Coco Chanel, you either love her or you hate her, however; no matter her flaws, she was undoubtedly one of the most influential people in the fashion world. In 2011 a book, Sleeping with the Enemy by Hal Vaughan, was released, unmasking the perfectly powdered face that was Chanel. Chanel is said to be homophobic, anti-Semitic, racist and a considered a tyrant among employees, making a very interesting read.
The book revolves around Chanel’s involvement with the Nazi’s, acting as an agent for the Gestapo. What evolves is Chanel’s influence on the high echelons of French, British and German politics. Chanel’s contribution to the war effort consisted of passing on messages in the rich social circles of the French German-sympathisers. Her political reach was astounding, proving useful as she evaded prosecution, with the subtle help of friend Winston Churchill.
But to be honest the political advances of Chanel were not the most revealing aspects of the book. Chanel was tragically doomed to be alone, as the many love affairs with artists, composers, royals and politicians all ended in heartbreak. Her first love Boy Capel, dying in a car accident, set the precedent for the rest of her failed relationships. She seemed to be drawn in by dark damaged souls and power-hungry adulterers. The Duke of Westminster was Chanel’s, figurative and literal partner in crime. The intermittent love affair spanned over many years, even after both being accused of war crimes. Throughout the book one just wants to shake Chanel, for being so flexible to each man’s ideas. What is apparent is that, this strong-willed business woman was a complete romantic, falling in love at the drop of a Bowler hat.
Her story is frustrating, knowing the extent of her talent and yet seeing her ambitious and spiteful nature. Her abuse of morphine and very suspiciously lesbian relationship with her best friend will open the reader’s eyes to the fact that she was a real woman, with real problems .The redeeming part of Chanel, was the love she had for her family, a core reason she helped the Nazi’s, exchanging her help and influence for her nephews life.
Be warned, this book although very interesting, may be too factual for some, filled with dates and names that one finds hard to read, never mind pronounce. But if you have a passion for history and fashion, this is a great read for the holidays. It’s not a light and frivolous story, for tanning on the beach, but it’s rather insightful and heavy, a perfect excuse to get away from the relatives, maintaining the excuse that it’s for learning purposes.
The last few chapters left me reflecting on the first, describing her upbringing and initial success. Was she just a victim of an anti-Semitic, bigoted and poverty stricken society she grew up in? I used to wish that I could have met her and had a chat over some afternoon tea. To be honest if I got the opportunity, I still would, for no matter how awful her actions she is still The Legend!