When I was younger, I wanted to be like Gabrielle Chanel, but girls shouldn’t look up to her as a role model.
When I think of Gabrielle Chanel, I think of a woman that rose from rags to riches from growing up as an orphan, to singing at a tavern to make ends meet, to creating one of the most lavish designer ateliers to this day. However, Chanel was an opportunist and went where the money and power was.
In 1971 after her death, classified French Ministry documents revealed that she was a wartime spy involved with helping the German Nazis. Archives reveal that the German military division “Abwehr” pursued Chanel to help negotiate a truce between Britain and Germany. This is because Chanel belonged to the same social circles as Winston Churchill. She was even given the agent identification number “F-7124” and was nicknamed “Agent Westminster” because of a past relationship she had with the Duke of Westminster. When German troops took over Paris, they made the Hotel Ritz their headquarters, the same hotel Gabrielle Chanel resided in.
During wartime, she was involved in a relationship with Officer Hans Gunther von Dinklage, a prominent German S.S. officer. Maybe it’s because she was raised in a convent by nuns or maybe she was just a hateful person, but Gabrielle Chanel was very anti-Semitic. Using her Nazi connections, she tried to use Aryan laws to gain complete control of her brand name from a Jewish investor, Pierre Wertheimer, and his brother. Though she was able to gain complete control at the time, the Wertheimer brothers were able to regain their investment after the war. The family owns the brand to this day, which is worth about $8 billion. However, they are reserved about the family’s connections to Gabrielle.
After WWII, French women that had slept with German officers had their heads shaven and were publicly humiliated, though Chanel managed to escape this punishment. She was arrested but all charges were dropped within hours, most likely due to her bribing her way out. Chanel might’ve escaped prison, but the people of France hated her. She fled to Switzerland where she resided for years. She eventually returned to Paris and in February 1954, she released her first fashion line in ten years. The French ridiculed her and hated her designs, but across the ocean, the Americans loved it. Throughout the years, while the French might not have forgiven Gabrielle, they’ve decided to accept her designs.
The history behind the brand is clearly a dark one. Gabrielle Chanel was a Nazi trailblazer that shouldn’t be praised by anyone.
*Historical dates were obtained from https://www.history101.com/coco-chanel/*