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PARIS — Coco Chanel: A fashion icon whose name has become shorthand for timeless French chic, a shrewd businesswoman who overcame a childhood of poverty to build a luxury supernova and ... a Nazi spy?
A new book by a Paris-based American historian suggests Chanel not only had a wartime affair with a German aristocrat and spy, but that she herself was also an agent of Germany’s Abwehr military intelligence organization and a rabid anti-Semite.
Doubts about Chanel’s loyalties during World War II have long festered, but “Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War” goes well beyond those previous allegations, citing as evidence documents culled from archives around the world.
The book, published in the U.S. on Tuesday by Knopf, has ruffled feathers in France, where the luxury industry is a pillar of the economy and Chanel is widely regarded as the crowning jewel.
The House of Chanel was quick to react, saying in a statement that “more than 57 books have been written about Gabrielle Chanel ... We would encourage you to consult some of the more serious ones.”
Hal Vaughan, an 84-year-old World War II veteran and longtime journalist who previously wrote two other history books, insists that he is serious. “Sleeping with the Enemy” is the fruit of more than four years of intense labor born out of an accidental find in France’s national police archive, he said.