Considered a matriarch of the fashion world, most know Coco Chanel as a glamorous figure, an image easily conjured by the famous photos of the designer in her Parisian atélier or through nostalgic black-and-white ads for the brand.
But with Audrey Tautou’s intensely anticipated movie about about Coco, we’re finding out that the history of her legacy was tainted with some not-so-palatable details about her life (including Nazi collaboration and homophobia) that weren’t necessarily secrets per se but definitely ignored and under-publicized aspects of her life.
Tautou spoke out for the first time about the designer’s sketchy past, calling out her flaws: “She was a liar, so it’s difficult to know who she was before she became famous and had some success.” After the jump, three things you might not have known about Coco Chanel:
Sketchy past: Chanel’s lies began with her upbringing, of which she was clearly ashamed due to its lack of stature. Her story claimed that her mother died, her father disappeared to become rich in America, and that little Coco was sent to live with some mean aunts (sounds vaguely reminiscent of a few fairy tales…). In reality she was born in a poorhouse (literally), and grew up in an orphanage in a small French town.
Homophobia (possibly due to self-loathing): A noted homophobe, Coco Chanel was rumored to be bisexual because of some suspected trysts with women. When Shirley MacLaine played Chanel in a Lifetime special, she explained, “Well, just because you play the whole field, doesn’t mean you are a lesbian.”
Views on Jews:. She’s also accused of being antisemitic, and was actually arrested for war crimes, but never went to trial. During WWII, she had an affair with a Nazi spy to secure lodging in the Ritz Hotel in Paris, and later became involved in a plot in which she lured a former employee to come back to work with her because of his connections with Churchill. The employee was arrested by the Gestapo.
“Coco Avant Chanel” is now coming under criticism for not including her Nazi affair, and downplaying the other negative aspects of her life. So when you watch the film, will you get to know the real Chanel? Says Tautou, “I didn’t want to betray her. I wanted to have a sense of her character, her personality.” [Telegraph.co.uk, Time 100's Coco Chanel Bio]