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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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