Our Homes Are Our Prisons; Let Us Find Freedom in Their Decoration

Coco Chanel? Gabrielle Chanel? Pierre Reverdy? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: People spend many hours in their homes. The fashion icon Coco Chanel (Gabrielle Chanel) recommended beautifying one’s abode. She said something like this:

Our homes are our prisons; one finds liberty in their decoration.

This saying resonates powerfully in 2020 because of the Covid-19 restrictions. Would you please help me to find the original version in French?

Quote Investigator: In September 1938 “Vogue” magazine of Paris published a two page spread of “Maximes et Sentences” (“Maxims and Sentences”) by Gabrielle Chanel. The following statement appeared among the 31 items. Boldface added to excerpts buy QI: 1

Nos maisons sont nos prisons; sachons y retrouver la liberté dans la façon de les parer.

Here is one possible translation into English:

Our homes are our prisons; let us find freedom in their decoration.

Below is one additional citation followed by the conclusion.

In 2011 “Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War” by Hal Vaughan included a section about Chanel’s love affair with the poet Pierre Reverdy. The author suggested that Reverdy assisted Chanel in the composition of the maxims. Also, the author presented an alternative translation of the quotation under examination: 2

It was during visits to La Pausa that Reverdy helped Chanel compile a series of maxims that would years later be published in Vogue. Earlier, she had written articles for Parisian women’s reviews: Le Miroir du monde. Les Femmes et le sport, and Le Nouveau Luxe. Now, in middle age, she wanted to do something literary . . . The maxims included: “Our homes are our prisons; one finds liberty in their decoration.” “One can get used to ugliness—never neglect.”

In conclusion, the original French version of the adage appeared in a piece by Coco Chanel published in the September 1938 issue of “Vogue”. The saying can be translated into English in several different ways. Two versions are shown above.

Image Notes: Painting by J.M.W. Turner titled “Petworth, the Drawing Room” circa 1828. Image has been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to the anonymous person who requested the exploration of a large number of quotations attributed to Coco Chanel. This led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1938 Septembre (September), Vogue, Maximes et Sentences (Maxims and Sentences) by Gabrielle Chanel, Quote Page 57, Condé Nast, Paris, France. (BNF Gallica Bibliothèque nationale de France) link
  2. 2012 (2011 Copyright), Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War by Hal Vaughan, Chapter 3: Coco’s Golden Duke, Quote Page 59, Vintage Books: A Division of Random House, New York. (Google Books Preview)