IN­STINC­TIVE

Strik­ing a fine bal­ance be­tween tradition and innovation, Saint-louis crafts crys­tal glass­ware and chan­de­liers that ap­peal to mod­ern tastes. Jane Ngiam speaks to its chief ex­ec­u­tive Jérôme Fougeras de Lavergnolle in Paris to find out how

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In­spir­ing in­sights by in­dus­try in­sid­ers

Trim and wear­ing a broad smile, the gen­tle­man says, “Hello, I’m Jérôme.” He takes my hand for a firm hand­shake then con­tin­ues, “Just give me one minute and I’ll be with you.” I’ve just stepped into the Saint-louis bou­tique on Rue Royale in Paris, which has a pal­pa­ble buzz as jour­nal­ists and re­tail­ers view its lat­est col­lec­tion. For two years now, Saint-louis has not par­tic­i­pated in the Mai­son&ob­jet fair in Paris, choos­ing in­stead to host me­dia and po­ten­tial clients in its cen­trally lo­cated bou­tique. This is one of the many de­ci­sions made by the brand’s mul­ti­task­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive, Jérôme Fougeras de Lavergnolle, and so far this strat­egy seems to have suc­ceeded. Min­utes later, Jérôme re­turns and ush­ers me to a quiet ta­ble. He shows me a new app on his ipad that Saint-louis has de­vel­oped for ex­clu­sive use within its bou­tiques; with this app, cus­tomers are able to dig­i­tally vi­su­alise its chan­de­liers in a mix of set­tings and am­bi­ences. Through­out our hour-long chat, he leaps jaun­tily to his feet a few times to lead me to a par­tic­u­lar item he’s de­scrib­ing or to bring an ex­quis­ite gob­let to my hands. Quick-footed and sharp, he’s also warm and en­gag­ing; his en­ergy is per­haps one of the rea­sons for the brand’s fast-track to suc­cess. When Her­mès took over Cristal­leries de Saint-louis in 1995, he was the deputy CFO of Her­mès In­ter­na­tional. Since 2010, he has been cred­ited with turn­ing a profit for the 430-year-old mai­son as its chief ex­ec­u­tive.

What makes Saint-louis dif­fer­ent from other crys­tal maisons?

The first is crafts­man­ship. Ev­ery­thing is done through the ges­tures and the eyes of the glass­blower. Our crafts­man­ship also al­lows us to of­fer madeto-mea­sure as a ser­vice for our cus­tomers. The sec­ond is qual­ity. We never com­pro­mise. We’re able to present a wide spec­trum of colours and this is unique to our brand. Fi­nally, and most im­por­tantly, Saint-louis is about the per­fect har­mony of tradition and innovation. The tech­niques we use to­day came from the 19th cen­tury. At the same time, we present in­no­va­tive cre­ations that fit in mod­ern homes.

What’s the idea be­hind “Strength of Na­ture”, your 2017 theme?

For Saint-louis, there’s al­ways some link be­tween the past and prod­ucts that can be very mod­ern. This year’s theme harks back to our early re­la­tion­ship with na­ture. We have our ori­gins in a re­gion of France called Vos­ges, which is to­tally sur­rounded by forests. Forests are at the heart of Saint-louis. In the for­est, we used to find ev­ery­thing we needed for pro­duc­tion: wood to fire the fur­nace, wa­ter from the river to cut the crys­tal, and ferns which be­come a potash that re­duces the heat on the crys­tal. This year, we col­lab­o­rated with [French de­signer] Noé Duchau­fourLawrance, who has cre­ated a col­lec­tion that mar­ries the strength of wood with the clar­ity of crys­tal.

How has the con­cept of lux­ury changed over the years?

The lux­ury mar­ket is mov­ing towards the “masstige” mar­ket; this exposes the en­tire seg­ment to cer­tain risks. This is why we have to be very strict about our key val­ues and the de­sign. Never com­pro­mise on qual­ity. Try to be in­no­va­tive, but al­ways re­spect your roots and your DNA.

How long does it take to pro­duce be­spoke items such as the Royal & Ar­lequin chan­de­lier?

For a chan­de­lier of about 24 lights, it would take about two to three weeks to craft the dif­fer­ent in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents in the hot process of mak­ing the crys­tal. In the cold process, we add the dec­o­ra­tion needed, such as cut­ting or gold paint­ing. All in all, we can de­liver to Sin­ga­pore within one month.

Who’s the cus­tomer you are de­sign­ing for?

I think we de­sign for any­one who ap­pre­ci­ates qual­ity. You may start by buy­ing two glasses for your whisky. Then, you may want to get a carafe. From there you say, “Why not a vase?” And from a vase, you go to the lamp and, fi­nally, you may buy the en­tire chan­de­lier. It’s not a ques­tion of money; it’s a ques­tion of taste. If you en­joy and un­der­stand crys­tal, it’s for you.

“NEVER COM­PRO­MISE ON QUAL­ITY. TRY TO BE IN­NO­VA­TIVE, BUT AL­WAYS RE­SPECT YOUR ROOTS AND DNA”

The Fo­lia col­lec­tion, de­signed by Noé Duchau­fourLawrance for Saint-louis

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