A TALE OF ENCOUNTERS AND PROJECTS
CONVERSATION WITH MARC HERTRICH ET NICOLAS ADNET
Before you started working together, what was your career path ?
Marc Hertrich: Our paths are pretty different. I first wanted to be a cabinetmaker like my father; as a child, I was always hanging around his workshop. There are five generations of cabinetmakers in my family, many of whom were striking characters, my grandfather especially, who followed that same path. I didn’t know him, but he was a family icon. In the little village where he lived, he was considered a “gentleman”: the first to own a car, a camera… He made what were, at the time, many daring journeys… That was all him. He was a cabinetmaker with the soul of an inventor. He came up with a project for prefabricated concrete houses. He was a big inspiration to me. Because I loved to draw, I took evening classes at the Arts Déco school in Strasbourg, and later, encouraged by one of my art teachers, I enrolled at the École Boulle in Paris to study interior design.
Nicolas Adnet: My path is little more unusual. I’ve always had an artistic inclination but, unlike Marc, there weren’t a lot of creative types in my family. I loved classical music, everyone at home would get very annoyed when I would play Wagner full blast. I wanted to become a fashion designer, however my father did not want to hear about it, so the only possible compromise was to study model making, a “real” job, something lucrative.
But I quickly dropped-out, what I really wanted was to create my own models, not just execute a task. Thanks to my sister, who was working in the fashion industry at the time, I was able to abandon my studies and start working at Lanvin. At first, it was just to earn a living, but I ended up staying there 11 years. When I first started, Meryl Lanvin was in charge of creation, followed by Claude Montana… I learned everything on the job, and ended up on the board of directors as head of finance… I worked hard there, and had lots of fun.
How did you go from finance to interior design ?
N.A.: Even though I was in the financial department when I was working at Lanvin, I kept a close eye on the creative side of things. When marketing and ready-to-wear started to take off, things got less exciting. And when you live with an interior designer whose agency is also his home, you quickly become immersed in that world. In the beginning, you attend work dinners; then you start helping out in the early stages of certain projects, and so on…Since at my other job, I had reached a certain position and had created a good professional network, I took a year off to try working in Marc’s agency. Life is too short not to make that kind of decision. That was twenty years ago…
Was that the birth of the Studio ?
N.A.: Marc started it, it is his creation.
M.H.: After my studies at the École Boulle, I interned for a few agencies, one of which was Michel Boyer’s, whom I particularly liked. It was apparently mutual. He called me back about a year later for a project he didn’t want or hadn’t the time to do, a hotel in Geneva. I was barely 25 years old, and coming from him, it was a great sign of trust. Michel Boyer got me started, but I really hit it off with the Armleder family, owners of the hotel Le Richemond, and with all the staff there, the head housekeeper, the concierge… I discovered the world of luxury hotels, with its magical backstage and extravagant clients. A dream that was coming true… I had always been fascinated by the grand soirées of the early 20th century. And even though those lavish times were almost over when I started working at Le Richemond in the 80’s, I was able to meet some of the “crazy clients” who would stay in this kind of palace that was ranked 3rd or 4th in the world at the time. I was lucky enough to live at the hotel, see its its inner workings, and I got started on some small personal projects: first one little room, then another, then a suite, and little by little I ended up decorating part of the hotel itself. I was supposed to be there for just a few weeks; I stayed on for four years. I was living amidst the luxury that I was instilling into my own work. Everything was possible.
What type of projects were you in charge of at Le Richemond ?
M.H.: For example, I decorated the Colette suite, in the Napoleon III style. It was very popular among antique dealers at the time, also very Rothschild-inspired. We would lay hundreds of meters of silk and curtains that would fall to the ground, adorned with tassels and trimming… We would lay hundreds of meters of silk and curtains that would fall to the ground, adorned with tassels and trimming… But it wasn’t just about decoration, the work required extremely specialised technical skills and considerable expense.
We had to implement an air-conditioning system within the opulent and gilded Napoleon III moulding… Ironically, the first Americans to reserve the suite immediately asked for another one. They thought there was no air-con: the installation was so sophisticated that it was completely silent. It was certainly the most luxurious suite in Europe at the time. It was excessively extravagant! Its cost is not really a criterion for judging it by, but it did bring a lot of attention to the hotel: we had created “Europe’s most expensive suite.”
In short, these projects and clients were golden opportunities for you?
M.H.: The Richemond period corresponds to the time when the agency was set up and represents the Studio’s founding spirit, style, and references.
This experience and the exchanges I had with the owner Victor Armleder, are also part of what I share with Nicolas: a same taste for luxury, for refinement. Monsieur Armleder was a pure hedonist, a very charismatic person, extremely cultured, a dying breed. His true pleasures were reading, listening to La Traviata, meeting people, talking with them, be it a mason on the construction site or a prestigious client... These were all very important lessons for me, both in my work and in my life.
Soon after, I was lucky to have a similar experience in Switzerland working for a Lebanese luxury jeweler. Designing his boutiques allowed me to travel the world for several years. Having this type of client, these adventurers, these “princely pleasure-seekers”, at the very beginning of my career almost became a problem for me later on. I believed things would continue in the same way for the rest of my life.
N.A. and M.H. (as one): Thankfully, there are other people who still have the means to see the world in this way: magical, flamboyant, surprising… A whole philosophy of life !
How do you divide up your work? Who does what?
N.A.: We do most of our work together, both the creative and the business sides of the Studio. As years go by and the agency gets bigger, we have structured things a little bit more. We divided up some of the work, but we still do all the creative side as a duo.
Neither of us takes any decisions without the other’s consent, without constantly exchanging ideas about all aspects of our work, including creation. We don’t express things the same way, but we do invest the same amount of energy in every domain. Marc is more comfortable with drawing, and I with words. He has an innate talent for drawing, painting, watercolour, sculpture. I will take the lead on other subjects, but we generally are of one mind, very entwined.
M.H.: Yes, there are those differences between us that Nicolas refers to, but when it comes down to our tastes in colours and such, everything that forms the core of our work, we speak with one voice.
We weren’t at the same place when we met, but there was definitely an affinity between us. That’s quite rare.
The colour was already there, like the purple that we use everywhere.
Your apartment seems to illustrate that very well…
M.H.: It’s not just the colour; there’s a type of eclecticism that characterizes both our apartment and our work. It all connects.
We nurture that eclecticism, we love it… Anything ordinary or linear bores us. We are just as attracted by opulence as by simplicity, trying to keep a balance between the two, because life is also about balance. It is important for us to be able to go and rest a few days in the quiet of the countryside and then organise a trip that will take us who knows where. To be able to eat a truffle dinner one night, together or with friends, and have a simple and improvised meal the next day.
In our private and our professional life, we don’t judge the value of things, we try to see the emotional side, and we look for a balance.
How many people do you have working with you today ?
M.H.: We have a team of over 20 people, most of whom have studied interior design. Some have more affinities with graphic design, illustration, or archiving. Some are talented stylists, others are more technical. We sometimes call upon outside talent, artists, architects, landscapers, to complete or own sets of skills. For each project, we like to have renowned artists create something unique.
And the same goes for craftwork designed locally. This is one of the reasons our clients come to us.
N.A.: Traditionally, in interior design, you get custom-made items such as mosaics, luminaries, or luxurious furniture. There are infinite sets of skills, cabinetmakers, gilders, glass blowers, locksmiths, weavers… All these artisans open us up to a world of ideas we might not have had, allowing us to imagine more contemporary versions. sculptures, or place. It stimulates our imagination. We often fall head over heels for someone’s particular savoir-faire, but it never stops us from just going for a collection of boxes or anonymous sculptures, or a necklace from an antique shop in a faraway place.
Do all your projects share a same common thread?
M.H.: Not really. To start with, we discover a site and explore the region it is in. Then, we soak in the local culture, and buy books to delve into it further. That immersion is something we find necessary, it is something our clients want as well. After this step, a certain process quickly starts up in our minds, a way of taking photos, the first words to be written down, the first sketches, ideas for colours start to emerge… Once we have absorbed all these elements, we sit around the table and begin to seriously think about the project.
N.A.: We use all these raw materials and ideas to elaborate a concept and start on some drawings.
The concept must be strong enough for some core ideas to emerge, which will create a common thread for the whole enterprise.
Over the years, with more projects and more maturity, we still follow the same creative process, though it continues to evolve everyday.
How would you define your style?
N.A.: I would say that it is more a state of mind, an approach that is always open to change. We like to let things cascade into each other. We are always conscious of our initial idea and are aware our roots, but then we set ourselves free to try anything; nothing is forbidden in the creative process.
The history of art draws its influences from all around the world and everything that we consider to be our own specific culture is much more porous and plural than we believe.
M.H.: As Nicolas points out, and despite the opinions of certain art specialists, for whom I have the utmost respect by the way, when you look at art history in detail, you realise that each style that supposedly marks an era is actually a blend of all sorts of influences, no matter what the artistic domain.
Things aren’t as compartment alised as we think. That is also what makes our profession so great.
Which designers have particularly influenced you?
M.H.: When I first met Nicolas, I was as fascinated by Coco Chanel, my idol, as he was by Yves Saint Laurent, for roughly the same reasons. They were both revolutionary, not just in fashion but for society as a whole. I love Coco’s creative side as much as I admire her avant-gardism. To her, couture was simply a means to express her ideas, help liberate women, and I look up to that. In a way, Yves Saint Laurent had the same idea when he adopted his masculine, androgynous approach to women’s clothing. In general, we are inspired by surrealist artists, their creations are dreamlike, poetic… We are also influenced by more scholarly personalities, enlightened and cosmopolitan collectors like Baron Alexis de Redé. Or the Rothschilds, for their take on fantasy and partying, their taste for theatricality, but also for the great masked balls, the grand events of the fifties and sixties, organised at the Château de Ferrière or the Hotel Lambert in Paris. Those legendary characters and their world of extravagant luxury, as I’ve said before, have always fascinated me, probably even before I started working at Le Richemond.
N.A.: We are also very fond of the work and methods of contemporary artists such as the American James Turell, his work with light is very pure, very minimal. David Hockney’s had quite a different opinion, the colourful drawings, Bob Wilson’s plays, or some of the buildings by the architect Zaha Hadid… In all these domains, we like to be surprised by things that take us away from beaten path.
Asian or Oriental journeys, exotic atmospheres, the seaside in general, are these some of your favoured sources of inspiration?
N.A.: The person we saw at our first meeting with the Club Med told us: “Our priority is a seaside project, but having seen your portfolio, I have to be honest, I picture you more in the mountains. ”The next morning, we met Henri Giscard d’Estaing, the Club Med president, and he had quite a different opinion. He quickly assigned us a project in Mauritius, the first of the 5-Trident Club Meds, and from there on we were given a series of “exotic” commissions. Seaside locations probably account for our most striking projects, but we have also worked in a lot of urban and mountain locations. Travelling the world is definitely one of our greatest sources of inspiration, but we are also very sensitive to all the beauty that surrounds us, each day we marvel at objects, places, all the little things close to us.
How did the rhinoceros become your lucky animal? When did you start collecting them?
M.H.: It started with a magnificent but simple lacquered wood rhino found in an antique shop somewhere in Thailand.
It reminded me of an elephant collection I had heard of when I was a child. That had also sparked my imagination… When I saw that rhinoceros, it felt like it could be the beginning of a collection. And that’s how it started. The rhinoceros is fascinating in itself. The ancient drawings of them, from the Middle Ages, those by Durër, are incredible. We love its strength, its horn, its wrinkled skin like a shell, and everything that gives it that prehistoric look. And the animal’s rarity only strengthens our affection.
N.A.: Marc is a true collector. When we first met, his collection only had a few pieces. We have been completing it together ever since with souvenirs, presents… This collection is a sentimental, heartfelt one. In a way, it symbolises our taste for refinement and eclectic styles, be they modern or ancient.
A final word?
M.H.: The beauty of interior design : the art of balancing functionality, technicality, and artistry, all these qualities that often seem to be at odds with each other. The core of our profession is to design a location so that it can fulfill its different functions, while the ambience and decor allow us to instill it with that “extra touch of soul,” essential for each place to be unique. In this respect, our strength lies in something we learned at school: never to separate these two aspects of our work. That is the beauty of our job. Bringing all these worlds together.
Interview conducted in January 2016.
L’entrée de leur appartement parisien The entrance of their Parisian flat