A Historical Look at Coco Chanel’s Apartment

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Coco Chanel’s quotes are often recited with reverence. Her designs are coveted and worn with immense pride. Her brand, a perennial symbol of luxury and class. And all of it—her memory, her legacy—is inextricably linked with one particular street: 31 Rue Cambon. Because not only is it the address of the mother of all Chanel flagships, but it was the site of her apartment as well.

In 1918—eight years after opening her hat shop Chanel Modes at 21 Rue Cambon—the legendary designer capitalized on her hat-making success and bought the entire building at 31 Rue Cambon (fun fact: the street was named after a famous French revolutionary in the 18th century whose father was a fabric manufacturer) as the foundation of a budding atelier. Situated in the heart of the first arrondissement—a four-minute walk from two iconic city landmarks: the Place Vendôme and the Ritz Paris hotel—the site was built after the French Revolution with a classicism-influenced exterior, which meant clean lines, symmetrical architecture, strict proportions, and an overall smooth, pure façade.

And it was here that 31 Rue Cambon became the beating heart of Chanel the brand and, in a way, Chanel the person. The ground floor housed the boutique, which she expanded her offering to include clothing, accessories, and her famous N°5 perfume in 1921 and later, jewelry and beauty products. Upstairs served dual purposes, as a show space to present her collections and as a salon for suiting or couture fittings. From here, you’ll find her famous curved mirror-lined marble staircase that achieved two things: a neat, mesmerizing prism effect and a way for her to view her shows, models, and audience reactions without having anyone see her (the fifth step—her favorite number—from the top was her preferred vantage point).

The stairway led to her private residence—a small, intimate apartment that, for the most part, has remained unchanged since Chanel herself was alive. “In this apartment, you can understand the universe of Mademoiselle Chanel,“ Odile Babin, a Chanel archivist, once said. „Mademoiselle Chanel hated doors. She hoped that by placing [screens] in front of the door, her guests might not remember to leave.” (Chanel had a fear of being alone.)

As such, the space is filled with antique camellia flower-etched Chinese screens, either flattened against walls or propped at the entrance. Signature Chanel design codes are everywhere, too: camellia motifs, glossy black surfaces, and lush textures. There’s a plush suede couch that has sat close friends, like Elizabeth Taylor, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Igor Stravinsky, and Salvador Dalí. Exquisite gilded treasures and mementos add sentimental hints of glint at every turn, like gold Venetian lions (her zodiac sign was Leo), intricately engraved cigarette boxes (a smoker, Chanel favored Gitanes), a golden hand sculpture from Giacometti, and metal Chinese horses. Wall-to-wall bookshelves are packed with rich leather-bound tomes, an etched wooden desk is worn from decades of use, and extravagant custom-made crystal chandeliers glitters from the ceiling.

Her incredibly ornate, sophisticated apartment was, in some ways, an extension of the designer herself. As personal as it was, she never slept there (a bedroom is missing for that reason). Instead, every evening, she’d walk across rue Cambon and enter the Ritz Paris—the hotel she called home for 34 years—from the back entrance. And every morning, she’d made the trek back, though she’d call ahead first to announce her arrival, giving them enough time to spritz the space with Chanel N°5 before her return.

Now, the structure and flow of the building remains the same: There are four active studios—two that specialize in tailoring and two in dressmaking techniques (Chanel acquired the entire row of buildings on Rue Cambon from 23 to 31 by 1927). The studio where Karl Lagerfeld works sits on the third floor, along with a series of workshops. And while Chanel’s apartment is only ever frequented on rare occasions (reserved largely for press interviews or special photo shoots), its presence is felt whenever Lagerfeld draws inspiration from its décor (or the objects within) or any time anyone ever steps foot inside 31 Rue Cambon.

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createdAt:Wed, 29 Aug 2018 18:02:50 +0000
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