Earlier this year, when I travelled to Europe for six weeks, I was not just taking a holiday. My trip had a specific purpose: I was going to tick a few things off my Bucket List and enjoy the experiences I’d been thirsting for for ages, liking walking through the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, visiting Anne Frank’s House and seeing the cities of Krakow and Prague. But there was one thing that I had really really wanted, but that would be a little hard to come by: visiting Coco Chanel’s apartment in Paris.
I’d first heard that you could visit the apartment whilst watching the second season of The Hills, where Whitney Port tells Lauren Conrad of how she got to check it out as part of a project with the Teen Vogue editors when she got to go to Paris at the end of season one. I was already a Chanel fan at that point, having only recently purchased my first ever Chanel bag as a 21st birthday treat. But I’d never thought about it much further than that.
In the years that followed, I became a little more Chanel obsessed. I had read more about Coco’s life at that point, loved that she was a feminist revolutionary who was all class, and became mad about the products that bore her name. I bought books, got birthday cards in the mail with her quotes on them, and learnt the history and origin of some of her most renowned items: the little black jacket, the 2.55, her trademark pearls. I celebrated my quarter century with the purchase of a Chanel 2.55 that told her life story in its intricate, classic style.
It was only as I learnt more about this stuff that I realised there was a massive gap in what we knew about her style. Her sense of fashion we knew inside out, but her sense of decor was another story: her apartment was a hidden secret, something that had been hers and hers alone, now left to the personnel at the helm of her fashion empire. But to her fans, that was outrageous. I mean, what if you loved Chanel’s style so much but would never be able to afford a 2.55? By the time I had booked my trip to Paris, I had decided that it would be my goal to go behind the scenes and into Mademoiselle’s private quarters, to learn a little more about the fashion icon. After pitches to the prestigious style mags were rejected (perhaps they were only interested in telling us what we can buy, as opposed to teasing us with what we could not experience), I realised there was one magazine devoted to the beautiful homes of beautiful people that I had not tried: House & Garden. A magazine I had loved since it was mentioned on Sex and the City as the mag in which Charlotte’s house was featured (easily my favourite apartment in the show).
Thankfully, the editor, Lisa Green, was as enthusiastic as me about featuring the apartment. And so began a months-long process of being approved by the publicity team of Chanel Paris, scouting for a photographer, and being allowed to actually be photographed in the apartment.
A few things I learned in the process:
- Coco Chanel hated the cold – her chimney burned all year round
- Her minimalist approach extended to her wardrobe and stores only – the apartment was opulence at its best
- She hated food with odours, preferring to eat only fruits and vegetables
- She was a fairly lonely woman, despite being adored and despite having had many lovers
- Her amazing cat-eye sunglasses are kept where she left them
- She loved cammelias because they were odourless, and camellias are still delivered to the apartment on a regular basis
- She was very well-read – books from Voltaire to St Augustin line her bookshelves
- She was superstitious
- She had an ecumenical approach to religion, with icons of different spiritual origins
- She loved items that told a story
- She was avante-garde, not just in what she designed, but also in how she styled her house
- That I should never be photographed a day after a 25 hour plane ride, and if I am to be photographed, I should at least wear my hair out.
You’ll have to check out my feature on page 102 of the December issue of House & Garden magazine (Australian edition) to see for yourself what this amazing woman was about in her apartment. The above points are elaborated on, pictures (taken by the lovely Carla Coulson) speak volumes and you literally feel a sneak peek into the life of fashion’s most iconic woman. It was really an experience beyond measure, and one that taught me so much about the brains (and weaknesses) of the woman who liberated us females from uncomfortable, constrictive clothing.
It was definitely a dream come true for this Chanel fan. But now that I have been to where she lives, all I need is a ride in her old Mercedes Benz 600 – does anyone know how I can get in touch with Jay Kay, lead singer of Jamiroquai? Perhaps it would require a pitch to autoworld …I never thought I would see the day.