Ever since Louis XIV organised artisans – from perfumers to saddlers – in guilds to serve his gargantuan palace, France has been a world leader in the design and production of handmade luxury goods. Now that France’s global behemoth brands (you know who they are) have been globally adopted as ubiquitous markers of status more than style, the cutting-edge fashion crowd has grown restless.
In their search for a more individual, ‘authentic’ look, French trendsetters are turning to the cottage industries for everything from clothing and handbags to tableware and home design, leading to a huge resurgence of interest in small artisan designers and manufacturers working in and around Paris. This is good news for the Paris boutique scene, shining a new spotlight on French savoir-faire and opening up a world of unique and limited-edition wares. Below are four of the newest, and best, on the scene.
Opened in October 2016 in the heart of the Haut-Marais – the epicentre of avant-garde Parisian style – Empreintes is by far the most stylish harbinger of French artisanship and design in Paris. The soaring 6,500ft2 space (600m2) covers four floors and has the bright, open ambiance of an art gallery with the chic clientele to match. It’s mission: to give French artists and artisans a retail space in which to show and sell unique handcrafted objects for both the home and the wardrobe.
The ambitious project was spearheaded by the organisation Ateliers d’Art de France to galvanise a growing energy of innovation and entrepreneurship that’s spreading through the capital. A new theme every two months gives nearly 1,000 artisans working in a huge variety of materials the chance to exhibit individually and in the larger context of their particular métier. The opening theme of wood was chosen by designer Elizabeth Leriche, “to emphasise our need for nature… and offer a more intimate account of the story of the tree and the links it forges with man and nature.” Leriche, who also designed the interior spaces, sought to “place almost exclusive emphasis on exhibited objects to highlight their specific know-how within a genuine living space”.
On the first floor, sculptural tableware in porcelain, hand-blown glass, ceramic and metal is exhibited alongside limited-edition decorative objects and small works of art. The second floor features handmade precious and semi-precious jewellery, lighting, furniture for the home (sofas, shelving, rugs etc.) and larger artworks.
Shoppers are encouraged to linger, touch and get a feeling for the wares, many of which are in use in a light-flooded café on the second floor. Already a go-to place for Paris’s who’s who (Marion Cotillard was spotted in the day we visited), it’s a great place for lunch in the neighbourhood. A projection room and bookstore will help facilitate workshops and a soon-tocome schedule of events.
5 rue de Picardie, 75003 Paris. Website: www.empreintes-paris.com
Alix D. Reynis
A short walk from Empreintes, Alix D. Reynis, another newcomer boutique, features the self-taught sculptor and interior designer’s alluring objects in porcelain and her precious jewellery, all of which glitter like stars in her dusky boutique painted in rich stormy grey.
A consummate craftsperson, Reynis engages with France’s long history of porcelain, a temperamental, fragile material pioneered in Limoges in the 18th century that requires great skill and finesse. Reynis possesses both, and her work, which is lightweight and durable with an ethereal transparency, follows a painstaking process in a French factory dedicated to the production of fine handmade porcelain.
The artist’s graceful designs evoke the great traditions of France and the Middle East, but with a contemporary touch that’s all her own. As refined as they are, nothing is too polished, symmetrical or precious. The bowls, cups and mugs in the Nuit Étoilée line are sprinkled with stars while a graceful vining pattern, inspired by cuneiform writing, encircles the bowls and cups in her Arabie collection. All are designed to be as pleasing to hold and touch as they are to look at.
Reynis also offers a contemporary porcelain alternative to the silver baby cup, with two models, sporting either a tiny pink fairy or a crimson fire engine, for babies destined to become as design-sensitive as their parents.
Reynis’s gold jewellery evokes Byzantine, Greek and Roman influences in brilliant high-carat gold. Her necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings, some with semi-precious stones, are both understated and bold.
The boutique is set on the three-block-long Rue de Commines, which is chock-full of new boutiques and small art galleries and leads to the newly fashionable Boulevard Beaumarchais.
14 rue Commines, 75003 Paris. Website: www.alixdreynis.com
Madeleine & Gustave
This once-tiny storefront pop-up shop in the hip Canal Saint-Martin neighbourhood recently re-opened as a 4,300ft2 (400m2) space covering three floors of design-centric contemporary objects for the home and garden. This is very good news, since founder Pascale Gibert, who tantalised us for three years with the kinds of small pieces we at France Today dream about, can now display her entire collection of simple, unpretentious and poetic furniture, accent pieces, lighting and tableware from a well-chosen cast of French and European artisans.
The boutique spurs the imagination with original arrangements that evoke a chic, well loved Parisian apartment – featherweight white porcelain vases in all shapes and sizes, colour-block throw pillows, tall copper candle holders, a playful cactus vase for a splash of bold colour and fun – many with descriptions explaining the objects’ origins.
While there are plenty of whimsical decorative pieces, like white ceramic birds or star-shaped sconces, all of the items on display are chic, useful and affordable, making a little splurge hard to resist. But it’s worth a drop-in just to gather ideas while visiting this exceptionally diverse and fruitful shopping neighbourhood.
19 rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris. Website: www.madeleine-gustave.com
Paris’s love affair with Japan continues at the foot of the Eiffel Tower just steps from the Seine in the airy new Japan Store. Occupying a lobby corner of the Maison de la Culture du Japon à Paris, the shop is actually France’s first branch of Isetan Mitsukoshi, Japan’s leading department store chain, whose roots as purveyors of fine kimonos go back hundreds of years. But the boutique in no way resembles a department store; the items here have been whittled down to a refined and highly curated selection of treasures of Japanese artisanship.
Dozens of exquisite handmade pieces – mostly devoted to the tea ceremony – by leading Japanese artisans are displayed in meticulously arranged vignettes covering a long central table, where a dozen or so small tea trays hold tea boxes in wood, silver, porcelain or ceramic, delicate spoons hewn from wood or beautifully wrought silver, sculptural whisks for Matcha powder, and tea cups in a variety of materials. The prices are startling. Most of the trays – all of which are sold as a complete set – range from about €5,000 to €24,000.
But never fear, on the surrounding shelves you’ll find a range of gently priced and equally desirable objects. Paper products include notebooks and diaries, stationery, even pressed paper sculptures; crystal sake cups in boxed sets or individual cups in silver leaf, lacquer and ceramic. You’ll also find Sencha teas and delicate Japanese sweets, fashions (chic kimonos from Y. & Sons, jeans and trench coats), and cool programmable Japanese Orphe sneakers that light up on impact.
101 bis quai Branly, 75015 Paris. Website: www.mcjp.fr
From France Today magazine