Columns on fashion, culture and ideas

Women's Fashion / Inner Chic

Marlene Dietrich & the Avenue Montaigne

Written by Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni and illustrated by Robert Beck, this column focuses on life in Paris, pepped up by its chic insiders

Avenue Montaigne
Avenue Montaigne Illustration by Robert Beck

Inner Chic remembers the chic eccentricities of a legendary inhabitant of avenue Montaigne

Boasting the flagships of Dior, Nina Ricci, Fendi and Céline, the avenue Montaigne is traditionally all about shopping. Still, I’ll always associate the place with ‘naughty Lola, the fav’rite of the gang'. Naturally, I mean Marlene Dietrich who was living at 12 avenue Montaigne when I arrived here in 1989. A recluse, the legendary screen goddess refused to leave her 4-room apartment and only saw about three people. A decision I thought and continue to think was wildly chic, but which infuriated her friends and fans.

Whenever in Paris, the director Billy Wilder attempted to make contact until Dietrich’s demise in 1992. After all, they had made Foreign Affair and Witness for the Prosecution. And Wilder, who didn’t always admire his leading ladies – he described himself as “too old and too rich” to direct Marilyn Monroe for a third time – had a soft spot for Dietrich. Viewing her as extremely intelligent, he also enjoyed her food – Goulash and apple strudel being her specialities. Nevertheless, from the late 1970s, Dietrich refused to see him and pretended to be a French maid or the Czech cook if he telephoned. “Marlene, I know it’s you,” he’d say. And depending on her mood, she’d continue the charade or arrange an appointment that she would promptly break.

"From the late 1970s, Dietrich refused to see Wilder and pretended to be a French maid or the Czech cook if he telephoned"

There are endless other Marlene stories such as Frédéric Mitterrand – then France’s pre-eminent film authority – telling her that he wanted to make a documentary about her. “Because I worship you like my grandmother,” he reasoned. Not quite the right approach with the age-conscious Dietrich who snapped, “so make the documentary about your grandmother.” And then there’s Marlene – Maximilian Schell’s spellbinding film – filmed in her avenue Montaigne apartment. Allowing a lengthy interview between the two actors, Dietrich’s voice is taped but her face is not shown. Sometimes, the voice is enough.

Text by Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni

Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni is a Paris-based British writer who covers fashion and lifestyle as well as being the author of Sam Spiegel – The Biography of A Hollywood Legend, Understanding Chic, an essay from the Paris Was Ours anthology, the soon-to-be released Tino Zervudachi – A Portfolio – as well as the Chanel book, for Assouline's fashion series.

Robert Beck is former New Yorker currently based in Paris. A former classical dancer, his book for children titled "A Bunny in the Ballet" will be available early in 2014 from Scholastic, Inc.

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