(Continued from last week – find Part One here.)
Her reasons for closing shop
After the stock market crash in 1929, many businesses struggled, including Coco Chanel’s couture house. In 1939, at the outbreak of WWII, she closed down her shops, leaving over 3,000 employees out of work. Some suggest she did this in retaliation against those workers who took part in the labor strike in France in 1936, which forced her to close her business at the time. She maintained that wartime was not a time for fashion. Only Coco knew her motivations during that period in history.
Her Nazi affiliation
It is suggested that Coco Chanel, influenced by her lover the Duke of Westminster—an outspoken anti-Semite, had little tolerance for the Jewish population. This idea is further supported because, during the German occupation in France, Chanel had an affair with a German diplomat, Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage. Chanel received special permission to continue her residence at the Hotel Ritz in Paris, the preferred residence of high ranking German officials. It was also rumored that through von Dincklage, Chanel may have served as a Nazi spy. When the war ended, Chanel was interrogated about her relationship with von Dincklage and her affiliation with the Nazis. Some believe her friend Winston Churchill came to her aid. Chanel was never officially charged. She left Paris to spend time in Switzerland.
Her relationship with the Wertheimers
Early in her career, Chanel met businessman and director of a well-known perfume and cosmetics business, Pierre Wertheimer, through a mutual friend, Theophile Bader. Together, with Pierre’s brother Paul, they created “Parfums Chanel,” with the Wertheimers providing full financing, marketing, and distribution of Coco’s classic fragrance Chanel No. 5. The agreement stipulated that the Wertheimers received seventy percent of the profit, Bader twenty percent, and Chanel ten percent—with the caveat she allowed them to run operations of Parfums Chanel. She never got over the disappointment at the deal and made no secret of her dislike of the Wertheimers, who were Jewish. One wonders why she would agree to such a contract, but she must have had her reasons.
She decided to sue. In 1924, they renegotiated the original contract and in 1947, Chanel received wartime profits of the perfume, estimated at nine million dollars in today’s money. She also would receive two percent of all sales worldwide. In addition, Wertheimer agreed to pay for Chanel’s living expenses for the rest of her life.
When Chanel, at seventy years of age, revived her couture house in 1954, Wertheimer financed the business.
Her morphine addiction and death
Coco Chanel ran with a fast crowd. At least two biographies, one by Lisa Chaney, and another by Hal Vaughan maintain that Chanel was a habitual user of opiates, particularly morphine.
Chanel died in her suite at the Hotel Ritz in Paris in 1971 at eighty-seven years of age. Some accounts state she wasn’t feeling well, and after returning from a walk with a friend went to bed and died peacefully in her sleep. Others allude to the supposition that upon retiring to bed, she gave herself one last injection. She might have, but whether it killed her has not been recorded.
One thing is certain, Coco Chanel liked to keep everyone guessing. From her birthdate to her upbringing, to her reasons for not marrying—and even how she died, this fashion icon who changed the world with her smart and elegant fashions, definitely had the last word.