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Coco Chanel exhibition reveals fashion designer was part of French resistance

Previously unseen documents to go on display at V&A alongside evidence of her collusion with Nazis

A major retrospective of Coco Chanel has unearthed evidence that the fashion designer was a documented member of the French resistance. The previously unseen documents will go on display, along with contradictory evidence that she operated as a Nazi agent.

The documents relating to Chanel’s activities in wartime Paris strike a serious note within what is likely to be the most glamorous exhibition of the year, with more than 50 tweed suits – including a bubblegum pink set belonging to Lauren Bacall – on view at Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto, when it opens at the V&A in London on 16 September.

“We couldn’t do a show about Chanel and not address her wartime record,” said the curator, Oriole Cullen, who has expanded a show first created at the Palais Galliera in Paris in 2020 with a new curation that delves more deeply into Chanel’s links with Britain as well as her wartime activities.

Previously unseen documents highlight the name “Gabrielle AKA Coco Chanel” on a list of 400,000 people whose part in the resistance is backed up by official records. “We have verification from the French government, including a document from 1957, which confirms her active participation in the resistance,” said Cullen.

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