And so, when World War II began, Chanel may have had the notion in her head of France being protectively cradled by Hitler. Over the years, Iribe wasn’t the only one who convinced her that the Nazis had the right idea.
In 1934, a series of protests from leftist, pro-communist groups broke out, leading to street riots, which Coco Chanel watched from her window at the Hotel Ritz, where she was living. I don’t know why I am throwing up that detail as though the fact that Chanel lived at The Ritz (which Hemingway personally liberated after the war, but that is another story) is tantamount to fiddling while Rome burned (and Nero didn’t actually fiddle, he recited epic poetry, but again, that is another story) and a move inexorably toward becoming a Nazi. I mean, Josephine Baker lived in an enormous castle and fought tirelessly for the French Resistance. I guess I am bringing up The Ritz to indicate that Coco probably wasn’t a lady who was very keen on Communism.
And she definitely wasn’t a supporter of the movement when her workers went on strike. Coco regarded the work stoppage as a personal betrayal by “mes filles” and told them that she would let them run the shop in a communist manner if they wanted just so long as she was the head of their communist republic. Her workers declined.
Her former lover, the 2nd Duke of Westminster, was adamant that England should back Hitler during the war, and told Coco as much. He told everyone as much. His anti-Semitic rants were legendary.
When the Nazis did come to Paris in 1939, Coco Chanel shut down her shop and fired some 3,000 workers, most of whom had gone on strike against her three years before. She later said, “How could I suppose there would still be people who would buy dresses? I was so stupid, such a dummy about life that it seemed impossible to me . . . well, I made a mistake. Some people sold dresses all during the war. That will be a lesson to me. Whatever may happen hereafter I will go on making clothes.”
Income continued to flow from the sale of Chanel No. 5 perfume and she remained at The Ritz which was supposedly “an island of wartime luxury.” Guests could smoke in the Psyche Salon, and have dinners of veal, pheasant and baked apples with champagne, while most people had meat only once or twice a week. The wealthy flocked to The Ritz, where the good times were interrupted only briefly during air raids, when residents had to flee to the hotel basement. Noel Coward said that he once saw Coco Chanel’s retinue of maids carrying her gas mask on a pillow.
When the French government fell, Chanel fled Paris briefly, but then returned, again, to The Ritz. She claimed that as soon as she went inside a German general ordered that she should stay at the hotel. The German government granted her permission to live in rooms on the 7th floor of the Cambon wing.
Here is a picture of Coco at her suite: