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Chanel’s Riviera / Anne de Courcy

This is not a biography of arguably the greatest businesswoman of all time but an account of the Riviera she inhabited in her only permanent home La Pausa at Roquebrune, Cap Martin overlooking Monte Carlo.

As someone who has travelled to the Riviera frequently and read much of its literature I learned little new in the first few hundred pages.

From Mary Lovell’s The Riviera Set I knew most of the characters and stories from the Riviera’s heyday in the thirties.

The writing style of using French e.g. Jamais vu for the English ‘never seen’ is pretentious and the references to the dominions of the `British Empire’ colonial and condescending.

A more relevant charge is the way she treats Chanel’s relationship with senior Nazi Spatz von Dinklage – her lover – who stayed with her at her suite at the Ritz during and after the war.

With typical resourcefulness she avoided prosecution for Collaboration horizontale after the war as she doled out free Chanel number 5 to the liberating GIs, knew Churchill well and closed her shop in 1940.

Nonethelsss she belonged to that shabby group who in order to enjoy the good life palled up with occupying Nazis whilst their country starved. This self-serving mentally was best exemplified by the quote of the film actress Arletty “My heart is French but my arse is international.”

Though Chanel was unconnected to this, the complicity of the Vichy Government of Petain and Laval in the round up and exportation of the Jews is well documented in this book.

The writer is no historian.

She does not mention that Prime Minister Leon Blum’s pact with Stalin made a concerted attempt with Britain to remove Germany out of the Rhineland in 1936 diplomatically impossible. She writes of the firing midday cannon at Cannes when any Nicois will tell you it is a reminder of the Briton in Nice who fired this to tell his shopping wife “Come home I want my lunch.”

My verdict is just about worth reading for those interested in the Riviera and Coco Chanel.

About Nancy Bright-Thompson

A widely-respected travel editor, Nancy is a past president of the Guild of Travel Writers (GTW). She and her husband Phil now run a horse sanctuary in East Sussex. More Posts