She was a member of the French Resistance. Or the Polish intelligence unit based in France, to be more precise. In November 1941 Catherine was out shopping for a radio when she met Hervé des Charbonneries, a founding Resistance member. She fell in love at first sight, and quickly became one of more than 2,000 agents in the ‘Massif Central’ unit, focussed on gathering information about German movements and weaponry. In July 1944 she was arrested, tortured, deported on one of the last prison trains from Paris and imprisoned at the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp. Ironically, her brother was concurrently designing outfits for the Nazi officers’ wives with the couturier Lucien Lelong of Balmain – a matter in which he had no choice. Catherine survived and was liberated in 1945, returning to Paris utterly emaciated. Two years later her brother would name his first perfume after her.
After the war, Catherine became a mandataire en fleurs coupées, which translates as a ‘representative in cut flowers’. This was a go-between role enabling her to trade southern-grown flowers in France and its colonies. For the next twelve years she and Hervé endured 4am starts at the Halles market in Paris, setting up deliveries of fresh flowers all over the world – including her brother’s favourite flower, lily of the valley. She was still gardening at the age of 75, gathering roses and jasmine at her home in Callian.