Coco Chanel's Paris
You’re standing on the rue de Rivoli, a shopping street that Coco Chanel knew well, although it was more elegant and less touristy in her day. Between you and the river lie the Tuileries Gardens. They were first laid out in the 18th century and are today filled with sculptures both traditional and modern. The Tuileries have always been a gracious and calm green space in the middle of a bustling city.
If you visit during Spring or Fall Fashion Week in Paris, these gardens are usually full of tents where the major fashion houses hold special events. Welcome to Fashion Central!
Hello, my name is Philippa Campsie, and I'm going to take you to some of the places in the city associated with Coco Chanel. For many years, she lived not far from here, at the Ritz Hotel, close to her business headquarters and to the centre of the fashion industry during her lifetime.
Coco Chanel, who was born Gabrielle Chanel, has been the subject of biographies, movies, television programs, and even books like “The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World’s Most Elegant Woman.” It seems, however, that the more we know about her, the more mysterious she becomes.
There are mysteries about her early life, because she described it in different ways to different people. There are mysteries about her activities during the war, when she might have been a collaborator with the Germans or she might have been a double agent for the Allies. There are mysteries about how an unsuccessful singer who worked in cheap bars came to be considered the world’s most elegant woman. I’m not convinced that she was, but there is no question that she was among a handful of designers who forever changed women’s fashion in the years after the First World War.
What we do know for sure is that she was a self-made woman from a very humble background at a time when businesswomen were rare and were usually the widows of successful businessmen. She was also one of the first fashion celebrities, a woman who not only created clothes for her wealthy and famous patrons, but also socialized with them.
She was proud of her achievement. When the Duke of Westminster wanted her to marry him, she turned him down, saying, “There have been many Duchesses of Westminster. There is only one Coco Chanel.” That we can all agree on.
Let's start walking now. Cross the rue de Rivoli at the crosswalk right beside the Metro and turn left into the arcade. As we walk, let me explain how this works. VoiceMap uses your location to play commentary automatically. There may be some silence along the way, and that's normal. You can just put your phone in your pocket, and focus on your surroundings. You’ll hear my voice again when you reach each destination, and I'll give you directions to keep you on track.
In the first block of the arcades, it’s mainly souvenir shops, but after you cross the rue d’Alger, you will find more elegant boutiques selling jewellery. A little past the Hotel Brighton (which sounds very much like a stopping place for Coco’s many British clients), you will see the Galignani English-language bookshop, a long-standing institution, and then we come to Angelina’s.