“An interior is a natural projection of the soul.” Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel
In Paris, visitors are spoiled for panoramic views, epic sights and corners steeped in history. For me, there is one spot that holds a greater allure than all the rest and not just because you need a private invitation to visit, but because of the legacy that lies within. On 31 Rue Cambon, above the imposing Chanel boutique and below the famous atelier lies the private apartment of the French fashion house’s founder, Gabrielle Chanel. Carefully restored and maintained, today the apartment stands as the designer herself left it.
The mirrored stairs that lead to Chanel's private apartment on Rue Cambon
Gabrielle Chanel's writing desk
The apartment is the ultimate in opulence and luxury. Prints, rich satins, sparkling crystals, and gold covers everything in sight. The entire space is as mesmerising and layered as the mirrored staircase leading up to it.
Coco Chanel's sitting room, complete with the couch that inspired her iconic handbags
Rosaleen McMeel, pictured sitting on Chanel's couch in her private apartment
The apartment is an embodiment of her confidence in personal taste; oriental elements, such as Coromandel screens, stand alongside classic French furniture and Italian-style mirrors. Differing from her famously minimalist (for the 1920s) use of black and white, the apartment is rich in gold tones and luxurious fabrics. What we now identify as Chanel motifs abound; camellias, lions and interlocking Cs, so it’s no surprise that Karl Lagerfeld regularly visits the apartment for inspiration.
Special pieces include an Italian square 18th-century mirror, which inspired the shape of the bottle for Chanel No. 5, and also the chair where Chanel would sit to run her critical eye over the latest batch of designs.
In the living room is Chanel's beige couch, designed in suede – a very unusual material for the time. The covering of the couch inspired the famous quilted pattern used for her iconic handbags.
The mirror that inspired the top of Chanel No.5 fragrance bottle
Mademoiselle Chanel is believed to have owned 32 folding screens. Her apartment houses eight of them, which she used in ways other than for what they were intended — she dressed her walls with them, like wallpaper, or used them to give structure to her private space. It is also said that she used them to hide the doors. That way, she was sure to keep her guests when receiving them for dinner.
The Coromandel screens embody her taste for Chinese art, which she discovered together with Boy Capel. The major themes include mythology, scenes of imperial life and love of nature, which bestow a spiritual dimension upon the art form.
The apartment also has a large collection of cigarette boxes, many gifts from various lovers and admirers (including the Duke of Westminster, Igor Stravinsky and Salvador Dali) and several ornate lions representing her star sign, Leo.
A close up of the Coromandel screens that adorn the designer's apartment
Coco Chanel herself entered the apartment from a side door at the Ritz where she slept; the apartment served only as her offices and entertainment quarters and was regularly sprayed with Chanel No. 5, a tradition that continues lavishly today.
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