cover image Coco at the Ritz

Coco at the Ritz

Gioia Diliberto. Pegasus, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-1-643-13841-1

Biographer and novelist Diliberto (Diane von Furstenberg: A Life Unwrapped) offers a taut and surprising portrayal of French fashion designer Coco Chanel, focusing on her interrogation for suspected treason against France. Diliberto recounts Coco’s giddy initial encounter with German spy Hans “Spatz” von Dincklage in 1940 at the Ritz, six weeks after the Germans occupied Paris; she had returned to the city from her vacation home to appeal for the release of her imprisoned nephew. Coco, 61, was smitten with Spatz, and they became lovers, living large at the Ritz and avoiding the wartime deprivations inflicted on ordinary Parisians. Under questioning from Resistance officers, Coco, who preferred to believe Spatz was never a spy, denies he was a Nazi, instead claiming that he was merely an embassy attaché. Coco was arrested in August 1944 after Paris’s liberation, and accused of collaboration with the enemy. Diliberto imagines Coco’s hostile questioning by former French Resistance fighters as a battle of wits, as Coco faces down allegations of spying, planning a relaunch of her business with the Nazis, and anti-Semitism toward a business partner. Diliberto ably depicts Coco, who was set free after Winston Churchill intervened, as a formidable woman of independence, massive wealth, and steely nature. From the opaque historical record emerges a satisfying take on a complicated woman. Agent: Flip Brophy, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Dec.)