How America Saved Chanel

How America Saved Chanel
If Dallas seems an unlikely city to have revived Coco Chanel’s faltering empire in 1957, it was nevertheless in Texas where Chanel’s fortune and iconic brand were restored, thanks to Stanley Marcus, the Harvard-educated “Merchant Prince” who ran the legendary Nieman Marcus department store. Considering Chanel’s collaboration with the Nazis in Occupied Paris, the irony is not lost that another Jewish firm was coming to her rescue. Back in 1924, it had been the immensely rich and successful Wertheimer brothers, Pierre and Paul, who had jumpstarted her business. Chanel had decided to expand her fashion house into perfumes. Chanel needed a wealthy backer, a distributor with factories and more importantly, a wide distribution network.  The Wertheimer brothers were the owners of Les Parfumeries Bourjois, the largest cosmetic and fragrance company in France.  Pierre Wertheimer at l’hippodrome de Saint-Cloud, during a race on 19 May 1924. Credit: Agence Rol/ Public domain. Pierre was ruthless in business, a match for Chanel, and inevitably the couple fought constantly. There were threatened lawsuits and fights- Pierre called her “that bloody woman,” but sent her flowers the following day after each of their heated arguments. Yet, convinced that they were on a winner with Chanel, the Wertheimers backed her enterprise. Chanel agreed to a deal taking 10% of the profits on her perfume. It’s surprising that their business relationship lasted their entire lifetimes, particularly given Chanel’s behavior during World War II. (The Wertheimers fled from German-occupied Paris and had made their way through Spain and Portugal to the United States. Chanel attempted to make use of the German Commission in Jewish Affairs which was responsible for seizing Jewish-owned businesses and transferring them to sympathetic, Aryan hands. These new laws gave Chanel the opportunity to dissolve her partnership with the Wertheimers and take over the company. However, the Wertheimers were one step ahead of Chanel, and had transferred their business to a non-Jewish industrialist. The mass of pre-dated documents certified by a German officer – one can imagine the bribe involved – ensured that a co-owner was in place before Chanel could make her move.) Chanel No 5 perfume. photo credit: arz/Wikimedia Commons

Lead photo credit : Coco Chanel in 1920. Photo: Time / Getty - Hal Vaughan. Public Domain.

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After some dreary years in the Civil Service, Marilyn realized her dream of living in Paris. She arrived in Paris in December 1967 and left in July 1969. From there she lived in Mallorca, London, Oman, and Dubai, where she moved with her husband and young son and worked for Gulf News, Khaleej Times and freelanced for Emirates Woman magazine. During this time she was also a ground stewardess for Middle East Airlines. For the past 18 years they've lived on the Isle of Wight.