Fashion and the city of Paris are two old friends. Ever since the royal courts of France took up residence in or near Paris, centuries ago, social codes and fashionable dressing developed. And as fashion thrived, so did the merchants and the businesses that plied the trade. Colbert, who was Minister of Finances under Louis XIV, actually said: “Fashion is to France what the gold mines of Peru are to Spain.” In more recent times, the world of fashion in France is calculated to generate dozens of billions of euros of gross income each year. In this column, we will take a look at the main fashion neighborhoods of Paris, starting with the Avenue Montaigne, which is part of what is known as the Golden Triangle.
This avenue is currently considered the most glamorous fashion street in Paris, lined with about 50 fashion emporiums and boutiques, including industry giants Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton and many others. Dior still produces haute couture at their Montaigne premises. Top jewelers such as Harry Winston and Bulgari are also present.
Together with the avenue George V and part of the avenue des Champs Élysées, the Avenue Montaigne forms (from a bird’s eye view) the Golden Triangle, thehigh end of Parisian luxury. Within the triangle, there are hundreds of fashion-related businesses, as well as upscale hotel ‘palaces,’ such as the Plaza Athénées and the Four Seasons George V.
The Avenue Montaigne (named after Michel de Montaigne, the French Renaissance author, nothing to do with mountains) was not the first fashion street of Paris. The Ste. Honoré holds that distinction. But it has become the most prestigious. That would have seemed improbable, had you visited it centuries before. It used to be a swampy area which was actually used for growing vegetables. Later, it became a shady meeting place, known in the early 18thcentury as the Widows Alley: a place to meet needy women seeking company. It had an infamous reputation.
The middle class began to thrive in the avenue during the 19th century, after the development of industry, especially steel, banking and textiles. The reign of Napoleon III benefited Paris in many ways, with the creation of new neighborhoods. Many of the new fortunes established themselves there after 1850. The change was important, considering that this used to be one of the most insecure neighborhoods in Paris.
The first fashion house established on Avenue Montaigne was Christian Dior in 1947, followed a little later by other great names, Chanel, Gucci, YSL, Louis Vuitton, and more recently Dolce & Gabbana. All of the top fashion brands can be found in the Avenue Montaigne, with the exception of perhaps the most exclusive, Hermès, which remains loyal to its original Paris fashion street: the Ste. Honoré, which will be subject of another article.
Apart from the fashion environment, heavy hitters, such as major law firms, some of the super-rich (both French and foreign) and important world personalities are ensconced in the avenue. And yet, it is not the most expensive real estate in Paris. That distinction belongs to one of the other components of the Golden Triangle, the Champs Élysées.
The latter does not retain much of its former glory when, from roughly 1900 to 1950, Parisians called it, somewhat plausibly, the most beautiful avenue in the world. Alas, the beautiful people who frequented it then no longer do, and the fabulous commerce including superb restaurants and hotels that served them have disappeared, replaced by airline agencies, movie theaters and fast food joints. Nevertheless, in terms of price per square meter, it is actually the most expensive avenue in Europe today.