Can lampposts be fashionable? The myth of the Coco Chanel street lights
Anyone observant who has walked around the City of Westminster may have noticed the gold CC initials embossed on some of the lampposts. With the two Cs back-to-back, the first association that would spring to mind would be Coco Chanel’s iconic logo. Decades after the French designer was the talk of the town, her brand is still a big name internationally, synonymous with classic style and quality.
For years, there has been a myth that the initials actually are in homage to Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel as a declaration of affection from her lover, the Duke of Westminster, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor. The pair were said to have met at a party in Monaco sometime between 1923 and 1925 and embarked on a love affair until the early ’30s. Although French and known for her long association with Paris, Gabrielle spent a lot of time in London during the ’20s and opened her Mayfair boutique in 1927. To prove his love for her, the myth claims the Duke had her CC initials embossed in gold on black lampposts alongside his own ornate W crest (for Westminster). Decades after their romance, Coco herself denied reports she had refused the Duke’s proposal with the reply: ‘There have been many Duchesses of Westminster, but only one Coco Chanel.’ She said such a response would have been ‘vulgar’, adding: ‘He would have laughed in my face.’ However, he did buy her some land at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Riviera, where she built her villa La Pausa.
While the lampposts appearing to combine French fashion and traditional British design remain on many Westminster streets, it appears the CCs may not have such a romantic origin after all. Westminster Council told the Telegraph two years ago that the CC stands for something far less glamorous. Martin Low, City Commissioner of Transportation for Westminster City Council, told the paper: ‘Periodically, we get calls from the fashion press asking if the double Cs on our lampposts stand for Coco Chanel. It’s a nice idea, but no. The fancy W stands for Westminster and the two Cs stand for City Council. The lampposts didn’t actually get installed until the 1950s.’
N.B. The lampposts in the 1st and 2nd photos is located on Temple Place, WC2R, just behind Temple tube station, while the final lamppost is on Irving Street, just off Charing Cross Road.
For more MOAMG blog posts on the stories behind London’s street furniture, read Seen a Dolphin in the Thames? Story behind the lamps on the Thames Embankment, or The water’s run dry: A Georgian pump lanquishing on Cornhill or What’s that small Tardis-looking thing? Story behind London’s old police telephone posts.
If you’re a fan of the 1920s, check out MOAMG’s guide to themed activities and nights out in London following the release of The Great Gatsby.