News reaches us this morning of a planned release of another biography of Gabrielle Coco Chanel. Now, Mademoiselle is arguably the most important fashion designer of the last hundred years, but the market for biographies, and indeed biopics of the remarkable lady is as crowded as the Selfridges shoe department on the first day of the sale – will people even want to read another one?
The slightest glance at an Amazon search on the subject brings up twelve titles on the first page of the search alone! That’s enough to keep Grazia Daily quiet for a week long holiday in a rainy climate! And in the past couple of years alone we have had two cinematic forays into this particular life well lived, with Coco Avant Chanel, starring Audrey Tatou and Coco & Igor Stravinsky telling the story of Chanel’s affair with the classical composer (while his wife stayed in another part of the same house, no less).
Predictably, the unique selling point of the new book, written by biographer Lisa Chaney, is new evidence of scandalous goings on in Coco’s life. Apparently Chaney has combed vaults such as the Swiss Federal Archives to come up with new evidence to prove that ‘the designer used drugs, embraced bisexuality and had an affair with Salvador Dalí while he was married’.
Furthermore, the author, Chaney, claims to have proof that Chanel’s German lover Hans Günther von Dincklage spied for the Nazis throughout World War II. ‘Whether Chanel was aware of this is unknown, but after that war she lived in neutral Switzerland for a while, to avoid any proceedings against her,’ said an email from her publishers, Viking.
Dear oh dear. In no way does Grazia Daily think that such allegations should be taken lightly, but it’s now fairly much accepted that Chanel, along with her design flair and steadfast refusal to live her life according to the sexist conventions of the time, had a dark and murky side to her business and personal life.
She refused to marry any of her high profile lovers (outrageous behaviour during her époque) and often behaved with disregard to their existing wives, in the case of those that were married themselves. Even more controversially, whether or not she agreed with Hitler’s views, as far as wartime France went while it was occupied by the Germans, Chanel was far more on the side of the collaborators than the resistance, which may be why she re-located to politically neutral Switzerland after the war, when French people who had helped the Nazis were prosecuted and stigmatised in their communities. She was also ruthless in her business dealings.
It has even been pointed out, by several of her biographers, that she was not the nicest of people to get on with. But her fashion house lives on as one of the most successful ever and her fans are so devoted that they flock in huge numbers to her Parisian apartment, which has been preserved exactly as it was when she lived there, and fuel the market for the accounts, literally of her life.
Her design legacy, one that originally liberated whole generations of women from corsets and full skirts and gave them permission to wear trousers and cut their hair, has been a development that has never been reversed. It is for this, that she continues to be remembered and her legacy celebrated, not because people are ignorant of her shortcomings; moral or otherwise.
- Naomi Attwood