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