Paris’s best silverware gets a polish
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
In the history of French silverware company Christofle, the Empress Eugénie plays a major role. “I like to call her the first influencer,” laughs Emilie Metge Viargues, the Parisian brand’s CEO and president, explaining that in the mid 19th-century, the wife of Napoleon III “was an insane fan of Christofle”, and commissioned a 100-person table service. “She was inviting all the courts of Europe to her table — the queen of Sweden, the queen of Norway, Luxembourg, Germany, Spain, Italy — and everybody wanted the same tableware as her. Et voilà; it was really the beginning of the luxury industry.”
Today, Christofle, owned by the Chalhoub Group, is about to release a new collection with French jewellery designer Aurélie Bidermann that spans rings and hoop earrings but also plates and vases. It follows a complete relaunch of the nearly 200-year-old brand, which was founded in 1830 by Charles Christofle — a jeweller who moved into tableware, harnessing the new technology of silver and gold metal electroplating. The brand, which soon attracted King Louis-Philippe as a customer, continues to be known for its French-made candlesticks, cutlery and champagne buckets.
Metge Viargues’s vision for Christofle is as “the Hermès of the petite cuillère [little spoon],” she says. “We are the same level; everything is still manufactured by hand in an artistic way.” Her strategy is one of “retro-futurism”, she adds. “This means taking the best from the past and making it modern — bringing it to a new generation.” Her first move was to talk to Ramdane Touhami — the founder of creative agency Art Recherche Industrie who, with his wife Victoire de Taillac-Touhami, has also breathed newly hip life into historic French beauty brand Officine Universelle Buly. His “revamped visual identity” for Christofle — from a handwritten logo based on the 1830 original to an update of the historical hallmark and packaging in the brand’s traditional olive green colour — feels equally fresh.
In terms of products, classic art nouveau and art deco designs — such as Danish silversmith Christian Fjerdingstad’s iconic, curvy coffee pot — have been reissued. In July, a virtual collection was launched exclusively on leading global online gaming platform Roblox. New designer collections, meanwhile, have thus far included Dellipse by Paris-based American architect Elliott Barnes and now Bidermann’s Babylone, named after the French capital’s Rue de Babylone — once home to Yves Saint Laurent — and inspired by the neighbourhood’s chic soirées.
“Visiting Christofle’s manufacturing site in Normandy was also very inspiring,” says Bidermann, who launched her eponymous, much-lauded jewellery brand in 2003 but is no longer involved with the business that continues to carry her name. “I wanted to draw a collection that combines modernity and a continuity of the Christofle history; to create very simple shapes, quite art deco.”
The result is a chic but chunky braided element that encircles each piece, running around sterling-silver Babylone rings (from €390) and a bangle (€850), candleholders (€390) and a dramatic table centrepiece (€1,800). “It started with the jewellery, but then I said, ‘OK, now I also want to do plates,’” says Bidermann, whose plates (from €115) are not crafted in silver, but in white porcelain.
“I just said yes to everything because I thought her designs were great,” says Metge Viargues. “The vases are incredible,” she adds of the ceramic vessels that sit atop silver braided bases (from €800). “For me, Aurélie is one of the best jewellery designers of the past few decades. She exudes Parisian style. And her collection is beautiful, very feminine, and Christofle in every way.”
For Bidermann — who continues to work as a designer and consultant for other jewellery brands, as well as working to commission for select private clients — the Babylone process was notable for its lack of compromise. “There is not one piece that I like less than the others, and that’s very rare for me,” she says, adding that if she had to pick her favourites they’d be the bowl (from €490) — “it’s a mix of pure minimalism and rich decor; I like the two opposite styles” — and the cuff (€2,200).
Eugénie would also no doubt approve, concludes Metge Viargues: “The braid is talking to her; she was always wearing one around her head.”
Christofle Collection Babylone, created by Mademoiselle Aurélie Bidermann, launches on 1 September; christofle.com
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