Paris - Part Trois

Following on from Paris Part Une and Part Deux

For as long as I can remember I’ve dreamt of owning a Chanel flap bag, commonly named the 2.55. Over the years I’ve plotted and schemed ways of raising the money to buy one.

A few years ago my family even had to stage an intervention when I’d arranged to sell my beloved first car in an effort to access funds as quickly as possible, (despite me trying to convince them that me and my Chanel would be happy to travel on public transport.)  

 Image by   Felipe Dolce

Image by Felipe Dolce

It wasn’t just about owning a Chanel, it was also about buying a piece of history. The first Chanel flap bag was designed by Coco Chanel and sold in February 1955, hence the name 2.55. It has since become one of the world’s most iconic and recognisable bags. Coco designed the bag with a moveable double chain strap, inspired by military costume, to allow the bag to be worn on the shoulder to free the arms. This was revolutionary for fashion.

Fashion fades, only style remains the same.
— Coco Chanel

The 2.55 is made to the exact same design today, over 60 years after it was first released, and is strictly only made in France by specialist craftsmen to keep the history of the design in Paris.

Fashion and history aside, the 2.55 is also a great investment as Chanel bags continue to rise in price every year. The iconic 2.55 never goes on sale which is why it retains its value. If you hold on to one long enough, there will be some value locked in.

For me, there was only one place to buy a Chanel. Coco started her empire at Rue Cambon. In 1910, she opened a hat shop, “Chanel Modes”, at Number 21, right in the heart of the most fashionable part of Paris. She soon outgrew the single store and so in 1918, she acquired the entire building at number 31. Here she invented the concept of the modern boutique and began selling fashion accessories and her first perfume, Chanel N°5.

31 Rue Cambon has since become the brand’s flagship store and consequently holds the best collections and some exclusive items. And so, last September, after years of dreaming of owning a Chanel, I finally visited Number 31 with my mum to buy my 30th birthday present.

The boutique attracts huge crowds every day so mum and I made sure we were there when it opened at 10.00am and were the first people to arrive. I have read many reviews of visitors saying the sales staff are rude but my experience couldn’t be further from the truth.

As soon as we entered the store a lovely lady approached us and asked if she could be of help. She spent the next 20 minutes or so bringing every colour 2.55 in the store and placing them on my shoulder to try. Eventually I decided between a black and cream. She persuaded me to go for the black and sent it into a room to be wrapped in privacy by a specialist wrapping team.

When you buy something at Chanel, your purchase isn’t just put into a bag, great care and time is taken to wrap the item in layers of Chanel embossed paper and ribbons. 

While we were waiting, the lady serving us asked if we were visiting for a special occasion, when my mum told her that it was for my 30th, she replied, in her thick Parisian accent, “ahhh, you must sit”. She then called for her colleague to fetch us some Champagne! And so mum and I sat, at 10.00am, getting tipsy in Chanel.

Rue Cambon is such a fantastic experience for anyone who loves fashion. What was once a single unit has now grown into a vast, glamorous space. There was even a lady whose job it was to walk around the store spraying the iconic Chanel N°5 perfume so that visitors had a constant whiff of Coco’s scent. I’m considering applying for that job!

Once we had finished our Champagne we were treated to a private walkthrough of the boutique including being shown the latest catwalk collection and the most expensive handbag on sale, a grey crocodile-skin bag. A snip (or should that be snap?!) at €45,000!

We were then led into a hallway to see the stores pièces de résistance, the famous mirrored staircase. This is where Coco used to sit, hidden away from the press, to view her collections being modelled below. The stairs lead to the first floor where Coco used to present her collections and hold fittings for Haute Couture. Further up the stairway is Coco’s second-floor apartment, which remains untouched to this day, full of her personal possessions. The third floor houses her studio, where Karl Lagerfeld now works, and the Chanel workshops.

After taking a few photographs on the staircase, we left the store smiling from ear to ear and holding onto my beautifully packaged bag for dear life. When I unwrapped the bag I found a personalised Chanel birthday card which was a lovely touch. 

The experience of buying a Chanel at Rue Cambon was very special and I know that my bag will be loved for decades to come. If you are lucky enough to experience Rue Cambon, I would recommend getting there early. Regardless of what day of the week it is, there is always a queue of people. Also make sure you check any tax implications. If you’re visiting from outside of the EU, there may be a tax payable which you then have to claim back so this is something to bear in mind. 

If you decide to buy a vintage Chanel, take care that you buy from a reputable seller. Authentic Chanels have a unique registration number on each bag, but, this is no guarantee of authenticity when buying second hand since some of the higher-quality fakes have imitation registration numbers and receipts. My advice would be to select an online authentication service like www.vestiairecollective.com, www.fashionphile.com or www.whatgoesaroundnyc.com.

After our amazing trip to Chanel, we decided to follow in the steps of Coco and Audrey Hepburn and take tea at Angelina. This is an elegant Parisian tearoom that has been a famous meeting place since it opened in 1903. Apparently Coco was a daily customer for a hot chocolate. She used to sit at table 10, which is positioned next to a large mirror. Her biographers have written that she used the mirrors to coyly keep an eye on the world around her (like her mirrored staircase!)

Angelina is equally as famous today for its traditional Chocolat à l’Africain, a dark hot chocolate served with whipped cream on the side. This is incredibly rich and absolute heaven for chocolate lovers. The restaurant has roots in Eastern Europe where thick, rich hot chocolate is the norm. The Rumpelmeyer family, who opened the tearoom, emigrated from Austria-Hungary to settle in the Côte d’Azur. In the late 1800s, the family had nostalgic thoughts about the tearooms they had left behind and decided to open their own in Nice. It proved to be so successful that they went on to open tearooms in Monte Carlo, Antibes and then Paris. 

The interior of the tearoom remains unaltered to this day, it is a little tired in places but this adds to the history and charm. There are marble tables, chandeliers and an abundance of mirrors which makes for a very elegant tearoom. The interior was designed by the architect, Edouard-Jean Niermans of the Belle Époque period. The walls are decorated with large paintings, each one with a link to the Rumpelmayer family. There is a large landscape painting of the French Riviera where the first Angelina opened.

The waiters are all smartly dressed in black and white and guide you to your table. As soon as we were seated, Mum and I ordered the famous l’Africain which was served in a cup and saucer along with a pitcher of steamy, thick hot chocolate. Fresh whipped cream is served on the side along to dollop into the hot chocolate to make it even creamier. 

We also chose a chocolate eclair each just to go totally overboard. The eclair was gorgeous with a chocolate centre rather than the usual whipped cream. With hindsight, we should have tried the famous Mont Blanc, the recipe of which remains a closely guarded secret after one hundred years. Essentially it is a ball of meringue covered in whipped cream and sweet chestnut!

Angelina is no ordinary tearoom, it has attracted Parisians and international visitors for decades. The Chocolat à l’Africain has been a classic since the beginning and the recipe remains unchanged. It’s well worth a visit if you’re in the city. 

As with all great places in Paris, there is usually a queue but it’s worth a wait. If you don’t want to queue, at the front of the tearoom is a shop selling Angelina’s signature pasties and hot chocolates to go. You could take your treats over to the Jardin des Tuileries which is directly opposite and a beautiful part of Paris to sit. 

This trip to Paris was more than I could have ever dreamed of, made all the more special to be accompanied with my lovely mum. What a fantastic way to enter my 30s.

Until next time Paris!