played in to the way in which she then tried to ‘play her cards” in order to survive, as well.
 After the war, she remained in seclusion and some would say in “hiding” in Switzerland for ten years living off a fat bank account that had been steadily filled by the proceeds from perfume sales over the preceding years.


    The success of Christian Dior got on her nerves. “Dior? “I adore you, but you dress women like armchairs”,” was one sarcastic dart she launched. Characteristically acerbic, she also noted and about his New Look, which se criticized as being hyper-feminine, ” Look how ridiculous these women are, wearing clothes by a man who doesn’t know women, never had one, and dreams of being one.”

Then she arranged with to do a ready to wear line back then. On February 5, 1954, she showed her new collection, which was sober and understated, the diametric opposite of Dior. The critical response was a crushing pan: “[These] are phantoms’ dresses…very expensive for so much self-effacement.” But Paris was no longer dictating the law and the New York buyers came running. The ease and simplicity of these classic outfits were what American women wanted. Chanel applauded them for rejecting “idiocies that made it impossible to walk or run.”

President & Mrs. Kennedy At Love Field

Almost unimaginably , Coco, at the age of 71 succeeded in coming back and succeeded, despite her years and the gaps of decades, once again at being an  outstanding fashion world icon.

It was then that esigned the now famous Chanel Cardigan Jacket (see on the right warn by Jackie Kennedy, the day of the Kennedy assassination).

There she brought together her love of tweed and the needs of the  new era of the 1950’s

“The hardest thing about my work,
she said, “is enabling women to move with ease, to move like they’re not in costume,” . “Not changing attitude, or manner, depending on their dress – it’s very difficult. And the human body is always moving.”

Once again she designed against the prevailing trend  “Four real pockets, braid in matching tones or contrasting, buttons stamped with the symbol of the house, and especially, new for the period, no buttons without button holes. Finally, sewn into the silk lining, a delicate chain to ensure that the jacket falls perfectly. A revolution.”

The jacket was intended to ease women from the constraint of the wasp-waisted silhouette of the Fifties. Again “Inspired by menswear, straight and fluid, without interfacing, the ensemble provides absolute freedom of movement.

The older Coco was still the ‘old Coco”and  was on top of her game not only as a business lady but also designed for generations younger, while in her


    Oddly enough, as yet another twist in this story, it was after the success of this new line by the now old rather older lady, that” Wertheimer, the same one with whom she fought so bitterly for decades, , in spite of Chanel’s age—made an audacious bet.

   Of all strange things in a strange saga , The re-establishment of her couture house in 1954 was fully financed by  the allegedly anti-semitic Chanel’s old nemesis in the perfume battle, that notorious ‘Jew”, Pierre Wertheimer. This new contractual agreement would also allow Wertheimer to maintain ownership of “Parfums Chanel.”

   He bought the maison de couture outright, along with all her properties, for a sum he never revealed and , in addition, as part of an unusual arrangement proposed by Chanel herself, making her again the “kept woman” of wealthy men,Wertheimer would pay for all of Chanel’s expenses from the large to the trivial for as long as she lived.agreed to underwrite all her personal and professional expenses. She no longer had to pay for so much as a postage stamp!  He never regretted that decision.

fashion designer Coco Chanel (1883-1971) , c. early 50's

She fought loneliness while working with ever-increasing intensity. The very way she worked—no longer sketching but instead cutting the fabric right on the model, sometimes piercing the skin of the poor girl who was forced to stand there for hours, motionless and with a smile on her face—reflected a savagery that was intrinsic to her nature.

         But while she certainly did think for herself and truly ‘out loud” so that the world now knows her name and legend, she did not give the world any idea of who what was behind her statements, either in fashion or in the captivating bits of wisdom her many quotes have passed along.

On of our favorite quotes from  Chanel is  here proclamation that ” The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”  She certainly did so by her actions and…to conjure up a popular phrase by means of her the first and foundational “fashion statement”.

The almost mathematically wizardly of he statements however was that she told the world everything and at the same time told them nothing.  Her statements both in fashions and in her many aphorisms were surely ‘out loud” and were striking, to the point, and unmistably conveying a message. And indeed with more and more incredible achievement and artistic innovation, expressed very much  her own rationale and logic.  Yet the math of her mind turned each of these elements into its apparent opposite when it was expressed, so, in the end, the world, was told everything but seemed to know nothing from the telling of it.

The rootedness of her fashions in reactions revealed how her life and spirit were impacted by her days as an orphan,the expression was to take the actual elements of style of those days and cast a different light on them, as she did with her use of the double C in the stained glass windows of her orphanage church, or as she did many years later in taking the burgundy of her orphanism for the interior of her radical handbags.

   Her style of dress in ordinary fabrics and emphasizing comfort and simplicity rather than opulence and frills of the current ideas of ‘luxury’, was rooted in her own days of poverty and enforced simplicity, yet the very elements of that earlier time now were transformed and the world came to view them as “luxury” itself, even though, as she told them “luxury” was not opulence but comfort.

   Her relations with men were truly complicated and very much no doubt by her father who was “missing” and who also was missing by way of his abandonment of her and her sisters.  She sought the company of men continually and at the same time adopted their clothes s and style and the comfort and ease of movement that she saw in those styles for her own wear and comfort  She sought closeness to men but refused to dress and act the way thei ‘women” of her time in order to capture “their’ men.

   She took the style and the comfort and ease of movement that she saw in men’s style for her own wear and comfort  And then her dressing in male mode came to be an even greater attraction to her by the men who company and favor she always fought and always found.

   Her dressing in male mode came, instead of a distancing and competiyion with men, came to be seen by the world as the ultimate in feminity and  became an even greater attraction to her by the men who company and favor she always fought and always found.

    But then act of ‘distancing” by being someone, a woman so  different from what was expected of the aristocracy of the time, she made it difficult her  to be considered as wife for these men of position, who repeated married women of aristocratic standing and not Coco.

   Her heartbreak mourning for Capel and the virtual stopping still of her life at 32 was not expressed by crying or even attending his funeral, but nonetheless was expressed in the open in her wearing of black and then transforming that colour into the color of fashion and festivity rather than the uniform of morning.  Very much the black uniform of mourning that had been worn by the nuns at her orphanage, in fact.

   The loss that seems to have not ever been healed in the course of her life was masked by the perfume she created and that surely became, now 100 years later, an unmistakable strike back at her against mortality and the fleeting nature of her love.  Yet, to the world, by so masking the loss by the grandness of its presence  the invention of #5  was just taken to be nothing more than another stroke of genius, just another brilliant business innovation, and, during the war.  just another further commercial grasping at the expense of the Jewish Wertheim.

   She might have ‘thought for herself” very loudly and clearly, we never knew her ‘thoughts about herself”…and our best guess is that what went on inside was very far from obvious and very far from those fashion statements and statements about fashion for which she is known

   The daughter of the man whose life she saved from the Germans, Isabelle Feimeyer, who has been devoted to filling in the various gaps of our memory of Chanel,  that our “history” has left unfilled, and has written several books on aspects of her life, writes “Chanel was famous for reinventing herself time and again, and covered her tracks by never keeping anything personal that she had written. She would tear up personal papers, documents and letters and toss them into the fire”.

   Unsurprisingly in our digital and social media era of today, which just throbs uncontrollably to the beat of political correctness, the social justice theme is far too easy for digital media voices to echo without any further consideration of the what might actually been “going on “, either in the events described or in Coco Chanel’s mind at the time.

“In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different,”: she had famously said.

And she certainly was. It seems that her “boy”, Boy Capel ,might have been as well.  Many years later, she told a friend/biographer, There is nothing worse than solitude, she wrote. ‘“ Solitude can help a man realize himself; but it destroys a woman”.

We, have to wonder whether, after all,  those “double “C”s in her famous logo that she designed could have also been intended to serve to eternally connect their two names, Chanel and Capel.

 Isabelle Feimeyer tells us “Her homes were an extension of her spirit which was influenced by her lover Boy Chapel. The book showcases a processional cross, a Buddha (with flowers replacing broken fingers) and an English/French chapbook Chapel wrote spiritual passages in for Chanel contemplate during meditation. She never showed anyone that small chapbook until a few years before her death.”

There is certainly much more to the story behind the way that Chanel chose to be perceived by the world and by which she shaped herself into a brand, an icon, and a legend. Unfortunately, by her own conjuring act , there is far too much room there for the frantic, self triggering political correct forces of our time to fill in the gaps of our awareness of what and why she did what she did. She was very much a product like her mysterious fragrance, her #5.  She pu

 “She substituted the use of perfumes with recognizable fragrances with that of a perfume with an indefinable fragrance. There are some eighty ingredients that make up Chanel Number 5, and although it might have the freshness of a garden, nothing can change the fact that the fragrance of this garden is unknown“…Edmonde Charles-Roux

Just as she had put together a fragrance that was unforgettable precisely because it had no trace of any of the eighty elements that went into, her legend was built, though of  greater mathematical genius that far exceeded the calculation for which she was given  so much credit…or lately, so much blame.  That, of course, was precisely how she grew those “wings” that carried her so far

  Within that simple gleaming geometrical vessel, Coca,  with which  that secret formula of hers endured,  shaped to reflect Boy Capel’s fondnesses, were  hidden, but very active, all aspects of the earlier moments of her life; the young orphed girl from the monastery, the cabaret singer, the poor working girl kept by the fabulously wealthy and the then the aspiring business lady, treated with a formula no less effective than Ernest Beaux magic aldedyde that were used to make that brew of Coco’s sparkle.

“That is how she made history in the world of perfume: No 5 had the surprising character of an abstract creation” ,says Charles-Roux.  And the resulting  abstract mystery beyond any recognizable aspect of nature was its secret of success. for Coco herself, surely the same had to said to be true.

The wings by means of which she liberated herself from the dire surroundings and poverty of her youth, from the constraints of woman’s role to freedom of expression via her fashion statements, one after the other for decades, from the ceiling that prevented a women from either dressing in the comfort of a man to allow her natural movement and grace, to moving as well or better than any man in the fashion area, rising to the top of the business via her gifts for invention and those statements about life that crystallized her attitudes, were the ever magical  product of that same alchemy used by Reaux for her fragrance that went to create the abstraction that was “Coco”,  unlike any identifiable  human element of nature, ineffabe and mysterious, and,because of ,that captivating to the world.  Coco herself was an ‘abstraction’ in the end, and no doubt, for that she suffered a price.

“It’s probably not just by chance that I’m alone. It would be very hard for a man to live with me, unless he’s terribly strong. And if he’s stronger than I, I’m the one who can’t live with him. … I’m neither smart nor stupid, but I don’t think I’m a run-of-the-mill person. I’ve been in business without being a businesswoman, I’ve loved without being a woman made only for love.”

We have to  here observe that, according to Chanel, ““A girl should be two things: who and what she wants,”  It appears that she might have achieved the second half of that with her iconic status and fame, but fate conspired to not allow her to ever attain the first.

When we look again at her notoriously famous statement, “I don’t do fashion, I am fashion, ” we can see that she was the abstraction so much that the elements of the person might have been too well hidden, even for her herself to sense.

Coco’s life , as best as we can piece it together from the fragments here and now, makes us realize that the context and times and surrounding issues and concerns that leed to certain actions and statements must be considered outside the couch potato naivete and celibacy of the typical digital media “writer” or ‘commentator” who has no idea what it might have been like to walk in the other person’s shoes, or to take the kinds of steps which that person had to decide upon and take in  the decidedly “real” and not “virtual” worlds that most commentators inhabit.

Do we believe that she “lost her soul”  during those events of the second World War? To us, it seems, that, in all fairness, perhaps she simply did what she had to do in times that none of us today in the comfort of our keyboard driven world can understand and that, we should be aware that, in those times such as the World War II nightmare, our souls, even those of us who are seemingly immortal legends are vulnerable to being chipped or wounded in such a way as to leave us less than perfect.

But she did perhaps opt for the abstraction of the  “Coco”, especially after Capel was no longer there, rather than reality of that inner self whose mathematical genius and precision were always at work.  That seems to have been the price she paid for those wings.

It’s far too easy, to recline, and chat and click your mouse, when you have not lived scarcely a minute, if that, of real life yourself..


   Take any statement out ot context.  Take any action without understanding its time and era, or understanding the nature of people and conflicts around the actions, and then without understanding the action in the meaning of overall life of the person whose action is being either lauded or criticized.  instead we take everything… the moments of other people’s lives and steadfastly refuse to see them in terms of anything, anything but our own little bit of “triggering”, triggering of? Our idolization. Or our own insecurity about saying anything provocative or complex to anyone else.  Or own need to vent and rage on issues that have more to do with our own conflicts and histories that the history we so glibly are willing to fabricate for readers and listeners.  Just our own narcissistic preoccupation with our selves in a “selfie world”

We  can’t stop thinking of this extended statement about life and his life by the poet, Borges:

“Behind our faces there is no secret self which governs our acts and receives our impressions; we are, solely, the series of these imaginary acts and these errant impressions. The series? Once matter and spirit, which are continuities, are negated, once space too has been negated, I do not know what right we have to that continuity which is time.
And yet, and yet… Denying temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations. Our destiny … is not frightful by being unreal; it is frightful because it is irreversible and iron-clad. Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.”

Read more at: 

    And the book from where this link is excerpted: ‘Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life’ (Harper Collins, £25), by Justine Picardie, published on 16 September, is available from Telegraph Books (0844 871 1515; ) at £23 plus £1.25 p&p

    On what to read this month from Atlantic:

Chanel, edited by Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton (Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale).…

‘This swank book, however, published in conjunction with the current Chanel exhibition at the Met, focuses on the continuities and evolution of the style of the house of Chanel from its inception, before the First World War, to its current permutation under the direction of Karl Lagerfeld (his impenetrable Teutonic blather, which as far as I can tell insults the founder of the house he presides over, is—thank goodness—confined to two pages).

Fashion writing tends toward the gaseous, but Koda’s introduction and the text of the exhibition catalogue he wrote with Bolton nicely explain Chanel’s innovations, clearly define the essential qualities of her designs, and concretely convey the workings of cut and construction.

The photographs—enhanced by Lagerfeld to, I must admit, haunting effect—of the variations on the “little black dress” (all of which marry traditional, elegant materials to precise tailoring, creating the impression of “little more than a breeze,” as Harper’s Bazaar put it in 1923) and of the sumptuously astringent, squarish suits (with their exquisite but functional details and their “soft tailoring” and easily draped fabrics that allow them to drift over rather than cling to the body) testify to a living tradition that has tamed Lagerfeld even in his efforts to subvert it.

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