I once had a chance to buy a couture suit by Chanel that was made sometime in the nineteen-fifties, her comeback years. She had closed her maison de couture, on the Rue Cambon, when war was declared in 1939, and reopened it in 1954, when she returned to France, at seventy-one, from self-imposed exile in Switzerland. The stories of her attempts to wrest control of Chanel Parfums from her partners, the Wertheimer family, by exploiting the Nazi race laws, and of her startling offer to Hitler’s secret-police chief to broker a negotiated peace with her old friend Winston Churchill—a farcical operation code-named Modellhut (fashion hat) by Chanel’s S.S. handlers—have always somewhat dampened her charm for me. But the suit was a classic tweed in opalescent pink, with flecks of mauvish blue and a selvage trim, a slightly flared skirt that grazed the knee, and a boxy jacket with her signature cropped sleeves and narrow armholes. The dealer who was selling it, a Frenchwoman, sized me up—literally—before she let me try it on. She had been keeping it under wraps in her back room like a rare piece of erotica, waiting for the right customer. Read more.

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