The next morning, I set off for the St.-Ouen antiques market, where fiery-haired Olwen Forest has a stand and displays what may be the best collection of vintage Chanel jewelry in the world. "I'm a nutcase about these things," she tells me, then goes on to explain why so many wealthy collectors are obsessed with Chanel's fake baubles. "They have all the real gold they could ever want, and anyway, costume can be rarer than fine jewelry." She reaches into a showcase to show me examples of Coco's legendary accessory designs: Maltese crosses made of bottle green glass; haute couture pearls, half gray and half white; an Art Nouveauinspired Indian pendant. A pair of earrings shaped like miniature perfume bottles catches my eye. It turns out they're from the eighties and were created by Lagerfeld; Forest and I agree that some of his work is as witty as Chanel's.
It's a lovely afternoon, and I decide to stroll down Rue Gabriel in search of the apartment where Chanel lived when she first arrived in Paris. Alas, the address no longer exists, but I find something even better: Scarlett, a fancy vintage store located off nearby Avenue Montaigne, a street as chic in Chanel's time as it is today. Scarlett has a trove of those not-very-old artfully raveled Chanel jackets that are so popular, along with a lot of other relatively affordable pieces. A camellia necklace with a dropped pearl is around $900; a classic black quilted-leather handbag with the trademark chain is available for a hundred more and shares space with many, many double Cembellished purses.
It may be an unwitting testament to the paradox of Coco Chanel's own life that Galeries Lafayette offers designer collections right next to more prosaic garments. I dip into the vast department store on the Boulevard Haussmann (truth be told, I always find an excuse to visit when I'm in town). On the hyperbusy main floor, within the velvet rope surrounding the Chanel boutique, my journey comes full circle. Almost 100 years ago, Chanel purchased the straw boaters she needed for her hat business in this very store—so new was she to the trade that she didn't know about buying wholesale. Now, in this cream-and-black bower, a rendering of Mademoiselle's distinctive, sharp profile dangles from a costume bar pin and decorates the toe caps of Chanel's famous two-toned ballet slippers. They are almost exactly like the ones I'm wearing.
LYNN YAEGER is a T+L contributing editor.