Les Cocottes!

By 1900, Europe’s female celebrities were les cocottes, Paris-based courtesans whose taste dictated fashion. Figures such as Mata Hari, la Belle Otéro and Cléo de Mérode were seen as ultimate Parisian women. But the work of these grandes horizontales was hardly all horizontal. They served as the trophy companions of powerful men, but also as hostesses and artistic muses. No place were these great beauties seen more frequently than at Maxim’s. The historic restaurant, once their showplace, celebrates the women’s rich lifestyle in its museum.

To visit Maxim’s is to enjoy the courtesans’ world, a Paris of velvet, satin corsets and Guimard metro signs. From its red velvet to the Tiffany lamps, the restaurant remains a temple to art nouveau. It is the site of fascinating social histories. “Here is the table where Onassis wooed Maria Callas,” offers the museum’s Pierre-André Hélène. “Before, it was only used for the actor Sacha Guitry, who had to balance affairs with eight different women.”

Since 1981, the iconic address has been owned by couturier Pierre Cardin. Having spent 60 years as an art nouveau collector, he is passionate about its history.

It was Cardin who created the museum. He dubbed its rarities—over 700 artifacts, photos, furnishings, fashions and art—“Le Collection 1900.” Furnished with masterpieces of art nouveau by Hector Guimard, Clément Massier, Emile Gallé and Louis Majorelle (not to mention Tiffany & Co.), it takes up two floors of the gastronomical landmark. All the designs celebrate the female body’s curves—augmented by art nouveau’s famous flowered patterns and iridescence. Plus, it includes the boudoir of a grande cocotte.

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