Plaques designed by Philippe Stark are to be found in front of almost every single relic of significance in Paris, even when there is little left to see. All very well, but they remove something of the mystery of the places in question by giving an insight into their history to the plebs, and makes the job of intrepid explorers on the lookout for something "offbeat" even more difficult. Luckily enough, Stark has yet to claim his stake on number 12, rue Chabanais. Yet, until World War II this anonymous building, Le Chabanais, had a reputation throughout Europe as the most luxurious, most high-class of all Parisian brothels - the nec plus ultra of whorehouses. Only the most beautiful and the most refined prostitutes worked at Le Chabanais, whose clients were the rich and famous. One regular customer was England's Edward VII, who had a "Hindu chamber" fitted out and who took champagne baths in the company of one or two ladies of the establishment.
So high a reputation had Le Chabanais in royal and diplomatic circuits that dignitaries on official visits to Paris insisted it be included on their itinerary. The agenda for many an official visit thus included a discreet "Visite au Président du Sénat". But, as can happen, sometimes lines got crossed and one day the Queen of Spain in all her finery was brought on a visit to the Senate... in the rue Chabanais. An Irish aside: Le Chabanais was founded in 1878 by a Mme. Kelly (!)
Brothels, or maisons closes, frequently run by "Madame Claude", were outlawed in 1946. The magnificent interior of rue Chabanais was dismantled and dispersed shortly afterwards. In a much less savoury part of the 2nd arrondissement, 32 rue Blondel , still part of the rue Saint-Denis Red Light district, was Aux Belles Poules (the cute chicks). This ex-brothel has had a preservation order slapped on it, largely for its suggestive mosaics and ceramics going back to the Belle Epoque (see left) . Stark hasn't got there yet either!
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