The Madeleine-Palais Royal district and more specifically the Saint Honore street probably comprise the most traditional Paris fashion neighbourhood… After having spoken of the prestigious fashion district located at avenue Montaigne, let us now talk about the place where Kings and Queens and later the Parisian bourgeoisie came to dress up. It is the place where fashion was forged, launched, made and unmade in Paris: the rue Saint Honoré and its extension, the rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré.

The term Faubourg, etymologicaly “faux-bourg” or “out of the city” designed extensions of streets which reached out of town. Most of the time those extensions led to the creation of suburbs and sometimes cities or villages of their own. Such was the case for the Faubourg St Honoré located between the Madeleine-Palais and the Champs Élysées districts, at a time when the Champs Élysées was nothing more than a marshy area, with few or no habitations at all except for a handful of aristocratic leisure mansions and parks.

Rue du Faubourg St Honoré nowdays

The development of the Saint Honoré street and its neighbourhood is very closely tied to the end of monarchy, and specifically to a woman of huge influence who would contribute to the development of fashion, dress codes and habits in the French society. She was called Rose Bertin, born in 1747 and who died in 1813. The shops associated with her name were the “Trait Galand” founded in the early 1760s, located 234 rue St Honoré, and later the legendary “Great Moghul” in 1773, also located on the rue St Honoré, in front of the St Roch church, which is still visible.

Dress designed for Marie Antoinette by Rose Bertin

Rose Bertin was the confidante and the dressing assistant of many of the leading French families, starting with the last French Queen, the wife of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette. She was an ambitious entrepreneur and her daring personality also launched new fashions, despite traditions. Many influential Parisian personalities would come to Rose Bertin and beg her to take them in and groom them.

In the early days of modern democracy, and up to the early 20th century, it was there, just near the Louvre in this heart of the city, that the elites came to try dresses that were in fashion with Empress Eugénie, in the aftermath of the French Revolution. It is in this district that the nobility would come to see and be seen. The rue Saint Honoré’s merchant activity has been tied to the activity of the rulers of France since the time of Louis XIV, a role which developed even more after the French Revolution, and during the 19th century, with the notable role of the Palais Royal as a place for gambling and debauchery in the early 1800s.

Rose Bertin engraved by Jean François Janinet after a portrait of Louis Roland Trinquesse in 1779

Today the St Honoré street is even more busy still, with shops and fashion meccas: Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, Stella McCartney, Rick Owens, Pierre Hardy…. So are the rue de la Paix and rue Castiglione, just off St Honoré, which are full of luxury shops, such as Van Cleef and Arpels, Cartier, Mont Blanc etc… It is a region full of historical houses and sites, including the once wonderful Louvre des Antiquaires gallery, off the place de Palais Royal. Altogether, it is a great part of Paris to walk and shop.

D.A.