A very short distance from Mademoiselle Chanel’s first boutique on rue Cambon is the Hôtel Ritz, located at number 15 on the Place Vendôme. The octagonal-shaped square was built during the reign of Louis XIV to serve as a frame for his statue. Designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, it was bordered by mansions that were sold to financial institutions. The façade, roof and first floor decoration of the Hôtel Ritz have all been deemed historic structures worthy of preservation.

The column was erected by Napoleon between 1804 and 1818. Standing 43 meters high and modeled after Trajan’s column in Rome, it served to celebrate the heroic victory of French soldiers at Austerlitz. Its bronze outer casing was obtained by melting down 1,250 cannons seized from the enemy. It would later be dismantled during the Paris Commune in 1871. The painter Gustave Courbet, who was amongst the instigators, was imprisoned as a result and subsequently ordered to pay for its reconstruction.

However, a very different kind of statue recently looked down from the Vendôme Column one summer’s evening in the Grand Palais: Coco Chanel stood atop the famous column in place of Napoleon. In a decor evoking the legendary square at night, neon-lit façades shone in the darkness, their light bouncing off the glistening tarmac. The Fall-Winter 2011/2012 Haute Couture collection runway show took place under a crystalline vault sparkling with stars.

Photo: Frédéric David


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