I have to stray into the field of overt and pointed media criticism for just a moment. I see salon.com, an online magazine I (used to) read every morning, has a new format. Very hard on the eyes, but bold. Loud. Brassy, even. And in their own iconic fashion, they have managed to screw up the comments sections even worse than they were after the last “new salon” make-over. One can’t make heads or tails of the way the comments are supposed to run, since they seem to be merely tossed in a pot, stirred vigorously, and then printed without regard to time sequence – some pages of comments are merely repeats of a prior page. Very strange work output from a paid staff. One might think that Talbot was deliberately sabotaging his online magazine in order to have a loss leader; a tax write-off, just in case salon made him an actual reportable profit for the year. There is simply no other way to explain taking a pleasant readable publication and making it worse, not just once, but twice, in less than a year.
According to the magazine’s article, “Notice Anything Different?”, written to celebrate the change in their look, a globetrotting blond (their words – I couldn’t give a hoot about her zesty living or hair color) web designer named Kelly Frankeny was hired to design a news tabloid “as imagined by Coco Chanel”. As a “sassy blond Texan, she has created a new Salon as big as her personality. And yes, while invoking the brassy urgency of a news tabloid, the new design also conveys the elegance of the House of Chanel. Both Frankeny and the new Salon know how to use red lipstick and a simple black dress for maximum effect.” Well, okay, I’ll pass on the chance to remark about the sexism in that statement, while only wondering aloud why a magazine would want to have its readers imagine it as a brassy female in red lipstick and a black dress.
More interesting is the choice of Coco Chanel as the choice of imaginary designer for a supposed liberal/progressive publication. Chanel was an active Nazi informant and collaborator.
Archival documents verify that Chanel herself was a Nazi spy, committing herself to the German cause as early as 1941, when she became a paid agent of General Walter Schellenberg, chief of SS intelligence. Her clandestine identity was Abwehr Agent 7124, code name “Westminster”. At war’s end, Schellenberg was tried by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, and sentenced to six years imprisonment for war crimes. He was released in 1951 due to incurable liver disease, and took refuge in Italy. Chanel paid for Schellenberg’s medical care and living expenses for himself, wife and family until his death in 1952.
In 1943, Chanel traveled to Berlin with Dinklage to meet with SS Reichsführer, Heinrich Himmler to formulate strategy. In late 1943 or early 1944, Chanel and her SS master, Schellenberg, devised a plan to press England to end hostilities with Germany. When interrogated by British intelligence at war’s end, Schellenberg maintained that Chanel was “a person who knew Churchill sufficiently to undertake political negotiations with him.” For this mission, named “Operation Modellhut,” (“Model Hat”) they recruited Vera Lombardi. Count Joseph von Ledebur-Wicheln, a Nazi agent, who defected to the British Secret Service in 1944, recalled a meeting he had with Dinklage in early 1943. Dinklage proposed an inducement that would tantalize Chanel. He informed von Ledebur that Chanel’s participation in the operation would be ensured if Lombardi was included: “The Abwehr had first to bring to France a young Italian woman [Lombardi] Coco Chanel was attached to because of her lesbian vices…”
Unaware of the machinations of Schellenberg and her old friend Chanel, Lombardi played the part of their unwitting dupe, led to believe that the forthcoming journey to Spain would be a business trip exploring the possibilities of establishing the Chanel couture in Madrid. Lombardi’s role was to act as intermediary, delivering a letter penned by Chanel to Winston Churchill, and forwarded to him via the British embassy in Madrid. Schellenberg’s SS laison officer, Captain Walter Kutcschmann, acted as bagman, “told to deliver a large sum of money to Chanel in Madrid.” Ultimately, the mission proved a failure. British intelligence files reveal that all collapsed, as Lombardi, on arrival, proceeded to denounce Chanel and others as Nazi spies.
In September 1944, Chanel was called in to be interrogated by the Free French Purge Committee, the épuration. The committee, which had no documented evidence of her collaboration activity, was obliged to release her. According to Chanel’s grand-niece, Gabrielle Palasse Labrunie, when Chanel returned home she said, “Churchill had me freed”.
The extent of Winston Churchill’s intervention can only be speculated upon. However, Chanel’s escape from prosecution certainly speaks of layers of conspiracy, protection at the highest levels. It was feared that if Chanel were ever made to testify at trial, the pro-Nazi sympathies and activities of top-level British officials, members of the society elite and those of the royal family itself would be exposed. It is believed that Churchill instructed Duff Cooper, British ambassador to the French provisional government, to “protect Chanel”.
In keeping with the Nazi-as-inspiration theme, the new salon designer, Kelly Frankeny, has chosen the colors of the Nazi flag: red, black and white.
“After the North German League in 1867 (and after 1871, the new German Empire) was formed, the Prussian government’s dislike for the black-red-gold flag resulted in the adoption of a new black-white-red tricolor. After the German defeat in World War One, the new republic adopted the black-red-gold tricolor earlier used in 1848 — and now again the German flag. As a result, the right wing parties urged the re-adoption of the black-white-red. The colors of the Nazi flag was thus a form of right wing allegiance and signified opposition to democracy. The original (1867) meaning was apparently a merger of the Prussian black-white and the red and white colors common among German maritime states (allegedly inspired by the medieval Hanseatic League).”
– Norman Martin, 2 June 2000
I sure wish David Talbot, the owner of salon.com, had done some simple research before he allowed this make-over to proceed. Unless, of course, there is some inside joke that he himself is in on being played on his readers. If it is meant to be some sort of subtle irony, it is so well hidden and subtle as to be completely invisible.