Was Coco Chanel Anti-Semitic?
Since the Nazis considered Jewish people to be the enemies of the Third Reich, many people make the assumption that Coco Chanel was also anti-semitic. She actually never gave her public opinion on Jewish people or outwardly said anything bad about them. However, she was raised a Catholic, and at that time, Pope Pius XII gave Catholics permission to join the Nazi party. There are also rumors that she made anti-semitic comments at parties, but this could be hearsay.
Chanel did actually have a bad experience that would have given her the impression that the stereotypes about Jewish people and money were true. When she first started her business, Chanel partnered with Jewish investors called the Wertheimer family. They insisted on taking a 90% share in her company’s profits in exchange for a start-up loan. When her business was doing very well, she tried to buy back some of the control to the company, but they refused to sell the shares back to her. So, she continued to only make 10% of what the company was truly worth.
When the Nazis occupied France, many Jewish-run businesses were being sold to people for very cheap prices, and the family fled the country, as well. Chanel wrote a letter requesting that she regain the other 90% of her fashion house, since the original family left.
She said, “Parfums Chanel is still the property of Jews â¦ and has been legally âabandoned’ by the owners. I have an indisputable right of priority. The profits that I have received from my creations since the foundation of this businessâ¦are disproportionate.”
However, they transferred ownership to a Christian family friend, so she was not able to take the property back. Gerard and Alain Wertheimer are the grandsons of Pierre Wertheimer, who originally gave Chanel her loan. They still control 90% of the company to this very day, and are both multi-billionaires. They decided to open a vineyard in Napa Valley, California, which is where they spend most of their time.
Even though Chanel was being watched by the Secret Service during the war, she was never brought before a court to answer for any crimes. In fact, no one learned about her relationship with the Nazis until very recently, with the discovery of those documents in 1999. Historians have repeatedly studied these documents to try to piece together as much information as they possibly could, but even by observing her on a daily basis, no one really knew what went on inside her mind. Once the war was over, Chanel broke up with Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, and rarely spoke about it at that time.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources
Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War. Hal Vaughan. Vintage Publishing Group. 2012.
Was Coco Chanel a Nazi Spy? Matt MacNabb. Snopes.com. March 6, 2017.
Coco Chanel’s Secret Life as a Nazi Agent. Gisley Ruiz. AllThatIsInteresting.com 2018.
How Karl Lagerfeld Cleansed Chanel of Its anti-Semitic, Nazi Past. Karl Lagerfeld. Haaretz. 2019.