Behind closed doors: Inside Coco Chanel’s Paris apartment

As the Mademoiselle Privé exhibition prepares to open in Tokyo this month, Grazia Luxury explores the iconic apartment that serves as an enduring inspiration for house of Chanel
Behind closed doors: Inside Coco Chanel’s Paris apartment

It is a truth universally acknowledged that 31 rue Cambon is the chicest address in Paris.

Not only is it the home of the Chanel flagship, but also the private apartment of Mademoiselle Chanel herself – four impeccably decorated and impeccably curated rooms that went on to form the very foundations of the fashion house.

A glimpse inside reveals how the late, great Karl Lagerfeld (and now his successor Virginie Viard) sought inspiration for the maison’s recurring themes from Mademoiselle Chanel’s most treasured possessions and personal design cues. These have, in turn, been encapsulated by the Mademoiselle Privé exhibition, which first opened its doors at London’s Saatchi Gallery, and has subsequently travelled to Seoul, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

As the doors open in Tokyo – with what promises to be its most interactive iteration to date – Grazia Luxury revisits the Parisian pied-à-terre where it all started.

The mirrored staircase

Mademoiselle Chanel kept a suite at The Ritz overlooking Place Vendôme that she decorated herself, so her rue Cambon apartment was purely reserved for working, entertaining friends, reading and seeking creative inspiration. This meant that every morning, the pure-white lobby and Art Deco mirrored staircase were misted in clouds of Chanel Nº5 – the signature scent she created in 1921 – to herald her arrival. Surely the epitome of a dramatic entrance? 

Mademoiselle Chanel used to stand, unseen, at the top of her staircase, looking down at the runway shows taking place in the salon below. The iconic mirrored staircase has become an emblem of the House both in the white and silver  colour  combinations in its couture creations, and also when it comes to the shows’ spectacular set designs, as seen with spell-binding effect at Chanel Haute Couture Spring/ Summer 2017.

The dining room

When her mother died of tuberculosis, she was sent by her father to be cared for by nuns at the Cistercian Abbey in Aubazine. Their monochrome habits made their mark on the 12-year-old Gabrielle Chanel as she went on to reclaim black and revolutionise the way it was seen – from being confined to uniforms and the black smocks for little orphan girls to creating the LBD in 1926, elevating the colour to the ultimate symbol of sophistication.

For her couture debut, Artistic Director Virginie Viard paid a refined and respectful tribute to strict, starched nuns’ habits that surrounded Mademoiselle Chanel in her early years with a precisely executed bustier dress in black duchess satin and a trompel’oeil-effect petticoated skirt in black velvet with a plastron and tuxedo collar embellished with a bow for Chanel Haute Couture AW19. Likewise, black runs through Mademoiselle Chanel’s apartment from the wrought-iron work on the staircase to the Coromandellacquered screens decorating the dining room.

The sofa

Forever ahead of her time, it comes as no surprise that Mademoiselle Chanel chose a beige suede sofa for rue Cambon at a time suede wasn’t traditionally considered for soft furnishings. Look closer at the matching cushions and you’ll see stitching that serves as a precursor to the quilting that would later go on to characterise the 2.55, which continues to be fashion’s most coveted bag. It also reappears in High Jewellery – the Matelassé cuff bracelet made from 1,189 diamonds and 308 Japanese cultured pearls serving as an elegant example.

Beige has also become part of Chanel’s perennial palette, from the two-tone beige leather pumps with a black toecap (creating the clever trompe l’oeil illusion of making your legs look longer and your feet appear smaller), which first became part of the Chanel vernacular in 1957, and also in universe of perfumery and beauty, thanks to Beige Eau de Toilette, created by Jacques Polge in 2009 for Chanel’s Les Exclusifs – a tribute to the original perfume created in 1930 – and also Les Beiges make-up line, launched in 2013.

The writing desk

Who could forget cult French film director Luc Besson’s interpretation and immortalisation of Estella Warren skipping through the snowy Parisian streets as Little Red Riding Hood in the 1998 short film called Chanel Nº5: Le Loup (French for ‘The Wolf’) in a cinematic celebration of Mademoiselle Chanel’s signature scent.

Her affinity for the colour she associated with life, power, splendour and wealth is reinforced in the red lacquered screens and leather-bound books surrounding her writing desk at rue Cambon.

The fireplace

Glamorous but never garish, gold accents prevail throughout Mademoiselle Chanel’s pied-à-terre, from grand Baroque mirror over the fireplace to the wheat-sheaf table commissioned from the goldsmith Robert Goossens. Having been raised surrounded by the vestments of the clergy, gold would inform her sartorial and interior design decisions, all of which serve as a rich source of inspiration that will continue be drawn upon by her successors.

These talismans, trinkets, personal possessions and childhood memories became the lasting codes of the Maison and have been lovingly reinterpreted in the Mademoiselle Privé exhibition that’s set to thrill Tokyo and reveal the beating heart of Chanel for a whole new generation to discover.