The power of the fountain pen.
Amongst the barrage of communications we are likely to receive daily, there lies a moment of stillness and reflection in the form of a handwritten letter by Nicolas Ouchenir. It is Ouchenir’s handmade and carefully crafted calligraphy that has enamoured designers, architects, and creative iconoclasts around the world. From his atelier in the Rue Saint Honoré, Ouchenir applies his masterful strokes to some of the most important and considered communications in the world. “My work is about love. It has to be when you’re writing something by hand to someone special,” says Ouchenir.
The gravitas of the handwritten first moved Ouchenir through the storybooks read to him as a child. “I still remember the script being as glamorous as the stories being read to me.” Ouchenir’s career path however, like many others in the creative fields, was one of chance. He began working at JMG Galleries in Paris where he noticed the signatures of artists such as Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali. “I love Dali’s signature. It’s completely free” says Ouchenir, who started to adopt this spontaneous and flowing free style for exhibition invitations for the gallery. Ouchenir’s script is far from a derivative of Roman or Gothic script or even the Art Nouveau style that he greatly admires. While there is a sense of the past in his oeuvre there is also a sense of the present, with the voices of both Ouchenir and his clients dancing across each page. “I’m telling my life story when I pick up the pen, even though it’s guided by my client and how they wish to be presented,” he explains.
Well know publicist and gallery patron, Pia de Brantes, had noticed Ouchenirs talents and asked to meet with him, urging him to explore his talents. “It’s not just thinking about people opening up their wallets to buy a painting. You need to consider the whole experience from the time a guest receives the initial invitation. With the handwritten, it becomes much more personal and engaging.” That first meeting with de Brantes, initiated a long lasting relationship that would eventually lead to Ouchenir establishing his own practice. “Pia showed me the importance of understanding people, as well as the importance of building relationships and establishing networks, whether it’s within the fashion industry or the publishing world,” says Ouchenir. Developing strong networks and preserving a strong support base has always been integral to Ouchenir’s success. “It’s the partners and friends that surround you that give you that confidence to take on greater challenges.”
Ouchenir naturally gravitates towards commissions that provide both an avenue for creativity and collaborative satisfaction. “If I’m excited about a project, I’m extremely elated and the ink flows, whether it takes two minutes or two days.” Although there’s a wonderful fluidity to Ouchenir’s pens strokes, he also makes a point to explain that each work is “strong like concrete and there is a sense of permanence to what is created”.
Ouchenir describes himself as an artist and not a technician and that his work is analogous in many ways to ‘haute couture’ rather than ‘ready-to-wear’. These distinctions clearly define the realms of his collaborations with the world’s most illustrious fashion figures including Azzedine Alaïa, Nina Rucci and fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Christian Dior. “With my fashion work, it’s about creating a rhythm to a line that captures a designer’s collection, defining a visual vernacular before the clothes are unveiled to the world.” When Ouchenir first collaborated with Vivian Westwood, the initial conversation involved finding a handwriting style together − an intimate brief between two creatives that can capture or communicate a designers motives.
For each commission, Ouchenir provides at least three options for his clients. “There are times, when you want to push one idea further than another, but sometimes it’s just not possible” he reflects. “One of the biggest challenges is making sure I’m happy with the result. It has to please me well before I receive feedback from a client.” However, the greatest compliment that Ouchenir receives comes in the form of letters from those inspired by his work and wanting to be calligraphers.
Ouchenir’s handcrafted work creates a rich and visceral world, capturing the reader’s attention while creating a sensitive and emotional connection. This devotion and approach has enchanted the imaginations of audiences all over the world, most notably during Fashion Weeks, as fleeting and ubiquitous invitations flood the inboxes of the fashion elite. This is when Ouchenir’s work stands distinct, elegant and quiet. A human exchange worthy of attention. “There always has to be an aura of excitement, of desire, as well as exclusivity” he explains.
Whilst Ouchenir’s skills are predominantly utilised for ink to paper mediums, other fields have also captured his interest. Ouchenir was commissioned to reimagine the iconic Hotel Ritz logo and “make the mark clearer and more stylish for today’s market”. He compares that project to the birth of a child, with the awe and surprise that comes after such a long period of gestation. Other recent commissions have included the production of ‘handwritten curtains’ covered in script, where Ouchenir installed transparent fabric in a Nevada based home, allowing his signature to appear written on the valley when looking out of the windows. “I worked out there were three kilometres of letters in those curtains” says Ouchenir. The work was placed throughout the house allowing the sentences to float poetically throughout the space.
In an age of instant communication, perhaps it’s our underlying desire for the enduring, the personal and the permanent that draws us towards Ouchenir’s work. Like many other products and services in this commoditised world, we continue to desire a link to the artisans that have crafted or designed artefacts as a means of deriving value from (while imbuing meaning into) the things we consume.
By maintaining a lineage between the artefact and the artisan, artefacts seek to transcend their material confines, particularly if they are to be considered luxurious. Perhaps it is through this direct and personal link to Ouchenir, we continue to quite literally connect with him along with the hopes and dreams that he has come to represent.