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Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 16, 2011

3.7 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Tenacious digging into secret wartime records reveals a worsening case for the legendary French designer. Well rendered by Vaughan...a sorry story of war-time collaboration, exacerbated by the lack of reckoning during her lifetime." -Kirkus Reviews

"Sleeping with the Enemy" sheds new light on Chanel's dealings with the famously tight-lipped Wertheimer family... To this day, the family refuses to discuss Coco Chanel with the media, but Vaughan still manages to paint an engrossing portrait of the dealings between the two. --newyorker.com

"This is not a book about style or design. It is a frank and unsentimental portrait of a figure that fashion writers are nearly incapable of criticizing. -- Isabel Schwab, The New Republic

“[Hal Vaughan] ably demonstrates that Chanel was far from an innocent victim of circumstance during the second world war but a fully fledged Abwehr (German secret service) agent with her own number and codename: Westminster (no doubt a nod to her one-time lover, the Duke of Westminster).  . . Vaughan, who writes with welcome economy and flair, deserves a lot of credit for finally unraveling the strands of Chanel’s deeply deceptive personality.”
—Tobias Grey, Financial Times

“[Sleeping with the Enemy]
distinguishes itself from the many other Chanel biographies by tackling the dicey subject of Gabrielle Chanel’s activities during World War II . . . This is a frank and unsentimental portrait of a figure that fashion writers are nearly incapable of criticizing. .  . While Vaughan’s discussions of Chanel’s contributions to fashion add nothing new to the extensive literature on her, he more than makes up for it with his impressive research and the never-before-seen information that he has unearthed about her wartime activities. . . . What Sleeping with the Enemy offers is a more rounded look at a figure who has been over-studied and under-examined.”
Isabel Schwab, The New Republic online 

“[A] compelling chronicle of Coco Chanel . . . a different Chanel from any you’ll find at the company store . . . by no means the account of an emerging style but a tale of how a single-minded woman faced history, made hard choices, connived, lied, collaborated and used every imaginable wile to survive and see that the people she cared about survived with her . . . Vaughan has gleaned many of the details of Chanel’s collaboration from documents that were scattered for years throughout European archives . . . It’s an astonishing story . . gripping . . . provocative . . . riveting history.”
 —Marie Arana, The Washington Post
 “Chanel’s war years, as explored by Hal Vaughan, are as camera-ready and as neck-deep in melodrama as Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” and just as hard to forget now that they’re exposed.”
—David D’Arcy, San Francisco Chronicle

"Hal Vaughan has done a stupendous job of research . . . Vaughan draws a brilliant portrait . . a terrific and fascinating story. . . wonderfully told, and full of great characters. . . Vaughan brings her to life so vividly that we understand why no less a judge than André Malraux said that "from this century in France only three names will remain: de Gaulle, Picasso, and Chanel.". . . It is that rarest of good reads, a biography about a famous person with a surprise on every page. Nancy Mitford, I think, would have loved it, and written a wonderful letter to Evelyn Waugh about it!"
  —Michael Korda, The Daily Beast

About the Author

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 Paris and FDR’s 12 Apostles: The Spies Who Paved the Way for the Invasion of North Africa. He lives in Paris.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (August 16, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307592634
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307592637
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #745,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Hal W. Vaughan (1928-2013) was an American author based in Paris, France. He held several posts as a U.S. Foreign Service officer before becoming a journalist on assignments in Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.

He served in the US Military in both World War II and Korea, and was involved in a number of covert intelligence activities as a US Foreign Service Officer at Karachi and Geneva during the Cold War. Vaughan had intimate knowledge of clandestine, international operations.

As a journalist, Vaughan worked for the New York Daily News and the International Press Service (IPS). He covered Mehmet Ali Agha's attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II for ABC-News in Rome, and later worked for ABC News Radio in New York.

During his tenure with the United States Information Service (USIS), Vaughan developed documentary films in Pakistan. At the U.S. Embassy in Karachi and at the U.S. Consulate General in Dacca, East Pakistan, he covered events for the Voice of America (VOA). Later, he temporarily carried out duties in Saigon during the Vietnam War. As a U.S. Foreign Service Officer in Geneva, Vaughan served as Public Affairs Officer to Vice President Hubert Humphrey (during the Kennedy Round of Tariff Negotiations). He also held diplomatic posts under Ambassadors W. Michael Blumenthal and W. Averill Harriman.

In Cairo, Vaughan was a consultant to Prince Mohammed al-Faisal al-Saud. This stint resulted in a screenplay titled Bedouin that was optioned by Orion Films.

Vaughan was a disabled (non-combatant) World War II veteran. Near the end of the Korean War, Vaughan, a National Guard Battalion Sergeant-Major (S-2) dealing with tactical intelligence, was mobilized at Fort Drum, Watertown, NY. His unit never made it overseas.

In 2004, his first book, Doctor to the Resistance: The Heroic True Story of an American Surgeon and His Family in Occupied Paris, was published by Brassey's Inc. He followed up with FDR's 12 Apostles: The Spies Who Paved the Way for the Invasion of North Africa, which was brought out in 2006 by The Lyons Press. And in 2011, Knopf/Random House released Vaughan's heavily researched book, "Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War." The work garnered much critical acclaim and some degree of controversy.

Vaughan was a member of DACOR: Diplomatic and Consular Officers Retired, Wash., DC; Association of Former Intelligence Officers; the Paris Cercle de l'Union Interalliée; and the National Press Club, Wash., DC.

He was fluent in French, had a good command of Italian, and enjoyed some knowledge of German, Urdu, and Arabic.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In 1998, in The New Yorker, John Updike wrote, "All the evidence points to Chanel's total indifference to the fate of her Jewish neighbors - or indeed to the lesser deprivation and humiliations suffered by the vast majority of Parisians." At the age of 58, she was happy with her German lover and cared little for anything that occurred outside of her new perch at The Ritz. This book explores Chanel's rise and success prior to WWII, how she closed her business during the war, and her relationships and affairs with Germans, Nazis, and Vichy. The author asserts that she not only had a German lover, but she helped with espionage. Yet after the war and her nearly decade-long sojourn in Switzerland, she returned to Paris in triumph. The author also explores whether Chanel leveraged the Nazi Aryanization (make companies Jew-free) rules in order to get rid of the Wertheimer's control of Societe de Parfums Chanel (No. 5), so that she could gain full control. I found this to be an interested read and suspenseful, and it also makes you question if the wartime history of the founder affects the brand's image over half a century later.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This work is well named. However, the name does not cover Chanel's treachery in serving the Nazis. Having grown up regarding Chanel as a splendid couturier, and Chanel Number 5 as an especially nice scent, I was disappointed in her virulent antisemitism, although she was far from alone in that. It seemed to be endemic in the upper classes of Western Europe and Britain in the 30s and 40s.

Also I found her relationships with men like Winston Churchill and the Duke of Westminster quite surprising. That Churchill, knowing of her perfidious relationship with her German lover, Dinklage, protected her from trial and execution is quite appalling.

There is little question that the Russian Revolution and the subsequent murder of the Royal Family horrified those in Europe that such a thing could have happened in any of the countries. Hitler saw Communism as greatly to be feared, as did the British and French. Also, historically German and England together have fought France, barring the First World War. There were remnants of that alliance referred to.

It was interesting to learn how well the upper classes fared in Paris, and to see the ordinary people looking through the garbage for food. The pictures with which this book is studded are helpful, although very small on the Kindle.

The research that went into this book is extensive. The writing is clear and informative. All in all, a good read.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I found this book to be extremely interesting and superbly researched. Although I am a fast reader, this book was very frustrating to read because it's so badly written. There's even a spelling error - the pin that women wear on their dresses or coats is not a broach; it is a "brooch." As an author myself, I am aware that publishers are cutting back on expenses, such editing and proofreading, but the huge chunks of out-of-place text and the disturbing lack of transitions, which made the reading of this fascinating book such a grueling experience, is something Random House (and the author)should be ashamed of. The author should have hired a good copyeditor and given him/her a couple of months to make this book what it should have been.

Do I recommend it? Yes. But if you care about good writing, be pepared for a tough read.
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Format: Kindle Edition
It's a shame that Hal Vaughn isn't a better writer. I've also read his DOCTOR TO THE RESISTANCE, which also took an exciting true story and told it with resounding dullness. I'll grant that SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY is well researched, and is a story that deserved to be told, but the life and times of Coco Chanel, and her wartime treason, remain dead on the page, thanks to what I can only describe as an extraordinary lack of sophistication.

Although I usually appreciate authors who simply present facts and remain unjudgmental about their subjects, there's something chilling in this author's bland acceptance of what Chanel did, and the fact that she was never punished. But it seems that, with the passage of time, everyone thinks it's no big deal that the phoenix-like chic designer, Coco Chanel, slept with a German spy for several years (even post war); lived quite well in the Ritz while her countrymen died, and actively worked for the conquerors of her country - and got away with it. The author seems to reflect this particularly 21st-century, wasn't there-can't judge, laissez-faire attitude, despite the wealth of detail he provides about Chanel's wartime activities. He even drops in handy excuses for it, such as the illness and imprisonment of her favorite nephew, and the fact that Chanel was emotionally damaged by abandonment at an early age (repeated at least once per chapter). In the case of Coco Chanel, I'd prefer a little fire, a little righteous indignation.

Just so no one thinks I'm being too harsh, either to the author or to Coco Chanel, I can understand the reasons for Chanel's anti-Semitism (while I don't relate to it) because the climate of her times and her own educational background steeped her in it.
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