It would be hard to imagine a more exquisitely chic square than place Vendôme in Paris’s 1st arrondissement. From the graceful classical façades to the historic street lights that transform it into a magical space at night, it epitomises the elegance at which the French capital excels.
The square – actually an octagon – was laid out in the reign of Louis XIV on a site that had once been occupied by the town house of César, duc de Vendôme, and was completed in 1720. Napoleon later left his mark, ordering the construction of the grand boulevards that intersect the square, but otherwise the harmonious architecture has barely changed in almost 300 years.
But nowadays, people come to place Vendôme not just to admire the Corinthian pilasters, but to shop for some of the world’s finest jewellery. The area’s history as a centre for luxury began in 1815 when François Mellerio opened a fine jewellery salon on rue de la Paix – still in existence – which soon became a favourite of the French court. Others followed, and by the time the Hôtel Ritz opened its doors in 1898, the area’s glamorous status was assured.
Boucheron, founded in 1858, opened on place Vendôme in 1893, attracting European royals, Middle Eastern sheikhs and Indian maharajas with its elaborate and colourful jewellery. Frédéric Boucheron supposedly chose the location for its light – the windows of Boucheron enjoy 12 hours of sunshine each day.
Nine years later the long-established jewellery house Joseph Chaumet moved into No 12 place Vendôme – where Frédéric Chopin once lived – whose richly decorated grand salon is worth a visit for itself. In 1906, new name Van Cleef & Arpels opened its first shop at No 22, opposite the Ritz; the brand would become famous in the 1920s for its exquisite art deco jewels under the artistic directorship of Renée Puissant, daughter of the founders.
Perhaps the most famous of the Vendôme jewellers, though, is Cartier, which opened its first shop in 1899 at the entrance to the square on rue de la Paix. That history was romantically and dramatically celebrated in the no-expense-spared, mini-movie L'Odyssée de Cartier which was made by the company last year to celebrate its 165th anniversary, and which sees the brand’s iconic panther travel the world before going back home to place Vendôme. Cartier would swiftly become renowned for fashionable watches and later for the extravagant jewels dreamed up by artistic designer Jeanne Toussaint, who collaborated with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor on some of the century’s most celebrated jewellery.
Today it’s the fashion houses that are flocking to place Vendôme. Couturiers have long been drawn to the area; Valentino still maintains an atelier in rooms high above the square, where Valentino himself used to receive clients such as Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy. Last year Chanel opened a fine jewellery atelier above its existing jewellery boutique at 18 place Vendôme and announced that it would present two high jewellery collections to coincide with the Paris Haute Couture fashion weeks each year. (Coco Chanel, of course, had a long connection with place Vendôme, living in a suite at the Ritz for some 35 years.)
Louis Vuitton was another 2012 arrival, opening its first ever watch and fine jewellery store at 23 place Vendôme. It was a logical progression for the brand and, in the expert hands of fine jewellery designer Lorenz Bäumer, its logo has inspired charms, rings, bracelets and necklaces adorned with flower symbols, monograms and the iconic locks of the label’s bags.
The boutique itself was styled by architect Peter Marino to look more like a super chic Manhattan apartment or boutique hotel suite than a shop, with sumptuous sofas, plush carpets and rosewood panelling, which all creates a warm, honeyed atmosphere. As Marino explained just after the launch, ‘The jewels are the stars. The décor must not compete with their radiance; it should show them off to their best advantage. Every piece of jewellery tells a story, you have to make room for dialogue and the dream that it inspires in the customer.’