Avenue Montaigne : a name that dreams are made of from the tropics to the two poles and along all latitudes ! Few places on the planet can boast such a concentration of great couturiers, viagra jewelers at their pinnacle, check exceptional designers and creators, look all enriched by a palace hotel and a theatre presenting the best
of the best. Like Rome, Avenue Montaigne, a link connecting the Seine River to the Champs-Élysées, was not built in a day.
It has gradually established its renown which is today nothing less than brilliant.
So much so that “Avenue Montaigne” or rather, in small letters “avenue montaigne”, is now nearly an idiomatic expression ? It is very likely that tomorrow these two words will be found in dictionaries among common names.
And we will read with delectation the definition : “synonym of elegance, class and beauty”…
The Ladies of Avenue Montaigne
What a path the Avenue Montaigne has traveled to become an emblem of luxury ! At the end of the 17th century, maps of Paris mentioned a very rustic Allée des Gourdes where gardeners coddled their pumpkins and squash. How far removed it was from the silky fabrics, precious stones and quintessence of French art de vivre ! A century later, with the planting of several rows of oak trees, the street acquired a certain refinement. Henceforth it was the Avenue Verte (Green Avenue) and walking beneath the foliage of its trees was so pleasant that it was given the roguish
nickname Avenue des Veuves (Widows’ Avenue): a perfidious allusion to lonely ladies who strolled up and down the avenue in earnest search of a gentleman partner. It wasn’t until 1850, at the dawn of the Second Empire, that this street destined for a rich future was named after one of France’s greatest writers, the author of Essais (Essays).
Let the Music Play !
Fans of popular dance halls should make a pilgrimage to a spot between the avenue’s current numbers 49 and 53 !
It was here that the most famous of Paris’s public balls were held. Opened in 1840 by a certain “Mabille”, this was a place where patrons paid only 50 cents to dance the polka, the mazurka, the cancan or the lancers’ guadrille. Mabille’s sons saw things on a grander scale : they added colorful posters and gardens with groves and grottos where the latest cocktails were served in the glimmer of a thousand gas lamps. It was here that the idols of the day let down their hair : the queen Pomaré, Céleste Mogador, and the powerful Brididi. Mabille’s ball flickered out in 1875, a little after the end of the Empire..
The Man who built Canals
Ferdinand de Lesseps, the visionary who imagined the Suez and Panama canals ? Yes, precisely : the man with a crazy challenge and Pharaonic projects. When he wasn’t dreaming of Egypt and tropical
forests, his home base was Avenue Montaigne.
He lived for some time in a townhouse located at number 11, just a stone’s throw from what is today the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. But his bachelor pad, his little masterpiece, was located on the other side of the street at number 22. This was a Moorish bungalow where he welcomed numerous person-alities including the dethroned Algerian sovereign –Abd-el-Kader– with whom he so often meditated about the desert and ways to reduce distances between men thanks to the digging of new routes of communication.
Desperately seeking Mata-Hari…
The most famous spy of all time, an exotically beautiful Dutch
woman of notorious lifestyle, has a special link with the Avenue Montaigne. It was in front of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée hotel that she was arrested on February 12, 1917 for
divulging military secrets. The greatest courtesan of the Belle Epoque, who had disguised herself as an Indian princess adept in the erotic dances of Shiva, would not succeed in convincing her accusers of her innocence. The common folk admired her despite themselves and the writer Cami sang : “In the trenches of Vincennes / With the flowering of verveine / one early morning, eyes blindfolded / on the stake the spy is placed”. It was on October 15, 1917 that Margaretha Zelle fell under the bullets of a firing squad. With remarkable courage, she refused the blindfold, looking soldiers of the squad straight in the eye.
Her outfit that morning was surprising: a pearl grey dress, hat
and gloves. The embodiment of elegance up until the end !
Stars of the past
Avenue Montaigne can not be accused of having a short memory. At the corner where it crosses Rue Francois 1er, on the odd-numbered side of the street, four commemorative plaques imbedded in the pavement are dedicated to several pioneers of French fashion. Their names, if a little forgotten today, were once very famous. The first medallion is dedicated to the Callot sisters who were virtuosos in the art of making lace. A second plaque is dedicated to one of their employees whose glory surpassed even that of the Callot sisters. He was, of course, Paul Poiret, known particularly for having liberated women from their corsets. He was also the initiator of the idea of organizing fashion shows abroad and he would insist upon boutiques with large, tempting show
windows. What seemed to be a revolution at the start of the 20th century has become a part of everyday life today.
Ladies of Character
The other two remarkable figures immortalized on this stretch of pavement prove that Avenue Montaigne was several decades ahead of its time in terms of equality between the sexes.
The remaining plaques are dedicated to two great couturieres: Jeanne Beckers and Madeleine Vionnet. The first was the soul of the maison Paquin and was named fashion consultant for the Universal Exposition of 1900 in Paris, despite the fact that she was barely 30 years old at the time. The second, Madeleine Vionnet, still considered by many to have been an essential influence in the profession, distinguished herself as the queen of ‘draping’ and the bias cut. Her showroom and workshop located at number 50 employed as many as a thousand workers. It closed just before the start of the Second World War.
Avenues of Luxury, unite !
Having become something of the quintessence of French taste, Avenue Montaigne – whose name was adopted by India’s largest chain of perfumeries – would naturally establish privileged relations with its counterparts in other countries.
After teaming with Madison Avenue in New York in 1987, new twin-avenue agreements were initiated, notably with Sakae-Machi, the neighborhood of luxury boutiques in Nagoya, a historic and wealthy Japanese city mid-way between Tokyo and Osaka. In Tokyo, ties were established with the famous Ginza. Tokyo’s great artery signed the first twin-avenue agreement of its history with the Avenue Montaigne in 1992. Since then, the Ginza has not ceased to make headlines with the inauguration of several spectacular buildings dedicated to prestigious trademarks, many of which are already represented on the Avenue Montaigne. United we stand…
In Praise of “Catherinettes”
They are exactly 25 years old, unmarried, and the French celebrate their day on the 25rd of November. Who are they ?
“Les Catherinettes”, of course, those single young ladies still waiting for their prince charming to come along. This annual celebration has always been popular with the young female apprentices of haute couture workshops. For the occasion, they dress in green – symbol of hope, and yellow – symbol of success. On Avenue Montaigne, the tradition continues and the making of the famous hats worn by Catherinettes for the occasion mobilizes considerable energy and talent. At Chanel, the team of designers that works with Michel, the milliner, puts all of its savoir-faire into making them, and in other fashion houses, internal competitions are organized. As in the past, the Catherinettes still participate in a fashion show and their queen is elected by a competent jury composed of the quarter’s Mayor, the president of the Comité Montaigne and elegant ladies of the neighborhood.