Paris is one of the most glamorous cities in Europe and Oscar de la Renta one of the most exclusive fashion chains in the world, but while preparing to open a new store, they discovered a level of class and of sophistication for which their rivals would have killed.
According to the New York Times, while the building was being renovated, Oscar de la Renta’s chief executive, Alex Bolen, received an enthusiastic call from its architect, Nathalie Ryan.
Ryan had stumbled upon something breathtaking hidden behind a wall on the second floor of the 19th-century building they had acquired on Rue de Marignan, a side street off the upscale Avenue Montaigne that houses stores like Louis Vuitton, Dior , Chanel, Valentino and Ralph Lauren.
Bolen hopped on a flight from his New York office and was taken to see what Ryan had discovered: a 10-by-20-foot oil painting filled the entire length of the wall. It showed a richly dressed 17th century aristocrat and his courtiers entering the holy city of Jerusalem – the golden domes of the mosques visible in the background.
The second floor had previously housed an insurance brokerage, and Ryan’s team had worked hard to strip down the interior of the soulless office for something worthy of a high-end fashion boutique. Almost everything would have to come out of the cabin hell, and they envisioned a grand, sleek staircase that would connect the two floors, creating a large open store space.
As soon as Ryan – who was Dior’s in-house architect – began work, they began to find evidence of the building’s former grandeur. Hidden above the barren ceiling of the office, a workman had found a 19th-century paneled ceiling made up of 29 recessed squares, eight of them painted with heraldic signs, and all perfectly preserved.
It was beautiful, but not uncommon in buildings of this era in Paris – but oil painting was something else altogether.
“Oh my God, that was – wow,” Ryan told The New York Times. “Sometimes when you’re working on castles you find something, but usually it’s a hidden fireplace, or in Italy maybe a fresco,” Ms Ryan said. “But in an apartment?” In a store?”
“Everyone freaked out,” said the store’s interior designer, Jeang Kim. “It was like finding a mummy. I immediately turned off my phone and just looked at it. Nothing like this had ever happened in my job before.
The demolition was halted and Bolen set about investigating. Through the well-connected de la Renta family, owners of the business, he was able to get in touch with members of the de la Rochefoucauld family, a distant relative – one of whom lived in the building opposite the shop and another who worked at the Louvre, the museum of the world. largest art museum located in the heart of Paris.
Bolen was then introduced to art historian Stéphane Pinta of Cabinet Turquin, an expert on Old Masters, who refers to art created by professional artists before the 18th century, including the art schools of the Renaissance and the Baroque.
Pinta revealed that the mysterious painting was an oil on canvas painting by Arnould de Vuez, who worked with the famous Charles le Brun – painter to French King Louis XIV and interior designer for the royal palace, Château de Versailles. De Vuez did not have the chance to mingle with the same high society – he made bad enemies and was forced to flee France for Constantinople, now Istanbul, then the capital of the Ottoman Empire .
Pinta discovered a reproduction of the painting in the 1900 book Odyssey of an Ambassador: The Travels of the Marquis de Nointel, 1670-1680. It told the story of Charles Marie François Olier, Marquis de Nointel, who was French Ambassador to the court of the Ottoman Emperor Mehmed VI.
With Franco-Turkish relations at an all-time low, the Marquis went to impress and arrived in the company of four battleships and 27 French nobles. His mission was a modest success – he secured lower customs fees for French merchants to the east and visited Greece, Palestine and Egypt. His obsession with acquiring valuable antiquities was less well received and having accumulated huge debts on behalf of the crown, he was sent home by Louis XIV.
The mysterious painting shows the Marquis arriving in Jerusalem with great ceremony and pomp as part of this overindulgent diplomatic tour turned shopping spree. In that regard, at least, the Marquis de Nointel is a worthy guardian angel for a fashion boutique where dresses start at around $1,600 and explode to over $4,000.
Bolan agreed with the owners of the buildings to restore the paintwork – which had been darkened by varnish and earlier restoration attempts – in return for it being kept in the Oscar de la Renta boutique for its ten-year lease.
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Naturally, the store plan was also changed, with additional security in place, period furniture commissioned and treated glass installed on the windows to prevent sunlight from damaging the paintwork.
“We’re not going to put a wall of dresses in front,” Ryan joked.