By their names that have stood the test of time, these junior suites celebrate the great Parisian courtesans. Adorned with precious draperies, art objects, and paintings depicting languid bathers or nude women, these havens of softness extend the magic of the salons for a journey of all the senses, nestled in sinuous sofas and within the voluptuous reverie of a reinvented era.
Napoleon III Inspiration
“Fortune comes while sleeping. As long as you don’t sleep alone,” proclaimed La Belle Otero…
Endowed with a fiery temperament, viscerally independent, and dreaming of glory, Caroline Otero Iglesias doesn’t stay long in Spain, where she grew up in impoverished surroundings. Her charm, mischievous smile, and grace gave her performances as a dancer and actress an irresistible force. Her career was dazzling: retaining her stage name, La Belle Otero embarked on triumphant tours across Europe, America, and Russia, enchanting the most prominent figures of the Second Empire’s high society—Edward VII, Leopold II of Belgium, the Duke of Westminster, the minister Aristide Briand, and even the writer Gabriele d’Annunzio. Thanks to the pioneer of cinema, Félix Mesguich, who filmed her dancing in Saint Petersburg in 1898, she even became “the first star in the history of cinema.”
It’s been said that the rounded forms of the domes of the Carlton Hotel in Nice were inspired by the curves of the beautiful Spaniard’s breasts…
Three names, three marriages, and multiple lovers. La Païva was ready to do anything to achieve her goal: to become one of the most influential and richest women of the Second Empire. She will succeed beyond all her expectations.
Born in a Jewish ghetto in Moscow in 1819, Esther Lachmann quickly escaped her first marriage to a French tailor exiled to Paris, where she sold her charms to survive. Now calling herself Thérèse, she was intelligent, cultured, daring, calculating, and possessed the rounded beauty typical of the time: passionately in love with this elegant woman who dressed in the upscale neighborhoods like the women of the “high society,” pianist Henri Herz contributed to her meteoric social ascent by introducing her to the artistic circles of the time: she met Liszt, Wagner, Théophile Gautier… But the beautiful woman ruined her lover and was expelled from her family. Regardless, the ambitious woman who aimed even higher knew well that Paris was full of great names and great fortunes…
The young Esther from Moscow, who later became Thérèse and then Blanche, first a marchioness and then a countess, owes her meteoric social success as much to her beauty as to her exceptional tenacity and intelligence. Widowed from her first husband, she remarries a Portuguese aristocrat, the wealthy Marquis de Païva, who offers her his name—a name that, she asserts, “sounds good”—even though the man is far from being a marquis, and an extravagant mansion at 28 Place Saint-Georges. It doesn’t take long for her to ruin him and divorce.
She then remarries, this time with one of her lovers, a genuine Prussian count, the immensely wealthy Guido von Donnersmarck, who helps her achieve her dream: owning the most beautiful mansion in the capital. In these opulent surroundings, now known as Blanche, she finally reigns as the undisputed mistress of all Paris. She is admired, feared, or looked down upon, never escaping her past as a woman of the demimonde. Dumas fils famously quipped about her mansion, almost completed: “It’s almost finished, all that’s missing is the sidewalk…”
18 CENTURY INSPIRATION
The only daughter of a marquis from the Piedmontese petty nobility, Virginia de Castiglione received a careful education. Her beauty earned her the nickname “the pearl of Italy” very quickly, and just as quickly, she was married at 16 to a count who neglected her. Several lovers later, Virginia became the mistress of King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia and was secretly entrusted with a mission that thrilled her: to seduce Napoleon III to influence his political decisions and contribute to the unification of Italy. In 1856, the emperor yielded to the beautiful Italian, opening all the doors to Europe’s private salons for her, before his narcissistic and vain character eventually wearied of her after two years of liaison.
While Virginia died in 1899, neurasthenic and misanthropic, unable to accept her faded beauty and extinguished successes, posterity would not forget her: staging herself and being photographed more than two hundred times, adorned in her most beautiful gowns and in uncommon poses and angles, the elegant countess marked the history of photography with her creativity, far ahead of her time.
“The most beautiful woman of the century,” this is how the writer Edmond de Goncourt describes her—a courtesan who collects both pearls and lovers, poses for the painter Antonio de la Gandara with whom she has an affair, yet this doesn’t prevent her from also loving women.
Unlike most “grands horizontales” of the Belle Epoque who come from modest backgrounds, Liane de Pougy comes from a very respectable family. Born Anne-Marie Chassaigne, the tall brunette with an androgynous physique and a slender silhouette receives an excellent education before marrying a young military man at the age of sixteen. However, for a fiery temperament like hers, the constraints of marriage soon become too heavy to bear: Anne-Marie quickly abandons her husband and son to enter a house of pleasure in Paris under the name Liane de Pougy. She swiftly climbs the ranks of gallantry, becoming a dancer at the Folies-Bergères, then a mime at the Olympia. The ostentatious rivalry maintained with La Belle Otero solidifies their fame as queens of Parisian life during the Belle Epoque.
ART DECO Inspiration
Despite a good education and a bourgeois marriage, Liane de Pougy, ambitious and rebellious, quickly preferred the life of a demi-mondaine to that of a family mother. Her sapphic loves, particularly with another courtesan, Emilienne d’Alençon, and Natalie Clifford Barney, made headlines. Recounting her affair with the English poet in her novel Idylle saphique, caused a sensation in Paris, much like her first novel, L’insaisissable, which narrated the life of a courtesan strongly inspired by hers, whose only sin was “to want to love as much as to be loved.” After writing a comedy and five novels, she kept a journal that hinted at spiritual aspirations. Her marriage to Prince Georges Ghika in 1908 and the death of her son in 1914 initiated a slow metamorphosis towards a life dedicated to charitable works. In 1943, the former demi-mondaine took her vows and assumed the name Sister Anne-Marie de la Pénitence. The “prettiest woman of the century” ended her life as a Dominican nun, in a room at the Carlton in Lausanne transformed into a cell…
Marcel Proust was inspired by Liane the courtesan to create Odette de Crécy, the love obsession of Charles Swann.