Sleeping with the Enemy
Coco Chanel's Secret War
By Hal Vaughan
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307592637, 304pp.)
Publication Date: August 16, 2011
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“From this century, in France, three names will remain: de Gaulle, Picasso, and Chanel.” –André Malraux
Coco Chanel created the look of the modern woman and was the high priestess of couture.
She believed in simplicity, and elegance, and freed women from the tyranny of fashion. She inspired women to take off their bone corsets and cut their hair. She used ordinary jersey as couture fabric, elevated the waistline, and created bell-bottom trousers, trench coats, and turtleneck sweaters.
In the 1920s, when Chanel employed more than two thousand people in her workrooms, she had amassed a personal fortune of $15 million and went on to create an empire.
Jean Cocteau once said of Chanel that she had the head of “a little black swan.” And, added Colette, “the heart of a little black bull.”
At the start of World War II, Chanel closed down her couture house and went across the street to live at the Hôtel Ritz. Picasso, her friend, called her “one of the most sensible women in Europe.” She remained at the Ritz for the duration of the war, and after, went on to Switzerland.
For more than half a century, Chanel’s life from 1941 to 1954 has been shrouded in vagueness and rumor, mystery and myth. Neither Chanel nor her many biographers have ever told the full story of these years.
Now Hal Vaughan, in this explosive narrative—part suspense thriller, part wartime portrait—fully pieces together the hidden years of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s life, from the Nazi occupation of Paris to the aftermath of World War II.
Vaughan reveals the truth of Chanel’s long-whispered collaboration with Hitler’s high-ranking officials in occupied Paris from 1940 to 1944. He writes in detail of her decades-long affair with Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage, “Spatz” (“sparrow” in English), described in most Chanel biographies as being an innocuous, English-speaking tennis player, playboy, and harmless dupe—a loyal German soldier and diplomat serving his mother country and not a member of the Nazi party.
In Vaughan’s absorbing, meticulously researched book, Dincklage is revealed to have been a Nazi master spy and German military intelligence agent who ran a spy ring in the Mediterranean and in Paris and reported directly to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, right hand to Hitler.
The book pieces together how Coco Chanel became a German intelligence operative; how and why she was enlisted in a number of spy missions; how she escaped arrest in France after the war, despite her activities being known to the Gaullist intelligence network; how she fled to Switzerland for a nine-year exile with her lover Dincklage. And how, despite the French court’s opening a case concerning Chanel’s espionage activities during the war, she was able to return to Paris at age seventy and triumphantly resurrect and reinvent herself—and rebuild what has become the iconic House of Chanel.
Hal Vaughan has been a newsman, foreign correspondent, and documentary film producer working in Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia since 1957. He served in the U.S. military in World War II and Korea and has held various posts as a U.S. Foreign Service officer. Vaughan is the author of Doctor to the Resistance: The Heroic True Story of an American Surgeon and His Family in Occupied Paris and FDR’s 12 Apostles: The Spies Who Paved the Way for the Invasion of North Africa. He lives in Paris.
“[Hal Vaughan] ably demonstrates that Chanel was far from an innocent victim of circumstance during the second world war but a fully fledged Abwehr (German secret service) agent with her own number and codename: Westminster (no doubt a nod to her one-time lover, the Duke of Westminster). . . Vaughan, who writes with welcome economy and flair, deserves a lot of credit for finally unraveling the strands of Chanel’s deeply deceptive personality.”
—Tobias Grey, Financial Times
“[Sleeping with the Enemy] distinguishes itself from the many other Chanel biographies by tackling the dicey subject of Gabrielle Chanel’s activities during World War II . . . This is a frank and unsentimental portrait of a figure that fashion writers are nearly incapable of criticizing. . . While Vaughan’s discussions of Chanel’s contributions to fashion add nothing new to the extensive literature on her, he more than makes up for it with his impressive research and the never-before-seen information that he has unearthed about her wartime activities. . . . What Sleeping with the Enemy offers is a more rounded look at a figure who has been over-studied and under-examined.”
—Isabel Schwab, The New Republic online
“[A] compelling chronicle of Coco Chanel . . . a different Chanel from any you’ll find at the company store . . . by no means the account of an emerging style but a tale of how a single-minded woman faced history, made hard choices, connived, lied, collaborated and used every imaginable wile to survive and see that the people she cared about survived with her . . . Vaughan has gleaned many of the details of Chanel’s collaboration from documents that were scattered for years throughout European archives . . . It’s an astonishing story . . gripping . . . provocative . . . riveting history.”
—Marie Arana, The Washington Post
“Chanel’s war years, as explored by Hal Vaughan, are as camera-ready and as neck-deep in melodrama as Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” and just as hard to forget now that they’re exposed.”
—David D’Arcy, San Francisco Chronicle
"Hal Vaughan has done a stupendous job of research . . . Vaughan draws a brilliant portrait . . a terrific and fascinating story. . . wonderfully told, and full of great characters. . . Vaughan brings her to life so vividly that we understand why no less a judge than André Malraux said that "from this century in France only three names will remain: de Gaulle, Picasso, and Chanel.". . . It is that rarest of good reads, a biography about a famous person with a surprise on every page. Nancy Mitford, I think, would have loved it, and written a wonderful letter to Evelyn Waugh about it!"
—Michael Korda, The Daily Beast