Expensive machine-made bags, clothing and furniture come at a high price, and I don’t just mean price tag. There’s an individuality missing and a care for craftsmanship that’s been forgotten. It’s fair to say we’ve gotten a bit out of touch with l’art de vivre, the art of living, at least according to the French. But one family, and its generations of ancestors, spearheads a revival with design and craftsmanship that will return the home — and those inside — to a deeper, more fruitful, existence.
“All the interior designers are coming back to the excellence of knowledge; they’re coming back to craftsmanship,” says Christine Duval, owner of luxury French furniture maker Moissonnier, whom I met up with in Vancouver at the first North American Moissonnier showroom. “The top designers around the world are coming to us because they want to combine their interiors with products that are homemade — to bring the soul, to bring the spirit.”
The brand Moissonnier is particularly qualified to lead this renaissance. Founded in 1885, the furniture brand is not only built upon the expertise of craftsmen and cabinetmakers, but the Moissonnier family were also famous painters and artists.
“When you’re an artist, you follow your own path,” says Duval. “You’re creative. You open doors, and that explains who Moissonnier is today: a mix of cabinetmaking, but also art and high fashion.”
Starting off, the company focused on crafting furniture that looked like antiques, a style that required a pedigree in painting, and the brand soon became synonymous with excellence in craftsmanship.
In the 1970s, the third generation of Moissonnier owners, Jean-Loup, a photographer for Vogue, and his wife, an artistic director for high fashion, married the brand’s iconic craftsmanship with bold new creativity, developing the Moissonnier style of today — “a balance between classic and all of the foundation of Moissonnier, the excellence of know-how, but mixed with this high fashion and art inspiration,” says Duval.
The idea that Moissonnier furniture is alive, has personality, also reflects this French quality l’art de vivre — it’s a way of life that’s about the journey, and Moissonnier furniture can feed this lifestyle and perspective over a lifetime, or many generations, as its works are destined to become future family heirlooms.
Duval, who purchased the maison in 2009, protects the brand’s artistic heritage by trusting creatives with control.
“Everything at Moissonnier is the artistic director, and she gives the vision,” says Duval. “It’s a really internal process of creation, because that’s the way to be very strong, unique. It’s more than furniture. It’s emotion — it’s good energy.”
The brand Moissonnier is like “an elegant couple, but with a twist — not a boring couple, because life is short.” She laughs. “You must enjoy your life, so a couple travelling around, being very connected to different cultures, interesting and open-minded to provide interior design and lifestyle which is eclectic. This couple you would love to have at home for dinner.”
But staying true to this artistic spirit is difficult with production cycles of competitors sped up by machines. Everything Moissonnier does is handmade, hand-painted, with 12 steps to complete their finishes and 12 steps of colouring.
Though their furniture is “like a piece of art,” Duval knows it too is a business, so she’s cultivated an unparalleled in-house team of master artisans — 50 to be exact, including 15 painters and 3 carving experts — so that all woodwork is done internally.
“It’s really a mark of French luxury, because we use the best part of the wood,” she says. “We use the best essence wood — walnuts, oak. It’s a long line of steps of different cabinetmakers because we need a specialist in all the steps. Then the way it’s done, you can keep this furniture for a long time.”
With a strong in-house team of highly skilled artisans, they’re able to deliver product in eight to ten weeks. “It’s very, very competitive,” she says.
For their bespoke services, she says creative possibilities are endless. “The creation is really so open to us,” she explains, noting a 16-person table specially crafted for a palace in Cannes. “We customize — it’s really the biggest difference, in addition to quality, for Moissonnier.”
This quality and legacy continues to thrive as most of Moissonnier’s young talent pours in from France’s two best schools — École Boulle and the Louvre Museum’s École de Louvre — helping them keep their efficiency as impressive as their creativity.
“We attract the artists and the cabinetmakers because we are the reference in luxury. This excellence of knowledge, this is our foundation,” says Duval. “When the artisans enter the company, they have two years to be trained to do the Moissonnier finishes, these famous finishes.”
Moissonnier’s superior craftsmanship and artistic design aren’t beloved just in the luxury marketplace. The French government recognizes its excellence in design and craftsmanship by including its furniture in two national labels — Art Workshops, and French Living Heritage — the former signifying “it’s really a piece of art,” and the latter “given to companies who have excellence of knowledge, heritage of knowledge, who have bold creativity and who are made in France.” Duval says.
Fortunately, Moissonnier’s embodiment of l’art de vivre isn’t only for the French. In its new Vancouver showroom, Moissonnier offers global design services in addition to priceless furniture. So Moissonnier can locally design the entire home’s interior to help the lucky homeowners better taste the fruits life has to offer — the way life was meant to be.
English Text by Taylor Mathews