In this book, Vaughan sets out to prove that Coco Chanel --- the famous Paris couturier who revolutionized 20th century women's fashions and created a perfume that remains a popular icon today (Chanel No. 5) --- collaborated with the Germans during their occupation of France (1940-1944).
Chanel, like many other Parisians, had fled Paris as the Germans approached its environs the second week of June 1940 for the South of France (where she maintained a residence). Several months later, once the situation in France had stabilized, Chanel returned to Paris. Thanks to her lover, Hans-Gunther von Dincklage, who was a German military intelligence officer, Chanel was able to maintain her private suite at the Ritz Hotel, one of the hotels that the Germans had set aside only for "special guests" (e.g. top, influential government and Nazi Party officials like Hermann Goering, Paul Joseph Goebbels [Hitler's Propaganda Minister], and several other authorities who formed part of the "New Order" in Europe at that time.
What became clear as I read deeply into this book is that Chanel, who had long harbored an anti-Jewish bias (an affliction that was not unusual among many of the friends in high society that Chanel had made throughout her life --- e.g. the Duke of Westminster, a relation of the royal family, close friend of Winston Churchill, and Chanel's one-time lover) and held pro-German views before the war.
Coco Chanel was a single-minded woman known for speaking her mind on a variety of subjects. After she was able to obtain the release of one of her nephews from a POW camp in Germany, Chanel sought to gain full control of her perfume and cosmetic company, from which she had maintained a 10% holding interest with the Wertheimers, French Jews who held the majority interest, per an agreement both parties had made in 1924. (It was this agreement which helped to solidify Chanel's position in the fashion world and enhance her wealth exponentially.) Despite the Aryanization of all businesses in France which had been under partial or full Jewish ownership, Chanel was not successful in her bid to achieve full control of her business network.
Notwithstanding this setback, Chanel did enter into a relationship with the Germans which seems to indicate that she acted as an agent in the Abwehr (military intelligence), making trips to Portugal, Berlin, and Spain between 1941 and 1944. Apparently, on one of her trips to Madrid (ostensibly to bolster the appeal of Chanel products in Spain - in actuality, the SS underwrote her travelling expenses), she entered into contact with British Embassy officials and left them with a letter to be given to Winston Churchill (an old friend from prewar days), offering her services as an intermediary to help broker a peace between Germany and the Allies. Up to this time, very few people knew that Chanel had an extensive relationship with the Germans. That changed when a old friend of Chanel's --- (Vera, a member of the British aristocracy who had married an Italian cavalry officer and had lived in Italy; Chanel had helped get Vera free from German custody, hoping that she would assist her on her mission in Madrid) --- who had accompanied her to Spain, managed to get away from Chanel and find sanctuary with the British ambassador.
The book was informative, if at times, sloppily written. (The author's command of facts sometimes left a lot to be desired.) And what was perhaps more interesting was how Coco Chanel, despite being twice called before a court of justice in France shortly after the war to account for her wartime activities, got off scot-free! Evidently, it was in the interest of a number of parties (e.g. the British, a number of key people in DeGaulle's first government, and ironically, the Wertheimers) not to have Coco Chanel's name and reputation sullied. That would have made for a much more compelling and engaging story.