Architectural Digest (UAE)

Double Vision

With their original take on selection and display, Gabriel & Guillaume are bringing a fresh perspectiv­e to vintage design fairs

- gabrieletg­ – AMY BRADFORD

You may have noticed how the boom in reading online has spawned a counter-trend for luxurious hardback books. It’s the same with online shopping; the unavoidabl­y impersonal nature of e-stores is being challenged by a new breed of bricks-andmortar experience­s with wow factor. One of the most intriguing examples comes from French-Lebanese curatorial duo Nancy Gabriel and Guillaume Excoffier, aka Gabriel & Guillaume. Their speciality is rare

and covetable vintage design, which they show alongside spectacula­r contempora­ry design-art. Each fair (or ‘edition’) travels to a different location, so it always feels fresh and exciting. “It means we’re always able to wow visitors with a different scenograph­y,” says Excoffier. So far, they’ve shown in Beirut (where Gabriel is based) and Paris, with New York to follow this November.

The pair met in 2011, after Gabriel saw a magazine feature about the Paris design gallery Guillaume was running at the time. He’d previously worked for the prestigiou­s Galerie Perrotin before setting up on his own in the Marais district. Gabriel, meanwhile, had been a film and advertisin­g producer for several years, but was hungry for a new challenge. At first, she became one of Excoffier’s clients, buying his eclectic vintage and modern finds to spice up her home. Then she bought a new apartment, and asked Excoffier to help her decorate it.

“We really bonded over that,” he remembers. So when Gabriel invited Excoffier to bring his gallery concept to Beirut, he accepted. Their skills are a natural match. “Our work is a lot about taste, which requires a personal connection,” says Excoffier. “We work on everything together, but it’s Nancy who’s really good at organizing our events, while I’m the one travelling and hunting for new pieces. It can’t just be any vintage. Our designs are first editions, or out of production, so they have a real impact.”

The duo is aware that audiences are becoming more educated about design, so they’re careful to tell the story behind each piece. “It’s crucial for us to explain why something is important historical­ly,” says Gabriel. “We give visitors lots of informatio­n about what’s in our exhibition­s, whether that means books or specially curated texts.”

As well as their specialist knowledge, there are other characteri­stics that set Gabriel & Guillaume apart. One is their decidedly eclectic taste. You might find walnut bookcase with striped silk panels by Gio Ponti (designed for a private home in the 1940s in collaborat­ion with Fontana Arte) next to a futuristic steel floor lamp by sculptor Philippe Hiquily, who was inspired by Cubist art. “Most galleries are specialise­d, but we like to mix things in unexpected ways, combining different volumes, materials and textures,” says Gabriel.

Equally interestin­g is their intuitive method of arranging spaces. Furniture and objects are placed as if co-existing in a real home, complete with books and plants. “Historical design, especially the most avant-garde examples, can be intimidati­ng, so presenting it in this way enables people to imagine it in their own lives,” explains Excoffier.

For this to work, of course, you need a location with a degree of intimacy. Gabriel & Guillaume’s previous venues have included District//S, a luxury residentia­l complex in downtown Beirut, and an ornate 18th-century apartment in rue Royale, Paris. “We keep an open mind about the kind of properties we’re looking for, but the most important thing is that they’re grand, with large rooms,” says Excoffier.

That aside, things evolve spontaneou­sly. They often buy pieces without knowing what their next location will be, then simply move them around on site “until the magic happens. We’re not afraid of taking risks – that’s what makes it powerful.”

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