‘The Hotel on Place Vendôme’: secret tales from the Ritz Paris
‘The Hotel on Place Vendôme’ is a fascinating book about the scandalous history of the Hotel Ritz on Place Vendôme, in our favourite city of Paris.
Well written and extensively researched, author Tilar J. Mazzeo paints the Ritz Paris as a hotbed of glamour – after all, it is Paris in the 1940’s! As the author notes, “it was a world where women in satin evening gowns smoked cigarettes from long ivory holders and men still wore fedoras.
“Fashion had flourished under the occupation,” she explains.
Intrigue and sex or “horizontal collaboration”, were the name of the game, while stolen artworks and espionage were commonplace. All the ingredients of a cracking good war story!
Meet the cast for this intriguing French tale
Before the story begins, Mazzeo introduces us to the ‘Cast of Characters’ – the hotel staff, residents and guests. These guests ranged from Winston Churchill and Coco Chanel to Marcel Proust and Ernest Hemingway (is that man ever not in a story about Paris?). Their captivating stories are expertly woven into the narrative.
From the Paris jazz age to the war years
The book begins in the era of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway from 1898 to 1920s. But the bulk of the book is set in the 1940s, against the backdrop of the Nazi occupation in World War II.
The Germans had flocked to the luxury of the Ritz, where Hermann Goering set up headquarters on an entire floor. There, the Resistance movement and the Nazis ran various operations, all mixed with the glamour of celebrities and the rich.
Mazzeo ends the historical account in the days of Princess Di, sheltering in The Ritz from the paparazzi.
French designer secrets
It was when Mazzeo was writing ‘The Secret of Chanel No.5’, that she found out that Coco Chanel lived at the Ritz, with her German lover during the war.
Mazzeo realised there was a great story in the history of the Hotel Ritz. This became particularly apparent when she discovered archives in London. They mentioned the Ritz as being under surveillance by the British Foreign Intelligence! The result of her endeavour is a captivating read.
Truth is always stranger than fiction
Rich in detail, the stories within ‘The Hotel on Place Vendôme’ are all true, which makes them even more compelling.
To give you an idea of the intriguing accounts that await you, look no further than the chapter headings. Among them are: ‘Coco’s War and Other Dirty Linen’, ‘The Jewish Bartender and the German Resistance’ and ‘The Press Corps and the Race to Paris’ to name but a few.
Quotes at the start of each chapter – such as “Luxury stains everyone it touches” and “It’s tough, collaboration is” – set the tone for each story.
The story behind the story: even deeper intrigue
What you might not know is that Mazzeo was warned by an elderly Frenchwoman not to write the story at all.
Her reasons? She said that many people were pretenders or liars about their role in the war. She spoke about the “frighteningly small” Resistance movement and the fact that most people who claimed that they were part of it were lying.
“After the war, everyone wanted to believe they had supported it,” she explains. “It is a collective French national fantasy.”
It is a relief that Mazzeo ignored the warning of this old woman as the story she brings to light is one of humour, scandal and empathy. Highly recommended.‘The Hotel on Place Vendôme‘ (2014) by Tilar J. Mazzeo was released on March 11 by HarperCollins.
Will you be reading Mazzeo’s new novel? Share your thoughts in the comments below.Image credits:
1. Cover, The Hotel on Place Vendôme, via HarpersBazaar.com
2. Coco Chanel, Getty Images via Herald Sun.
3. Cover, via tilar-mazzeo.com
4. Author, courtesy of Tilar Mazzeo.
This sounds really fascinating! Definitely on my hand luggage list for my upcoming French trip =)
Hehe me too Esme – I’m really keen to read it!