Title: Coco Chanel, Nazi Occupation, Collaboration and Historical Fiction
Description: Today we talk with author Gioia Diliberto about her historical novel: Coco at the Ritz. Coco Chanel completely reinvented fashion in the early 20th century. By the time the Nazi’s occupied Paris during World War 2, Chanel was fabulously wealthy and highly connected in the artistic and political circles of Paris. Gioia Diliberto brings this larger life character and setting alive in Coco at the Ritz.
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, [00:00:00] this is beyond the big screen podcast with your host, Steve Guerra. Thank you for listening to beyond the big screen podcast, we are a member of the Parthenon podcast network. A huge thanks goes out to Gioia Diliberto author of the historical novel Coco at the Ritz links to learn more about Gioia Diliberto can be found at Gioia Diliberto dot.
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Thank you for joining me again beyond the big screen.
I am really excited to welcome our very special guests today. Gioia Diliberto, author of Coco at the Ritz. A novel Gioia has written biographies on Jane Adams, Hadley, Hemingway, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Brenda [00:02:00] Frazier. Today, we are going to talk about Coco Chanel, the Paris fashion scene during the Nazi occupation and historical fiction.
And I really loved the genre of historical fiction. And part of the reason I started this podcast was my interest in learning the real story behind historical fiction and the decisions authors make when writing historical fiction. So I’m definitely excited to talk about this today. I guess, a good place to begin is who was Coco Chanel.
Well, she was a fashion designer who revolutionized fashion after world war one. She basically got women out of corsets and all their fancy clothes for dragging skirts and fancy hairdos with hairpins and, um, pared down the look of. Women’s fashion, which is, uh, an essence, a style of elegance and chic that still influences fashion and defines how a lot of women want to look.[00:03:00]
Now, she was extremely well connected. Who are some of the people she knew? When was her circle in this artistic community and Paris at that time? Yeah, she was very well connected. And what she was doing in fashion was related to what a lot of her friends were doing. Um, and the other arts like Stravinsky and music and Picasso and painting also what Hemingway was doing and writing this paring away and overturning the old and creating something new though.
She didn’t know Hemingway personally, but she did know Stravinsky. She had an affair with him and she knew Picasso. She worked with Picasso. She designed costumes for a production of Antigony that John Cocteau did Picasso did the sets for that production. And she would have liked to have had an affair with Picasso, but Chanel was exactly the kind of strong, aggressive woman that Picasa avoided, like the plague, but they [00:04:00] all influenced each other.
And she was very much a part of that model. That post-World war one, modernist circle. You don’t focus on Coco Chanel’s entire life. And this, you really zoom in on one episode during the Nazi occupation of Paris. Why did you select that particular part of her life? Well, I had written another novel about Chanel that was published in 2006 and it was set after world war one when she was just getting.
Business going. And in the course of doing research for that book, I discovered that she had been arrested by the French forces of the interior, which was this after the war, after world war II and the FFI were a group of. X soldiers and resistance fighters and ordinary citizens. Who’ve taken up arms after the [00:05:00] liberation of Paris.
And we’re going around France, picking up women who had slept with Germans and shaving their heads. You might’ve seen pictures of the. And shaving the heads of these women. Sometimes they were just girls, young teenage girls, and then often stripping them naked and parading them through streets. While crowds of jeering people looked on and Chanel was picked up by these guys.
Because of her romance with a Nazi spy named Hans Gunther Von Dinklage, she was known as spots. And when I discovered this, that she had been hauled out of the wrist by two guys who could have cared less, who she was and cared less about fashion and taken to some undisclosed location for questioning. I thought it was the most fascinating moment in her fascinating life.
And so I decided to write another novel that Chanel upset during that period. Well is Chanel at that in her life. At that point [00:06:00] in the late 1930s, early 1940s, she had a successful career she’s in her late fifties, early sixties and her career and personal life. Where was she? Uh, at? Well, she had closed her.
In 1939 on the Eve of war. And it’s still a mystery. Why she did that, like so much in Chanel’s life. The record is scant owing to the lack of official documents and her own no one really knows why she closed her house. Um, There are, there’s a lot of speculation about it, but in any case, she was out of the business of producing the fashion, but her perfume was still being sold and was still a global sensation to this day.
It’s the book. Best-selling perfume in the world and her boutique where she sold the perfume and a few accessories was still open, but she was idle and she pretty much regretted, I think, [00:07:00] closing her house from the moment that she did it. So when the war opens, we see her. And meeting this handsome blonde Nazi, who she might’ve encountered before the war, because he had lived in France for a long time.
He didn’t wear a uniform and he was 13 years younger than she, and she started an affair with him and they lived together at the Ritz, which had been taken over by the Germans Chanel had. Grand suite there before the war, but when the Germans occupied it, they took over the hotel and relegated the French to the less desirable side.
So they moved Chanel out of her fancy suite into two small maid’s rooms. And that’s where she stayed. Uh, spots on Dinklage. If you do a casual Googling of him, not a ton of information comes up, at least in English. So he wasn’t one of the top, top Nazis, but he [00:08:00] definitely was an influential in his sphere.
Well, it’s unclear exactly how influential he was. He worked with the app where, which was the, uh, German intelligence operation that had been in place before Hitler. And of course it was connected to the SS, but it wasn’t the SS. And he. Had come from a family of warriors. So he was part of that warrior class.
His father had been a military guy and his grandfather, and he had indeed, um, fought during world war one, side-by-side with his father. And also he worked for a group of the German military that was responsible apparently for. Murdering Rosa Luxemburg though. It’s unclear whether Spotz was directly involved in that.
Um, and he, as I mentioned, he lived in Paris for a long time, lived in France for a long time. [00:09:00] He didn’t wear a uniform and his activities are pretty murky. It’s unclear exactly what his role was. And now a brief word from our sponsors. Uh, what was the nature of Chanel and Von Dinklage is relationship and well, it was a, it was a romance.
It was a sexual relationship. The quid pro quo was that he smoothed life in Paris for her and during the occupation. And he might’ve been involved in helping getting her nephew, her beloved nephew, Andre. Released from a German prisoner of war camp, Andre was in the French military and he’d been taken prisoner early on in the war.
And in spots may have helped her. That may have been one initial reason why she became involved with him. I think it was mostly opportunism. She was lonely. He was the available [00:10:00] man. It didn’t hurt that he was German. It was going to make life easier for her. And she always aligned herself with those in power.
Um, she was in love with him and I guess, and in a way that Chanel was in love with people, um, he, he, I don’t know how he felt about her, but they stayed together for a long time. They were together after the war. Yeah. That’s what I thought was so interesting is that in the novel, you can see that there’s an element of a romance and maybe a real attraction, bu
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