The decor of the Fall-Winter 2011/2012 Pre collection
31 rue Cambon, Paris

Photo: Olivier Saillant



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



"Chanel and Place Vendôme are very linked. She lived in the Ritz, now there is a Jewelry shop, it’s very Paris, there are many photos of her on the place Vendôme. The big site of the Ritz is also still the Ritz, a part of the place Vendôme." Karl Lagerfeld

From the 1920s onwards, Mademoiselle Chanel refused to "settle down" and stayed at the Ritz Hotel occasionally before she decided in 1937 to move in and rent a suite on the third floor.

Place Vendôme was one of her sources of inspiration. The octagonal cap of her first perfume, Chanel N°5 recalls its geometry and proportions. Later on, the Première watch equally reminds of this aesthetic.

Today, directly facing her suite at the Ritz is the Chanel Fine Jewelry boutique which opened at number 18 in 1997.

Photo: 1937 - Gabrielle Chanel at the balcony of her suite at the Ritz Hotel, Paris ©Photo Roger Schall / Collection Schall



From the dizzy heights of whimsy, perched atop a black and white column on a replica Place Vendôme, a monochrome Coco Chanel decidedly wasn’t welcoming her guests at the Haute Couture runway show in the Grand Palais, Paris. Stonily surveying the evening-time hustle and bustle of summer 2011, the fashion world, and indeed the century, the arrogance of Coco’s stance is irreverently turned on its head as we lift our gaze and see right up her skirt. The ‘behind-the-scenes’ of fashion, we presume. Karl Lagerfeld ever fondly amuses himself with the muse. His Haute Couture collection spectacularly sweeps us through the silhouettes, fetishes and emblems that inform the Chanel aesthetic, from 1880 to 2011.

Staying for the moment in 2011, androgynous touches peek out from behind ultra-feminine constraints, luxury resists ostentation, and sheer elegance is infiltrated with unmistakably edgy cool. A boat-neck fuchsia evening gown is accessorized with embroidered black voile fingerless gloves. And the rocker overtones are stepped up a notch with a biker-esque zip running the length of a quilted evening skirt suit, unapologetic alongside sequin and embroidery detail. Feather, voile and lace fringing gives sass and spirit to black and white swans of the evening.
Lagerfeld offers a fresh spin on Godet skirts, sumptuous accented basque jackets, Peter Pan collars, collarless suits and straight-cut suits, with a sexily-slashed shoulder here, a glittering optical illusion of rhinestone buttons there, or perhaps a classic Karl high-necked collar to show off the ladylike posture of a head held high. Two-toned boots are transparent or fully embroidered by Massaro, exuding youth and movement.

Looking back to 1880, the boater hat is the sassy accessory of choice. It crops up throughout the collection, adorned with feathers, tulle or ribbon, embroidered, scattered with camellias, covered in tweed, serving every turn, and punctuating the collection like an exclamation mark. The boater hat is forever tied to Coco Chanel who, loving its simplicity, borrowed it from the garb of rowers and bicycling aficionados in the early 20th century, and promptly made it her own. The starry night in the Grand Palais conjures Renoir’s 1881 painting “Luncheon of the Boating Party”, which depicts a scene at the Maison Fournaise in Chatou, France. To the strains of a boating refrain: “In their jerseys and straw hats, the rowers are more charming than any of these young dandies!” (from Alain Chartier’s 1859 painting “Canotage, Glouglou, Stella et Mignonne”).
This dazzling collection gaily skips back and forth through the decades to offer a young, ever elegant silhouette… with sass.

Watch the full show online on



Evanescent Metamorphoses is a film created by Karl Lagerfeld for the Fall-Winter 2011/12 Pre-collection.

Karl Lagerfeld plays on the ambiguity between masculine and feminine. In a dreamlike atmosphere, he films model Kristina Salinovic, whose initially androgynous look becomes increasingly feminine as her numerous metamorphoses take place.


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