"From this century, in France, three names will remain: de Gaulle, Picasso, and Chanel."
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 2,000 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 afterward 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 those 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 a 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 70 and triumphantly resurrect and reinvent herself—and rebuild what has become the iconic House of Chanel.
©2011 Hal Vaughan (P)2011 Random House
Very interesting book with lots of details. When we see the famous people and their creations we never imagine what there was behind the curtains. Worth listening to the story. The good thing about the book is that it is not about fashion, but about the time in history with its players.
The story of Coco Chanel's flirtation with the Nazis should surely make a great read, but this is not it. The narrative jumps from one time to another in a confusing way. A better editor was needed. One egregious error was referring to the duke of Windsor as Prince Edward VIII - was that the error of writer or reader? A number of mispronunciations hit my ear; the word "ingenuous" was read as "ingenious" (I am assuming that WAS the word as the other made no sense). The reader has a pleasant voice but falls often when mentioning the names of German and French places and people. I did not find her professional enough in this respect.
I loved this book from the beginning to the end.. The convenience to be a able to double task and listen to this book was a new experience that I will do again and again.
Finding out that Coco had many faces . She was a drug addict, cold calculating and charming, talented, elegant all in the same breathe.
This book was very thought provoking....................
I would recommend this book as being very entertaining and well written.
I have read a couple biographies on CoCo Chanel, and this one does not disappoint. She had a way of telling different versions about her past to many friends and biographers, so it is hard to establish the truth of Chanel's life, but this book is very well researched. The narrator is very good, using French, German, British and American accents when quoting people. The tempo is very good and an easy listen. There are a lot of names and dates to keep track of, and when listening in small spurts, found it difficult to keep track of all the players.
I would recommend this book if you have an interest in Chanel, the woman. The book touches on her relationships with friends, family, her many romances but also on her relationship with the perfume makers of Chanel No. 5 which I found very interesting.
Narration was excellent. Thought the story was very dry. It was more an historical account and wasn't nearly as juicy as I had hoped!
I liked that this book was about Chanel. I wasn't pleased with how often the author repeated himself on previously stated facts, as if I had put the book down for a few months, picked it back up,and couldn't be bothered to skim back a few pages to refamiliarize myself with where I'd left off. Also, there is some jumping forwards and backwards in the timeline of the story that I found confusing in a few parts. Overall, I recommend this because it's informative but I only made it through to the last two hours of the book.
I really enjoyed this book. It gave an interesting back story in the life of Chanel, had a great narrator and kept me intrigued through all of the twists and details. Coco, I had NO idea!
I'm a writer of everything from children's picture books to fiction to memoir. I usually listen to nonfiction, mostly history, on Audible simply because I prefer to read novels on the page. The only exception to that rule is short stories and I'm partial to the Selected Shorts Anthologies.
The things we didn't know about Chanel... her dark side. Well told and well read.
Academians interested in the facts of France and Germany (with a little about Chanel) up to and during World War II.
I was very disappointed that there was so little about getting to know Chanel. I completed it only because it was a book club selection. Every one in the club had the same reaction: there was so much detailed information about specific people, but so little about the personal side of Chanel or the impact she made on fashion. We were bored. Additionally, the author created a very unlikable woman.
Yes. It details a side of the Nazi occupation of France with intimacy and attention to detail, and that makes it somehow more chilling. I wanted to dump all of my Chanel perfume down the drain (I didn't, bc the Chanel perfumes haven't been owned by Chanel since the 30s or so). It is also an unflinching portrait of Coco herself, and as such, of a certain way of life that now only exists at the pinnacle of wealth.
They were all despicable, and fascinating.
It made me hate extremists and racists even more.
Read this for a look into an utterly self-serving woman, and class of people who existed to take advantage of the Nazi war machine, and the beauty of Paris.
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