31 Rue Cambon is very famous address in Paris. In 1921, the house was purchased by Gabrielle Chanel. In 1928, Chanel made a flagship boutique located on the ground floor. Now it`s the building devoted to fashion and haute couture (salon & fitting room are located on the first floor).
There`s place for haute couture workshop where all the Chanel revolutionary ideas were born and when Karl Lagerfeld took over the venerable brand in 1983. But also this is an address of Chanel`s own life. The apartments of Gabrielle Chanel were located on the second floor from 1935 to 1971.
Photo: by Sergei Borisov
It`s the place where Coco Chanel had met and entertained her guests (but she never slept there). Poets, composers, artists, Grand Dukes, businessmen has been there and some of them leaved some precious souvenirs. Igor Stravinsky left here one of his very precious memories of Tzarist Russia – Russian Orthodox icon. Salvador Dali had drawn a golden wheat ear on black canvas specially fo Mlle Chanel – wheat reminded her of her Aubazine life.
Photo: by Sergei Borisov
Duke of Westminster offered her some famous golden-lined boxes. Ancient sculptures, vases, chandeliers, mirrors and screens from China, Japan, Africa, Italy and Greece – one could admire by every object in a room. The three room apartments was the groundbreaking mixture of different styles far ahead of her time.
The historic building housing haute couture, fragrance and beauty and has been preserved in tact since her death in January 1971. You have to have a special status «friend of Chanel» to come inside her private apartments as it is never been a Chanel museum open to public. The legend is alive. (By the way, you can reserve her hotel suite in Ritz Vendome where she used to live about 30 years!)
There`re enough descriptions and photo-tours through Chanel`s apartments on different web site devoted to design and luxury. So let us add a special 'perfumed' twist to our tour.
Photo: Sergei Borisov
OK, the very first – lacquered Chinese screens that she split and used instead of wallpaper and doors. They are just fabulous – one feels like in museum of Chinese archeology near them. But those screens has a nice tender balsamic SMELL of wood and lacquer also! Each panel was carefully prepared before being painted with highly toxic lacquer – obtained by making an incision in the lacquer tree (Toxicodendron vernicifluum, or formerly Rhus verniciflua ), in the same way that pine or incense resin is collected. It took up to ten layers to achieve the perfection.
The name of these screens comes from the Coromandel coast of India, which is where they were sent from China in the 18th century, heading for France. The screens were made in the Hunnan province of China – and that`s where Coromandel idea of Les Exclusifs de Chanel was born! Benjoin and patchouli were chosen to interpret Oriental spirit of Coromandel.(Editor's note: the screen inspired a famous red nail polish Coromandel and eye shadow set. )
The next example is not so obvious. Look at the left at entree. You will see the gorgeous old glass mirror with wooden frame, with double-headed Austro-Hungarian eagles. No idea about perfumes? This beveled mirror in center in form of place Vendome inspired the design of Chanel`s first perfume bottle stopper (and not a flacon as sometimes said!).
Let`s come further, into the living room. Look at this rock crystal and amethyst chandelier. Could you see Number 5 – the lucky number for Coco Chanel and her perfume Chanel №5? (the fragrance of marilyne Monore)
Small but quite famous perfume-linked example is a birdcage souvenir. In 1992, that small and elegant present offered to Chanel became the inspiration for Jean-Paul Goude to make the video ad spot for Coco Chanel perfume. Remember Vanessa Paradis as whistling birdy in cage
And the last and very mysterious example one could find in the dining room. There`s no smells here – Coco Chanel did hate kitchen smells! Her diet was simple – vegetables and fruits of the season, so no fried steaks or smelly fish here… Please, pay attention to the dark corner of lacquered screen. What`s that? Somehow Hunnan masters of the XVII century found the idea of bottle Chanel №5 shape– and carved it on Coromandel screen! (Excuse me for the poor quality of my own picture!)
So now, dear reader, I`m sure that there`re more inspiration for the perfumes, advertising, accessoires, haute couture collections of Chanel to be launched are hidden in that open space. Maybe the very next perfume of Les Exclusifs de Chanel, named Jersey, will be centered around the wheat accord?
There are so many recurrent themes in this apartments: number 5, lions, wheat, chinoisery, lacquerware, silver\gold, quilted things, beige colour, mirrors, everything paired. It is the warehouse of Chanel ideas for future. I just wish that Jacques Polge and Christopher Sheldrake would visit these apartments to seek inspiration more often.
Dear reader, if you can send a message to Paris… What are your ideas for the next Chanel Les Exclusifs (Editor's note: Jersey #13 is due in August according to the VP of Chanel USA Public Relations) perfume from the photos you see, the designs she is famous for, and from the history you learned from our personal tour ?
–Sergey Borisov, Contributor
–Sergey Borisov, Contributor