I can definitely say that this is one of the distinct highlights of my blog so far. Readers who have been with me from the beginning will know that one of the inspirations in starting BBB five years ago was reading on one of the American blogs that they’d all been taken on a trip to Paris to visit Coco Chanel’s private apartment (I know, I AM that shallow, but I’m not going to lie and pretend it wasn’t a factor although it certainly wasn’t the main factor!).
So five years later, I’ve actually, really done it!
And here are the actual keys to the apartment (the key ring isn’t the original, sadly).
As you enter the apartment, the first thing that strikes you is the smell – woody and slightly sweet at the same time. Chanel have kept the apartment pretty much exactly as it was so it is extremely atmospheric. This chair has an interesting story – it went missing for years and years, and then about four years ago Karl Lagerfeld recognised it in an auction and bought it back to be reinstated in the apartment. Nobody knows where it had been all those years.
Coco Chanel had a life long love of Coromandel screens (they are huge dark laquered folding screens, intricately carved and painted and made in China in the 17th Centurty – the name Coromandel refers to the Coromandel coast in India where screens were shipped to Europe) and collected 32, eight of which are in the apartment, either as wall panels or still in their original screen state. There’s something actually a little bit spooky about the fact that this bottle design was created in the 17th century, and the screen bought before Chanel fragrance existed – it’s not dissimilar.
Beauty fans will recognise this Coromandel carving in the Coromandel Palette.
Peter Philips used the screens as inspiration for the collection.
Coco Chanel also loved chandeliers – if you look closely at the ironwork, you’ll see at the very top it is formed into an ornate letter G (for Gabrielle) and further down, it’s formed into interlocking C’s. You’ll also notice that it has crystal camelias – the iconic Chanel symbol.
One of the things I enjoyed the most about being in the apartment was seeing the very personal ornaments she had.
As it turns out Coco Chanel was very superstitious and liked to have everything in pairs – so you could see two lion ornaments, two mirrors, two vases, two crystal balls – it was such an interesting insight into how she thought and connected with things. Her apartment was well before its time; she had plain, cream curtains when everyone else had swags and ornamentals, she had beige carpet when everyone else had parquet flooring; she had an enormous, suede covered sofa well before suede was considered for interior decorating – everything is in accord, from jewellery to clothes, from carpets to fragrance – it’s all one giant, specific style circle that the brand stays true to today.
If you look at the large mirror in the dining room (a matching one on the other side out of shot), you can see how that shape is reflected in the stopper of a Chanel No5 bottle.
This is the stair case to Coco Chanel’s apartment – a beige carpet with a white leather trim – this is cleaned and re-painted weekly.
And here is the biggest CC I’ve ever seen! It’s the carpet in the couture area – behind those mirrors that you can see at the back, women go to be fitted for couture outfits. While we were there, there was someone being measured up for a dress – I was riveted trying to sneak a little look at who it was!
Finally, the apartment is opened only occasionally, although it is still cleaned meticulously regularly; the people that it is opened to tends to be designers looking for inspiration. As I wandered around I just kept thinking everything has been done – everything. What last bit of inspiration is there to take from here? Well, I think I spotted something not done before.
It’s not an amazing picture, but the chandelier full of glass camelias – the shadow it created on the domed ceiling – I thought that would make an amazing illuminating palette with a pearly white iridescent background and the camelia shadow in a contrasting tone.
I should add in that Chanel had no bedroom there – she took rooms at the Ritz hotel (rather unromantically, this is because it was let as a commercial property so no sleeping over!). However she had a bathroom and kitchen, so would get virtually entirely ready for bed before popping over the road to sleep!
So, I can truly say, hand on heart, that it was one my most memorable life experiences. I love Chanel.. I might not always get along with the brand as it is now..but it resonates with me like no other brand. It was beyond a pleasure.
Part 2 Tomorrow.
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