The History of Le Chabanais: Paris’ Most Luxurious Brothel


Brothels and the Red Light District were only banned in Paris in 1946. Up until then, the city oozed sex and sleaze making a name for itself around the rest of the world.

The remnants of this time still cling to the surface over in the Pigalle neighborhood of Paris. Here you’ll find strip teases, peep shows and sexual innuendo driven entertainment. It’s good fun — but nowhere near what the reality of the area used to be back in the day.

The sexual revolution that is still present in Pigalle may lead one to believe that all of the brothels of the time were equally as low key.

Here you’d be very, very wrong. Not far down the bank, toward the centre of Paris there used to exist one of the best known and most luxurious brothels in the world.

Between the years of 1878 and 1946, Le Chabanais brought in customers from all across Europe. Kings, lords and the occasional lady traveled far and wide to come and see what Le Chabanais was all about.

Today 12 Rue Chabanais is just another office building in the 1st arrondissement of Paris. The walls hold untold secrets that are getting harder and harder to tap into as time goes by. Here is what we know for sure about this important part of Parisian history.

Location of Le Chabanais in Paris

The Paris city center is luxurious in general; it has been for the better part of history. It managed to avoid the influx of poor artists during the revolution days thanks to the high cost of living and apartment rental.

Le Chabanais is not far from where we today find the Louvre Museum and the Tuileries Gardens .

Exterior today – by Xaviateur – Wikimedia Commons

The building is a six story structure. Each floor was used for a variety of alternatively decorated rooms and suites; from Hindu themed right through to Japanese opulence.

At the time of its reign there would have been over 300 brothels in operation around Paris. Somehow, Le Chabanais thrived above all others and managed to stay in business even through the most turbulent of times.

Concept of Le Chabanais in Paris

The concept was simple… ultimate luxury meets ultimate sophistication meets ultimate fun. The space was an absolute escapists dream — once inside it was hard to tell what continent you were on, let alone what day of the week it was.

The women who worked Le Chabanais called the six floor building home. By day, an eclectic space filled with the divine femme. By night, a multifaceted, multicultural sanctuary of explorative sex and high-end entertainment.

The expensive suites were fit for a king — literally. The interiors resembled something close to what the royals enjoyed in the palaces of France. At the time, it cost 1.7 million francs to get the building into the state it needed to be in.

The investment paid off in just a few short years. Le Chabanais became, and remains, the most profitable brothel on the entire European continent.

Patrons of Le Chabanais in Paris

As mentioned, the extravagant nature of Le Chabanais attracted all walks of society. Amongst them, the ruler at the time, Edward the VII himself.

In order to accommodate the leader, the brothel constructed a personalized suite for him to make use of. He booked the suite out a year in advance, allowing him to make use of it at any time.

Inside of it was a giant sphinx themed bathtub made out of copper. The king was known to enjoy skinny dipping in the tub while sipping Champagne.

Sphinx bathtub – Sourced from Atlas Obscura

As the legend goes, sipping Champagne while in the tub quickly lost its novelty. The king then requested that the entire tub be filled with Champagne instead.

The King’s suite at Le Chabanais was usually referred to by Parisian locals as “the second palace”. This should give you a good idea of how eccentric the interior was. He even brought in the famous cabinetmaker of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine in Paris to construct him a double decker “love seat” within the space.

We are left with only our imaginations to know exactly what this structure was used for exactly.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and of Le Chabanais in Paris

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a post-impressionistic French painter. He is known for having lived most of his life in and amongst the women in the brothels in Paris.

At Le Chabanais there were a total of 30 courtesans at any give time. Henri was reportedly so enamored by each of these women that much of his work ended up being inspired by them.

Two Naked Women by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – by Petrusbarbygere – Wikimedia Commons

He then took the works and installed them at La Fleur Blance, one of the most famous mansions in the 1st arrondissements. You can still stroll past the 6 rue des Moulins location on any free guided walking tour of the 1st arrondissement.

To thank the brothel and the women inside, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec donated another 16 of his works to the space.

Remnants of Le Chabanais in Paris

There remains very little evidence of what once existed within this space back in the day. All we have is word of mouth and literary accounts from patrons willing to disclose very risqué times in their lives.

What we can do is admire the architecture and historic location that Le Chabanais left in the centre of Paris. A once thriving part of the French economy and biggest tourist attraction for over 50 years.

If you’d like to connect to this era more authentically then Pigalle’s main strip is the closest you’ll get during this day and age. Approach with an open mind, it’s nothing near the wonder of the Chabanais.

A brief look at a time that came and went faster than I’m sure many of us would have liked. Imagine being able to wander through the 1st arrondissement today and into the still thriving lap-of-luxury brothel — what a thought!

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