YOU JUST HAVE TO stand in the centre of the Place Vendôme and look around you to see that this is a playground for the rich – the very rich!
The Place Vendôme was laid out in 1702 as a monument to the glory of the armies of Louis XIV and the Vendôme Column at the centre was erected by Napoleon I to commemorate the battle of Austerlitz. It was torn down on 16 May 1871, by decree of the Paris Commune, but subsequently re-erected and remains a prominent feature on the square today.
The Place Vendôme is home to the Ritz Hotel founded by the Swiss hotelier, César Ritz, in collaboration with the chef Auguste Escoffier in 1898. It was reportedly the first hotel in Europe to provide an en suite bathroom, a telephone and electricity for each room. Coco Chanel and Ernest Hemingway lived at the hotel. Marcel Proust, F. Scott Fitzgerald, King Edward VII and Winston Churchill were regular visitors as was Hermann Göring when the German Luftwaffe set up their headquarters here in the Second World War.
The grandest suite of the hotel, the Imperial, is a national monument in its own right. Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al-Fayed, dined in the hotel’s Imperial Suite before their fatal car crash in August 1997.
Today, the Ritz is closed for a two-year, 140 million Euro, refurbishment and the work has just got underway. The current owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, has said that he is hoping to honour the hotel founder’s promise of offering guests “all the refinement that a prince could desire in his own home”.
And it’s not only the Ritz that’s being refurbished in the Place Vendôme, other places are too, if more discreetly, behind large screens that hide the building work from view but do little to dampen the sounds.
In November 2012, the Place Vendôme is more like a building site than anything else. The elegant sounds of glasses tinkling in the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz, the sounds of eye-wateringly expensive jewellery dripping from the shelves of Van Cleef & Arpels or Chaumet or the sounds of vast amounts of money changing hands have been overshadowed by the much harsher, more workmanlike sounds of Bob the builder. Frederic Chopin died here in the Place Vendôme in 1849. I wonder what his finely tuned ear would make of the sounds today.
Sounds of Place Vendôme