Recently I’ve been consumed and preoccupied with Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney. This biography gives every detail into the tragic but fabulous life of Gabrielle Chanel, including her relationships with close friends and family. Readers are also given insight on what is fact and fiction in previous Chanel biographies. Chaney does a marvelous job at describing Gabrielle’s early life as an orphan, courtesan, and dancer and later her life as a muse, patron, and mistress to the century’s most celebrated artists like Dalí, Picasso, and Stravinsky. We discover Gabrielle’s most legendary moments as a designer from when she opened her first boutique to the first fabrics she used, the making of Chanel N*5, and much more. And of course, we find out all about Arthur “Boy” Capel, the love of her life, and their relationship together. The well written, detailed, and remarkable story painted an incredible and vivid picture in my mind and made me feel like I was there with Gabrielle through every prominent and emotional moment. I decided to bring that perfect picture to life by hitting the streets of Paris and following in Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s noteworthy footsteps – starting with the Montmartre Cemetery, where Arthur Capel has been laid to rest.
Montmartre Cemetery – Cimetière de Montmartre
Lisa Chaney describes the awful tragedy of December 22nd, 1919 – the day Arthur “Boy” Capel was killed in a car accident – from beginning to end. She tells us everything about where he was driving from, where he was going, and who he was meeting. Details of Gabrielle’s reaction is even recorded in the story and is written in a way that makes you emotionally empathize with her. Gabrielle was understandably absent from the funeral and Capel was laid to rest in the Montmartre Cemetery in Paris. I visited this cemetery and unfortunately could not find his grave, but apparently his tomb stone simply reads “Famille Capel”. Even though I couldn’t find it, I was mesmerized by how beautiful and historic the burial grounds were. There were striking statues and remarkable gothic mausoleum crypts – some of which were spine-chilling. Besides the plentiful company of cats and crows, buried among Capel are famous and almost-famous people of the 19th century, including Adolphe Sax (the inventor of the saxophone), Nijinsky, Edgar Degas, Emile Zola, and many other artists, writers, poets and more. It gave me a satisfying feeling that Arthur Capel is buried in an area of alluring peace and quiet. I was tempted to sit on a bench in the cemetery and continue reading Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life, but then I got a superstitions feeling that his spirit was with me when I pulled out the book (weird – I know) so I rejected that plan and continued exploring the graveyard.
31 rue Cambon
31 rue Cambon was everything I thought it was going to be and more. I can’t explain the excitement I had when I first saw the beige awnings. Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life tells us that beige and black were Gabrielle’s favorite colors; she used these colors to decorate everything in her house from rugs to couches, and even shutters and doors. Beige was the color of the awning outside 31 rue Cambon, whereas in other Chanel stores, the awning is black. This particular boutique purposely reverses the two. Also, if you buy something, you’ll receive a white Chanel bag with black lettering (instead of black with white lettering) with 31 rue Cambon written below a white ribboned Camellia flower – also Gabrielle’s favorite seen on many of her designs. When I walked in I was greeted by a friendly doorman and as I turned to the right I saw a beautiful portrait of Gabrielle presented right in front of the famous mirrored staircase, where she would sit at the top and observe all of her fashion shows. I couldn’t stop staring at the staircase, I couldn’t believe I was standing in the exact same spot where fashion history was made so long ago. It was emotional, beautiful, captivating, momentous, and so much more. I felt honored to be standing there.
I walked around the rest of the boutique, which was a lot larger than I imagined, and saw signs of Gabrielle’s interests everywhere, including her lucky number 5, mini lion statues (her zodiac symbol), and bird cages. Gabrielle was a superstitious person and incorporated these symbols into her designs. Karl Lagerfeld still honors these symbols today through recent collections. Each employee was even dressed like a modern-day Gabrielle – wearing all black and drenched in pearls. Just by being there I could feel Gabrielle’s presence in every step I took and it was incredible, I didn’t even want to leave.
Right around the corner from 31 rue Cambon is Angelina’s Cafe. This was the place to be during the time when Gabrielle had opened her boutique. She would frequently go there, along with the Parisian aristocracy and famous people like Audrey Hepburn. Angelina Cafe is known for their hot chocolate and I excited to try it until I saw there was a line out the door to get in. I’ll have to save it for another day! On the plus side, I did see the most incredible sunset leaving Angelina’s Cafe with the silhouette of the Eiffel Tour, the Egyptian Obelisk statue, and the lion statue from Jardin des Tuileries – Gabrielle would have loved it! It was a perfect way to end my Chanel day.
There are many more places around Paris where Gabrielle frequented, but these were the spots that had sentimental meaning to her life. It’s safe to say I’ll be having a Chanel day part two once I’m done reading Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney. Next time I’ll be sure to wait in line to try the hot chocolate at Angelina’s Cafe. It was an amazing day and I really felt like Arthur Capel and Gabrielle Chanel were present with every step I took. In her biography, Chaney explains how Gabrielle wanted nothing more than to revolutionize fashion and to do something that will change the world – little did she know, she would make a lasting impact on the world even 45 years after her death. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s legacy will continue forever and I’m honored to be able to follow her footsteps through Paris.