BY Jennifer Higgie in One Takes | 01 OCT 12
Featured in
Issue 150

The Chanel lamppost

Coco Chanel and the Duke of Westminster

BY Jennifer Higgie in One Takes | 01 OCT 12

Photograph: Edward Park

I was recently having dinner with an artist friend who is researching lamp posts. She said: ‘Did you know that the second Duke of Westminster’ – whose family has owned large chunks of London for centuries – ‘was in love with Coco Chanel in the 1920s and put her logo on all the lights in his borough to make it really obvious how much she lit up his life?’ I didn’t. I also didn’t quite believe her; after all, I’ve lived in London for 15 years, and surely I would have noticed.

That evening, after I left my friend, I decided to try and find a Chanel lamp post. It took me about a minute. There, on a Mayfair street, was the famous logo of intertwined ‘C’s, faded gold on a dusty black post, next to an elaborate ‘W’ – the Duke’s initial! I kept walking and found another, and another. They’re everywhere!

I did some research; the results are conflicting. The Duke definitely had a long relationship with Chanel, and was fond of elaborate gestures: once, he hid an enormous uncut emerald at the bottom of a crate of vegetables being delivered to her kitchen. However, Westminster City Council declares that the ‘W’ stands for Westminster and the two ‘C’s stand for … well, City Council. But why would they adopt so famous a logo? And wouldn’t that be copyright infringement? And what kind of council would have approved it? Rumour has it that the Duke’s family are the ones behind attempts to quash the legend, as Chanel notoriously turned down his proposal of marriage with the words: ‘There have been several Duchesses of Westminster but there is only one Chanel!’ To my mind, all you have to do is look at the lamp posts. Have you ever known a city council come up with something so beautifully nuts? I haven’t.

Jennifer Higgie is a writer who lives in London. Her book The Mirror and the Palette – Rebellion, Revolution and Resilience: 500 Years of Women’s Self-Portraits is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, and she is currently working on another – about women, art and the spirit world.