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Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel, Nazi Agent

3.22  ·  Rating details ·  1,702 ratings  ·  260 reviews
Coco Chanel, high priestess of couture, created the look of the chic modern woman: her simple and elegant designs freed women from their corsets and inspired them to crop their hair. By the 1920s, Chanel employed more than two thousand people in her workrooms, and had amassed a personal fortune. But at the start of the Second World War, Chanel closed down her couture house ...more
Paperback, 279 pages
Published August 2011 by Chatto & Windus (first published 2011)
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Average rating 3.22  · 
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 ·  1,702 ratings  ·  260 reviews

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Mar 18, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Okay, first, this is a really badly edited book. There's a billion names, and sometimes the author refers to someone by their full name, sometimes by their last name, sometimes by a nickname, sometimes by an alias - you need a chart. Second, it jumps around in place and time enough that you can't keep track. WWI - WWII is an era full of big things happening and complicated intrigue, of course, but sheesh.

Now: Ok, Chanel was a jerk. She was a rabid anti-Semite even by those day's standards. She
Ashley *Hufflepuff Kitten*
A very easy read (especially with the help of a narrator like Susan Denaker) detailing the life of Coco Chanel, one of the most famous designers in the world, especially during the WWII era, during which she was a Nazi sympathizer and collaborator. It doesn't surprise me to learn that she did what she did in order to get by; we're talking about the rich and powerful, people who routinely rubbed shoulders with leading politicians and the like. The 1% of the mid-1900s, if you will.

My mind drew a
Barbara Barna
Sep 30, 2011 rated it it was ok
I wish the writing was better - read almost like a long term paper - because the historical implications are fascinating. Although long known that Coco Chanel lived through WWII in luxury with her German lover at the Paris Ritz and that Winston Churchill interceded on her behalf at the end of the war to protect her from prosecution as a collaborator, Vaughan's book researches recently de-classified documents that show Chanel was in fact an Abwehr agent recruited by the Nazis through her ...more
Hal Vaughan’s meticulously researched and documented book provides a view of the life of Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel. He traces her life from her early years as an abandoned child who was raised in an orphanage, to a life of luxury as the world famous designer of women’s haute couture clothing and perfume. But most intriguing is his documentation of her activities and associations during World War II in France. It has long been rumored that Chanel was a Nazi collaborator, and the evidence Vaughan ...more
Within the first 50 pages, I loathed Chanel. I didn't even need to get to her missions on behalf of the Nazis. Her anti-semitism, homophobia, drug addiction, and just general hypocrisy . . . so talented, but so despicable.

If this book could have been written in the late 1950s or early 1960s, it would have been "explosive," as the jacket copy promises. Chanel collaborated, no doubt. Maybe the first time, she did it to save a nephew from a German POW camp. But later, she did it because she loved a
Jan 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
I was excited to read this biography of Coco Chanel because I heard it was filled with juicy history and fashion. However, I found it a little too dense on the history side, and lacking on the personal side. At many times throughout the book, I felt like I was reading a book about WWII, not Coco Chanel. I do realize that the World War was hugely influential on Chanel, but I still felt Vaughan could have spent more time on her. There were a number of interesting facts, but I got bored and it was ...more
Walking fashion faux pas that I am, even I know what extactly Chanel means in the terms of fashion and scent. Which is why I read this book.

I want a little more meat. I have no doubt that Vaughan's thesis is correct; I just want more meat. Part of this is because Chanel, like her famous perfume, is elusive. She is spoken about rather than speaking too.

The book does raise a question though, unintentional though it seems, how much of Chanel's betrayal was based on a real desire to save her nephew,
Sep 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book riveting and finished it very quickly. It gives a clearer than usual picture of a complicated woman driven almost entirely by self-interest.

Most of what I've read to date about Coco Chanel is overly positive or overly negative, but this book represents her more as a shrewd and very lucky human being driven by self-interest and operating under extremely difficult circumstances. She's shallow, cunning, and fascinating. She also contributed greatly to making women's clothing
Aug 30, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: not-worthwhile
I couldn't wait to get this book out of the library and then, when I received it, I couldn't wait to finish it. What a disappointment! Author, Hal Vaughan, writes about Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel being a collaborator for the Nazis during World War II. I struggled to get through it because the writing is plodding and boring. There's a dearth of dense details many of which he repeats over and over again. What was supposed to be revealing about Chanel's spy missions is a big nothing.
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May 12, 2012 rated it did not like it
Reads like a boring textbook, too dense on dates, titles , names and nicknames - this was one of the most uninteresting non-fiction books I've read. Considering the subject matter, this should have been a compelling story of occupied WWII France. I'm not sure why the author had to jump around within the historic timeline, attempting to foreshadow characters and events. His style of storytelling only served to confuse and bore this reader. I also found that the title of this book was far more ...more
Selene Mortimore
Jun 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
If you don't know much background on Chanel, or much of what she did for fashion then this book is not somewhere to start.

If however you do know a substantial amount on the woman I think this book is quite enjoyable. It gives a non-judgmental insight to her politics, neither praising nor bashing them and stays neutral, and for the content of the book I feel is important.

The book is well researched, and it doesn't read like a trashy 'celeb gossip' magazine, it's factual without being too dense,
Oct 28, 2011 rated it liked it
This book is a bit difficult for the reader who is not familiar with all the 1930s and 1940s characters who appear. I mean, who has heard of Boy Capel? It could have be much better written and it shows. I found it annoying that photos weren't placed where they should be in the text [they were scanned in, so it ought not be a problem] and then the author makes a big deal about how Chanel looked at a certain time and doesn't include a photo of her.

Not sure if I will finish, she was a cold sort -
Nicole DePace
Jul 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I remain conflicted in regards to my feelings about Coco Chanel, the brand. This book, however, makes it impossible for me to have any admiration for the woman. Coco was an anti-Semite, a homophobe, an addict and a person who was willing to compromise anything to maintain her entitled presence, even as those living in her beloved Paris and France bore the humiliation of the German occupation and starvation. I cannot believe that the actions of Chanel were simply a circumstance of the men who ...more
Ashley Dunlop
Borrowed it from the library and actually didn't make it to the end before it was due back (fell asleep every night after about 10 pages!). It was interesting, but the author assumes the reader has a firm knowledge of the events of the second World War and the politics of the Nazi Party. The portrait of Chanel is disturbing - allegations of Nazi collaboration aside, her anti-semitic and homophobic comments are more than enough to cast a dark shadow.

The book is best for someone who wants to
Sherry Leffert
Dec 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This was a very interesting look at Coco Chanel’s involvement with Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage who spied for the Nazi’s. It reveals how Chanel was able to maintain her life style during the Nazi occupation, and help her nephew through her Nazi connections. After the war she was able to wile her way out of the post war prosecutions. her life was very complicated in that she rose from a very poor family situation and through her own ingenuity attained prominence and wealth. Alongside this ...more
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was full of factual information, but the narrative DID read like a textbook, as others have said. Despite the wealth of information Vaughan presents, I'm still not convinced Chanel was who he wants the reader to believe she was. Having read other Chanel biographies, I would say this is a good companion because it addresses a controversy many other biographies are afraid to explore, or rather don't have enough information. Having said that, I wouldn't recommend this to someone looking for a ...more
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
I'm on record as thinking that biographers shouldn't get too cozy with their subjects. But they shouldn't sneer at them either, and here, Vaughan is sneering at Chanel. And maybe that's justifiable — her involvement as a collaborator with the Nazis seems pretty clear. But it gets in the way of his telling the story.

Other problems: Vaughan repeats himself. Also, he takes a long time to get to the central part of the story.
Oct 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: bio-memoir
I'm not sure why I decided to read this, since I read a Chanel biography in the past and found her to be a fairly repulsive character. This book only confirms it. But I've been reading a lot of books with pre-WWII and wartime settings. So, the question is why I finished it--not only is the subject repellent, but the writing is somewhat disjointed.
Mar 22, 2014 rated it did not like it
Don't do it. Great research. Great facts. VERY boring.
Jun 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
Although some of the material was interesting, I did not like the writing style of the author. He also seemed to contradict himself at several points throughout the book. Regardless, there was some notable content and I learned some things about Coco Chanel I didn't know before.
Jun 12, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tedious. And I certainly would never wear Chanel No. 5 again
Feb 11, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, war, biography, art, paris, 2012
For those expecting a fully fleshed biography of Coco Chanel, make no mistake: as the title implies, the focus of this book is on Chanel's experience during WWII and the Nazi occupation of France. Vaughan does not (and, to my mind, never intended to) present an all-inclusive look at her life; countless writers before him have already done that. Only cursory, basic biographical information is given as to her life before and after the war, just enough to ground the reader in Chanel's life, while ...more
Amanda Perkins
Aug 31, 2018 rated it liked it
2.5 Stars

Title appears to now be Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War. (Which is what I read the book as.)

I wanted to like this book, but it is a hot mess. It could have stood to be about half as long with a much tighter and thorough edit. As other reviews before mine have stated, this book has some serious issues. While the beginning and ending chapters of the book are rather interesting (these are the ones that most prominently talk about Coco and her life), the middle 2/3 is
Most of what I knew about Coco Chanel came from the pithy witticisms of hers that have gone viral on Pinterest. Now I come to find out she was a promiscuous, morphine addicted, selfish anti-Semetic Nazi collaborator. Who knew? I also learned that she got her start in business when one of her wealthy paramours set her up with a hat shop. This sounds like the B plot of a Regency novel, but I suppose a woman of her circumstances at the turn of the 20th century would have had few options for finding ...more
I've not read much on Chanel. This one caught my eye with the WWII angle. Interesting such a popular person who turned herself into a brand was an anti-Semite and (as the French put it) a horizontal collaborator with the Germans. This books reveals some details not known before, that Chanel worked with German intelligence during the war and it also mentions she tried to Aryanize her perfume business and get out of the deal she had signed with a Jewish family responsible for distributing and ...more
Oct 10, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hal Vaughan really did his research on this book, but I found his writing style to be a bit dry. Every time I started reading this book I fell asleep! I wanted to read about this story and didn't want a sensationalized version, but a more human element would have really brought this story to life.

Still, I learned a lot of things that I didn't know. I was saddened and shocked to read about Coco's anti-Semitism and efforts to help the Nazi's, but I hope that her actions were to help her friends
A quick interesting read. However it is not really a biography of Gabrielle Chanel, it takes you through her life very superficially. However if you have read good in-depth biographies of her, this still remains an interesting book because it focuses on her role during World War II, addressing the rumors of Chanel being a collaborator of the nazi regime.

I appreciated the photographs and you can tell the author did extensive research through the notes and biography listed at the end, however
Linda Barry
Mar 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
An enlightening book, very well researched and written. I learned more about the social politics in France pre WWII than I had ever known before and how that affected the France in WWII.

Ms Chanel was a genius and self made woman, and nothing here distracts from that, but it does show a portrait of a woman whose own choices were not allways the best. Found that to be genuine, as opposed to Coco's one fictions that she put out. (Who doesn't love our fictions more than our truths?)

I was shocked at
Mar 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
So much more than the "little black dress", Chanel #5 perfume, and Jackie Kennedy's "pink" suit, Coco's driven personality kept her very much alive and out of harm's way via her many friendships with Churchill, the Duke of Westminster, the Prince of Wales (Edward VII), various Nazi officers, and placed French officials. Through WWII and her Nazi spy adventures, ups and down in the fashion industry, a long-term argument with her perfume partner, the Wertheimer brothers, etc, she was capable of ...more
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It's not about fashion, glamour and Paris! 1 9 May 06, 2013 03:07PM  
How much of this book is speculation? 2 12 May 22, 2012 05:44PM  

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Hal Vaughan has been a newsman, foreign correspondent, and documentary film producer working in Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia since 1957. He served in the U.S. military in World War II and Korea and has held various posts as a U.S. Foreign Service officer. Vaughan is the author of "Doctor to the Resistance: The Heroic True Story of an American Surgeon and His Family in Occupied ...more
“Jean Paul Sartre, que estaba al mando de un puesto en la Línea Maginot, escribió: «No habrá lucha, será una guerra moderna, sin masacres, igual que la pintura moderna sin asunto, la música sin melodía, la física sin materia».” 0 likes
“As early as 1915, Harper’s Bazaar declared, “The woman who hasn’t at least one Chanel is hopelessly out of fashion … This season the name of Chanel is on the lips of every buyer.” 0 likes
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