As a rule of thumb, the absolute worst-case scenario you could encounter while being hosted by
A flock of fashion editors has commandeered all the best seats in the Ritz’s Bar Vendôme restaurant – the circular banquettes for six, obviously – and we are nibbling on smoked salmon canapés while whipping ourselves up into a panic. We may, it seems, be stranded here at the Ritz.
A mile westward at the Grand Palais, final preparations are abuzz for
If you take a left out of the Bar Vendôme, follow the line of chandeliers all the way to the end of the plushly carpeted lobby and then past the gallery of extremely smart gift shops that runs alongside the hotel’s lush inner courtyard to the cocktail bar, you will find yourself at the back entrance to the hotel. Exit here, onto the Rue Cambon, and you find yourself facing the exact address from which this Métiers d’art show takes its name: 31 Rue Cambon, the birthplace of the Chanel legend, where Coco lived in a private apartment, where
This Métiers d’art show being a Parisian homecoming home for Chanel, this expedition began for us fashion travellers not with a long journey to Rome or New York – where Lagerfeld’s final, ancient-Egyptian-themed Métiers d’art was held at the end of 2018 – but at the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras station. Spotting the distinctive, Alaïa-booted silhouette of 10’s very own
After lunch, four of our gang of Brits –
The sky above the soaring glass roof is darkening from blue to navy as the final hours count down to this evening’s show. In the centre of the giant space, the choreography of the show is being rehearsed with the models, who are in their civilian clothes, wrapped up warm against the December chill.
Pavlovsky’s show-day war room is on the far side of the set, so to avoid causing a Benoliel-style gate-crashing of the rehearsal, we hang in the shadows by the snack station, which consists of two coffee machines and an enormous bowl of Haribos. (It is a little-known fact that fashion people, like hummingbirds, snack on titbits of sugar all day.) The models are being coached in how they will elegantly vacate the staircase after they have gathered around Viard for a group shot at the end of tonight’s show. “Not too slow! No gaps please! Go, go, go! Follow her!” comes a booming voice over the microphone.“Not like that! Not too fast! Not all at once! OK, break. Come back in five minutes, please.” We take our opportunity to tiptoe across the set and find Pavlovsky, who is dressed, as ever, in a dark suit and tie, as smiling and kind as the choreographer is brusque.
He is lavish with his praise for Viard, reporting that the sales of her cruise looks – the first collection on which she worked with no input from Lagerfeld – are brisk. “One of our most successful cruise collections ever, in fact,” he says. Today’s celebration of the Rue Cambon is “Virginie’s contribution to the next step of the brand”, he says. “Now, we have her vision. Everything that Virginie knows comes from Karl, so there is no rupture. It’s very natural, a continuation. But still, being number one is a very different job from being number two to Kaiser Karl.” As they were in Coco’s day, women are in the Chanel driving seat. Viard has collaborated for this show with the filmmaker Sofia Coppola. “They have been friends for a long time,” says Pavlovsky. “It is interesting to see the conversation between them.”
Unique is an overused word in luxury, but Métiers d’art is genuinely unique to Chanel. With Viard so recently installed, the focus is trained on the designer, but the real stars of this annual show are the embroiderers, feather makers, pleaters, shoemakers, milliners, silk-flower artists and glove makers who breathe life into the designs. This is to be a landmark year for the ateliers, with the opening of a custom-built five-storey headquarters in Aubervilliers, designed by the award-winning, Marseilles-based architect Rudy Ricciotti, which will provide a 21st-century workspace for these traditional crafts – and therefore, Pavlov- sky hopes, enable the ateliers to attract the best youthful talent. “Every year we recruit about 60 people across the ateliers. We need to propose something that is interesting and exciting for these young people.”
After the speediest change back in our rooms, we return to the Grand Palais, clutching our show invitations, to find the transformation into Rue Cambon complete.
To walk through the doors of La Coupole is to be transported to Paris in the jazz age. The legendary brasserie opened in 1927, the height of the Roaring Twenties in the City of Lights, when Coco herself was sketching little black dresses just across the Seine, and the city thrummed with artistic and literary life. The decor is a shrine to art deco, unchanged in almost a century. There are wall-length mirrors and a phalanx of waiter stations, each piled with white linens and gleaming glass. There are spacious booths topped by polished brass rails and backed by wall-length mirrors, so that every member of the party can see and be seen. There are glowing lamps, aproned staff, leather-backed menus.
Actors Penélope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Isabelle Adjani, Carole Bouquet and Margaret Qualley are all squeezed onto the banquettes tonight. But then, La Coupole is accustomed to famous faces. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre liked to eat here (they argued a lot; he was a good tipper). Josephine Baker and Édith Piaf were regulars. Table 149 was Albert Camus’ usual choice, and was where he celebrated winning the Nobel prize for literature in 1957; table 73 was Marc Cha- gall’s spot for a birthday dinner; table 82 was often reserved for François Mitterrand, and was where he ate his last meal – the lamb curry, a house speciality, fashionably exotic when the restaurant opened.
Tonight we start with coupes of Louis Roederer champagne, followed by devilled eggs with truffle, and old-fashioned braised beef with mashed potatoes. Chat ranges from how many calories are burned by having a bath – the same number as a vigorous 30-minute walk, it seems, go figure – to the awkwardness of sharing a lift with
With Eurostar cancelled and flights in disarray, our call time for the only flight out of Paris is 4.30am, a little earlier than one would ideally rise from a dreamily comfortable Ritz bed. But the Chanel magic holds, and our flight takes off in heavy fog and despite a strike crippling much of the city. In the baggage compartment above rows 1 to 3 is a line of stiff white hatboxes, each holding a spray of gold wheat sheaves, brought home as a festive keepsake. And beside those, a stack of Ritz-embossed boxes of lemon-zest madeleines. Like Proust said, madeleines can bring back memories. Not that a Chanel trip can ever be forgotten.