Not only has the three-story building, which has undergone a two-year renovation and reopens on Wednesday, seen its retail surface grow from 5,000 to 10,600 square feet, but it’s also chockablock with conversation-starting art pieces.
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And that’s even before they discover the watch and jewelry creations of the French luxury house.
“In a way, it is a private mansion for Chanel that we will open to the public,” Frédéric Grangié, president of watches and jewelry at Chanel, told WWD ahead of the opening. “The flagship at 18 Place Vendôme is the heart of our watches and jewelry creation and a very symbolic address for us due to its history.”
The company moved to this bastion of fine jewelry in 1990 when it opened a boutique dedicated to watches. The purchase of the 18th-century mansion sitting at number 18 followed in 1997, as a home for the brand’s growing jewelry offering.
“We were the first of the new, or rather recent, jewelry houses to establish ourselves [there] and in a way it was as much a revolution as a fashion designer creating high jewelry,” the executive said, surmising that Gabrielle Chanel would have had the building in her line of sight every day from her suite at the Ritz.
“He is so knowledgeable about the history of Chanel [that] he always expresses in a consistent yet evolving manner what our creations stand for,” said Grangié, who described the overarching idea as “a journey from 1932 and the Bijoux de Diamants collection to 2022 and beyond.”
Marino described his vision for the building and its interiors as a combination of “luxe and modernity” by mixing antiques with new elements to embody a brand that is “not static.”
Plus, “you don’t want to reopen the boutique with the same chandeliers that you had commissioned 17 years ago — people might think you’ve aged,” he added in jest.
Entering from Place Vendôme through incongruously blue doors — Marino confided it had been the one demand from the Bâtiments de France, the body overseeing the restoration of French landmarks — visitors encounter a digital chromogenic print by British artist Idris Khan.
Its free-flowing lines held a “modern lyricism” that matched Marino’s perception of the house founder.
“[People] always say ’she is so strict,’ but if she was just strict boxes, she wouldn’t be Chanel,” he said, pointing out the ribbons she favored in her designs, fashion and jewels alike.
Taking pride of place at the center of the ground floor, dedicated to fine jewelry, is a bronze column by Flemish sculptor Johan Creten, meant to echo the Colonne Vendôme, a monument Marino found fascinating, “as famous as the Eiffel Tower” and as big a symbol for the jewelry world.
On the walls, varying black lacquer treatments nod to the couturier’s famous Coromandel screens, as do horizontally latticed gilded bronze panels that can be used to privatize sections of the floor. Throughout, the color palette plays with the house’s black, white, cream and gold tones.
Courtesy of Chanel
Display cases were modeled after antique Chinese tables, and the variegated textures of carpets, all designed by Marino, nod to the tweed made famous by the couture house. Plush seating occupies quiet nooks, while works of arts — a gold-dipped beehive from Sophie Coryndon, a collage of camellia flowers by Peter Dayton and antique Japanese flowers in gilded wood — dot the spaces.
Marino was thrilled when an elevator that had been put in by onetime owners the National Westminster Bank was found not to be a listed feature and could be replaced with a new version. “Making a whole new kind of vertical transportation system — a staircase, an elevator — is the most fun for an architect,” he said.
Double the fun in his case, as he also imagined a new staircase connecting all three floors, with a banister featuring gilded bronze and rock crystal panels by Chanel-owned silversmith Goossens.
At its foot, he placed a stainless steel and rock crystal sculpture by American artist Joel Morrison. Titled “Coco Chandelier,” it figures a bust of the couturier with chandelier arms sprouting out of her coiffed head and sporting a double-C as a nose ring.
Moving up to the first floor, black recedes in favor of cream tones to display watches and high-watchmaking pieces, with low arched windows giving a view of the street.
As the flagship’s crown jewel, the second floor, often called the “étage noble” (or noble story in English) in classic French architecture, is home to three new spaces. The first, fashioned after a bank vault, offers a permanent display of the 55.55-diamond necklace, the not-for-sale design commemorating the 100th anniversary of Chanel No.5 perfume.
Hidden doors lead to the Grand Salon, a long room with full-length windows that is dedicated to high jewelry appointments. Two of Marino’s blackened “Bronze Box” sculptures, with matching lamps, flank the plush seating below a 1950 painting by Nicolas de Staël.
Olivier Saillant/Courtesy of Chanel
“It gets simpler as you work your way up. Then when you see the high jewelry pieces, you’re in a sort of white room with very little distraction — except the killer view and the de Staël painting,” said Marino, recalling how he had bought and sold the painting on behalf of clients several times over two decades.
“When Chanel considered buying [it], I thought it was wild. But they felt it really represents the same kind of luxurious modernism, forward thinking but at the same time, bearing this sort of ancient eternalism [that] represented the values of the house,” he added.
Grangié called this new iteration of the watches and jewelry flagship “the culmination of a project initiated in 2020 and a symbolic journey from 1932 to 2022,” and felt it was “important to create a place that would really show its full spectrum of our creation and patrimony.”
Beyond expanded retail spaces, the flagship is meant to be an experience for visitors and clients alike. “Stepping inside is taking a journey to encounter the house’s creation,” said the executive, who described the building as a “hub” and hinted at another area dedicated to showcasing its history being created.
Also under the same roof are the house’s creative studios, led by Patrice Leguéreau for fine jewelry and Arnaud Chastaingt for watchmaking, and the high jewelry workshops, which have called the 18 Place Vendôme home since 2012.
And don’t expect any disembodied experience here, even given the “immersive salon” complete with screens tucked on its top-most floor.
Despite a recent foray into virtual reality with a ballet imagined by choreographer Blanca Li, Grangié was adamant that the house would continue to be an exception in eschewing e-commerce and would “always favor the human touch and personal relationship in what we do and how we relate to our clients,” he said.
It segued with the brand’s focus on nurturing a local clientele as a priority, which the executive cited as “one of the reasons why [Chanel] weathered the pandemic so well.”
While the executive did not share any figures regarding the flagship, he expressed confidence in the post-pandemic recovery.
“When travel resumes fully — and it’s already resumed in Paris somewhat, although some nationalities remain absent for now — out-of-town visitors will come in addition to our local clients,” Grangié continued.
Chanel has 55 stores dedicated to its watches and jewelry around the world and the revamped Vendôme flagship will serve as a blueprint for a new chapter for the segment’s retail.
“It’s a beginning of a journey that will take us around the world over the next 18 months,” he concluded, naming Tokyo in mid-October, Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive in the first trimester of 2023 and New York City’s Fifth Avenue by the end of that year as key destinations.