Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Biography: Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War by Hal Vaughan

From the beginning, I was entranced by the cover. Simple black sans serif type on a plain white background, and the whole is framed by a strong black box.

Anyone who was ever at all familiar with the work of designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel would recognize the design: it is Chanel: elegant, simple, sophisticated. Here captured perfectly in a book cover by legendary designer and long-time Knopf art director Carol Devine Carson. And there’s more to a book than its cover, sure. But in this case, it’s a very good place to start because, ironically enough, this perfectly designed book discusses Chanel’s work and creative life much less than the books that have come before. Even so, and for several reasons, Sleeping With the Enemy (Knopf) might be the best of a very good bunch.

Much has been written about Chanel in the years since WWII, but all of it has played down most if not all of her romantic life and her serious entanglements. But in Sleeping With the Enemy (Knopf), author and journalist Hal Vaughan has dug in deeper and here reveals new information about many things, including Chanel’s romantic involvement with a high ranking Nazi during Paris’s occupation and, even more explosive, her recruitment and activities as a spy.

Sleeping With the Enemy offers us a very different look at Chanel. Vaughan looks not at his subject’s talent or the fabulous aspects of her life that other writers have dwelled upon. Instead he reveals the secrets Coco held about herself… and it’s a revelation that will not sit well with all of her fans. A fascinating, well-researched and executed book that, nonetheless, leaves one with a sour taste. ◊

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.



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