THE CENTRE OF “ELEGANT PARIS”

“About seven years ago, a caprice of fashion awakened this Sleeping Beauty of a square. A couture house opened there, followed by another, then a third… soon there were ten of them. The prettiest, most elegant and refined Parisiennes immediately flocked to the square; it became the done thing to purchase one’s clothes here […] Foreign ladies, in serried ranks, have followed suit; the Place Vendôme has become the centre of elegance […] Yesterday’s ground floors have been converted into admirable shops offering passers-by – particularly ladies – all the refinements of luxury”.

Frédéric Boucheron, who set up his jewellery shop here in 1893, was quickly followed by Cartier (1898) and Joseph Chaumet (1902), setting off an “elegant tradition” that characterises the Place Vendôme to this day. In 1908, Frédéric Masson of the Académie Française celebrated the importance of the square to high society, its centuries-old history bringing together “so many things, so many people, so many stories: magistracy and finance, the terrible tragedies of the Revolution, and the boldest attack ever attempted by a single man against the most firmly established government”.

Devambez asked Georges Cain, a painter and conservator of the Musée Carnavalet, to put together a biography of this legendary square for a sumptuous book printed in 1908.

It was the story of a square whose perimeter symbolically enclosed the entire history of France, from M. de Louvois’ original project, made official by decree on 2 May 1686 by Louis Le Grand and abandoned in favour of a private development in 1699, to the inauguration of Chaudet’s Colonne Vendôme inspired by Trajan’s Column in Rome and erected to the glory of Napoleon in 1810 using the metal from 1,200 captured cannons. It told of the removal of the imperial column, “a monument to barbarianism and vainglory” by the Commune, in the person of Courbet, on 16 May 1871, and its re-erection two years later by the representatives of the Third Republic.

The book provide a detailed account of the square’s history, replete with period documents and illustrations: from its origins to the beginning of the twentieth century, when it became once again the “elegant centre of Paris” it had been during the Second Empire, a time when “the prettiest and wittiest ladies in Paris would meet there: HRH Princess Mathilde, Mme de Pourtalès, Mme de Galliffet, the Princess of Metternich, Princess Anne Murat, the Baronesses Rothschild, high society Paris in its entirety…”

A list of “important tenants” completed the history of these houses whose façades had been not only the setting for some memorable historical events, but also a stamping ground for Parisian high society.

“People are necessary in a setting, but the setting explains and clarifies them: above all those stone surroundings one sees people moving about in, and where one can follow them through the salons whose inventories reveal their magnificence”.

Georges Cain, La Place Vendôme, Paris, Devambez, [1908]