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Three new books explore Chanel's secret life
At right, a portrait of Chanel by Shahrokh Hatami.

Yes, Chanel was the world's foremost fashion icon, but she was also a complicated woman whose actions are still being scrutinized today. No wonder we're still fascinated with her, or that a whopping seven books have been written about her this year. Tweed-embellished hats off to these three:

Justine Picardie became mesmerized with the couturiere as a child after spotting a bottle of Chanel No. 5 on her mother's dressing table. Her painstakingly researched biography, Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life, examines the youth--growing up in a convent orphanage, her stint as a cabaret singer--that shaped the legend.

Lisa Chaney spent time in Chanel's glittering Rue Cambon apartment, scoured letters from Arthur "Boy" Chapel (Chanel's greatest love) and visited the designer's Loire Valley family inn for Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life. The irresistible book chronicles Chanel's many follies, including affairs with Stravinsky and Picasso.

The most damning publication, Hal Vaughan's Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War posits that Chanel was a Nazi agent during WWII. From her torrid relationship with a German intelligence officer to her notorious anti-Semitism, Vaughan's fascinating tome reveals a dark side of the designer few have documented.

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