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New book claims Coco Chanel was a Nazi spy

August 18, 2011 |  9:00 am

Cocochanel_1958 Did Coco Chanel design Nazi uniforms and parachute behind enemy lines? A new biography doesn't go that far, but it does claim that the famed French fashion designer helped Nazi forces during World War II.

It is no secret that Chanel dated a German military intelligence officer, Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, during the war -- a fact that put her on the outs with some French dressbuyers.

Now American exaptriate Hal Vaughan, who lives in Paris, writes in "Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War" that Chanel's involvement went further than her romantic association with Von Dincklage. He told the Associated Press:

"I was looking for something else and I come across this document saying 'Chanel is a Nazi agent, her number is blah, blah, blah and her pseudonym is Westminster,' " Vaughan told the Associated Press. "I look at this again and I say, 'What the hell is this?' I couldn't believe my eyes!

"Then I really started hunting through all of the archives, in the United States, in London, in Berlin and in Rome and I come across not one, but 20, 30, 40 absolutely solid archival materials on Chanel and her lover, Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, who was a professional Abwehr spy."

Chanel was born poor; with a combination of talent, luck and determination she became one of the most celebrated fashion designers in the world.

Her story has been well-documented in dozens of biographies, a few films and other forms by those interested in her vision and legacy. The House of Chanel pointed this out in a statement, saying, "more than 57 books have been written about Gabrielle Chanel .... We would encourage you to consult some of the more serious ones."

"Sleeping with the Enemy" was released this week by Knopf. The publisher describes the book:

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.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: French fashion designer Coco Chanel in 1958. Credit: AFP / Getty Images

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