A French historian on Monday produced “documentary evidence” that celebrity dress designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel worked as a Nazi spy during the Second World War.In a documentary titled “L’Ombre d’un Doute” (The Shadow of a Doubt) broadcast on France 3, historian Franck Ferrand said documents locked away in France’s Ministry of Defence archives since the war proved that the glamorous socialite worked directly for German military intelligence.
Chanel’s love affairs with high-ranking Nazis, including senior Gestapo officer of Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, have been widely known for years.
But this is the first time a French state broadcaster has admitted that she went so far as to spy for the occupiers.
According to the documentary, Chanel operated under the codename “Westminster” – a reference to an affair she had with Britain’s Duke of Westminster in the 1920s – and had the Abwehr (German military intelligence) number F-7124.
The documentary went on to claim that Chanel used her influence with the occupiers in a bid to reclaim her perfume business from the Jewish Wertheimer family, which had acquired Chanel no. 5 in 1924.
She failed however, as the Wertheimers had given control of the business to a non-Jewish businessman, who would hand back the hugely successful brand to its Jewish owners after the war.
France 3’s exposé also questioned the roles of French stars Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier and author and theatre director Sacha Guitry, whose careers were boosted by Germany’s policy of promoting French popular culture during the occupation.
Other French stars, such as Josephine Baker and actor Jean Gabin, are praised for their patriotism and their willingness to take sides with General Charles de Gaulle’s Free French in the fight against the Nazis.
The documentary was aired as France 3 broadcasts “Un Village Français”, an award-winning TV series that has been praised for its realism in depicting the difficult choices faced by the French during the Nazi occupation.