A frondescent collection from fine crystal makers, Saint Louis

As restrictions around the world ease, and we are increasingly able to walk the streets to visit public places, one takeaway is that our private spaces are so important. In the home, where we have spent our time over the last few months almost exclusively, beauty is important. And Saint Louis knows beauty. With its origins dating back to the 1500s, Saint Louis is based in the north east of France, surrounded by a forest that supplies the wood firing the furnaces that enable the creation of crystal. Inspired by that forest, this latest collection, Folia, combines wood and crystal with a warm and dazzling result. A portable lamp inspired by an acorn with brushed brass accents is one of the most beautiful pieces in recent memory, and a modular system, completely customizable, that offers a choice of metal finishes (chrome-plated or brushed brass), a choice of wood (clear ash, white ash, dark ash) and a choice of crystal (clear or chartreuse overlay). We caught up with CEO Jérôme de Lavergnolle and designer Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance to shed some light on the collection (see what I did there?).

Q: So we're here at Downtown Design Dubai, and you've transformed this space into a forest. Tell me about it.

A: Well, if one day, you have the chance to come to Saint Louis you will be very surprised, because we’re in the middle of nowhere, in a small village, in the middle of a forest. We’ve been there for 430 years, since 1586 when the first furnace was opened. The reason is geological – forest. From the forest, we have everything we need to make crystal. First, wood, to fuel the furnaces – at the beginning of the 20th century we had more than 50 wood cutters working for us. Now, of course, we use electricity and gas. Second, ashes – when you mix ashes together with water, you obtain potash. Today, you can obtain the potash chemically, but not at that time, and potash decreases the point of fusion, otherwise you have to use too much energy. Third is water from the rivers in the forest. Without the water you can’t cut the crystal – if you try, it will break. And the last point is the rocks. The rocks are where we get the sand. So, for glassmaking the forest is essential.

Q: Tell me a bit about the process with Noé.

A: Every time I welcome a designer, they have some idea about why I’ve enlisted them, but I never want to see their drawings first. I want them to spend some time in the Manufacture, so Noé did the same, and he was particularly impressed by the forest all around. He was sure we should do something with the forest.

Q: How have previous collaborators interpreted their visits?

A: Well, for example, we worked recently with designer Kiki Van Eijk. She arrived with so many drawings, and I said, “I don’t want to see your drawings; go to the Manufacture, have a look in the museum, talk to people.”

Q: You have a museum?

A: Yes. We house more than 2,500 pieces in the museum. And we also have an archive, where we have another 5,000 pieces from the past. We don’t show our archives. We don’t show them to anybody except the designers. So, I told Kiki to spend some time there, and she went everywhere, deep into the basement, and in the basement, she came across 1,000 molds. You know what a mold is? Cast iron molds lying on shelves, forgotten. She said, “I want to resuscitate them. I want those molds, and I want to make lamps with them.” There was a lot of back and forth between the designer on one side, and the artisan on the other side. And it’s a permanent challenge between two worlds for them to understand each other’s processes and possibilities. But it came together beautifully, and now we have the Matrice collection thanks to that. Noé spent his time more in the forest. He breathed the atmosphere, and had the idea to fuse wood with crystal.

Q: And he created this modular element. How important was that?

A: Modularity is very important for customers nowadays, because they want to be part of the game. More than they want to be part of the game, they want to be part of the dream, and they want to dream themselves. They don’t want to buy something straight from the page of a catalog. They want to design. The modularity of that is that you can do what you want on the wall, you can fill any space with endless possibilities. We offer extensive customization in our chandeliers already, but this is the first truly modular offering.

Q: Hello, Noé. Your folia collection is absolutely magical. How did you do it?

A: The idea was to create a journey in the environment of St Louis, to root this collection in the context of the manufacture through a simple symbol. The shape of the cut of the crystal mimics the shape of a leaf, which is a reference to the Moselle forest that surrounds the manufacture. The wood structure for the furniture is inspired by the manufacture archives, a place where all the historical pieces are stocked on wooden shelves or boxes. It’s magical.

Q: Why do you think nature is so inspiring?

A: It’s more about the natural world than just nature. Inspiration comes from experiencing life, and my work has always been inspired by doing, seeing, feeling, breathing. It’s quite an instinctive and emotional process, by contemplating and immersing myself in the natural environment, its shapes, its materials, its lights and its systems. In our world of globalization, and digitalization, we are not touching the ground anymore. As the recent events remind us, we sometimes forget about the basic notions and rules of the natural world. The design, as with many other creative mediums, is a way to reconsider this fundamental interaction, and the role we have to play in this ecosystem. Sometimes I look for a deep level of integration of this paradigm in my design work; with this collection, I found it relevant to evoke it through a poetic sign.

Q: Beautiful indoor spaces are important right now. What do you think it is about lighting and beautifully crafted objects in general that bring us so much joy and comfort?

A: Design is always based on context for me: who are you designing for, what materials are you using and what do you want to achieve? There is always a moment where the inspiration collides with the concept and it all comes together. It depends on what you are working on, but usually materials come first and from there shapes will follow, often in an emotional way. For my work, I usually travel a lot and I love to dedicate some time to collecting local pieces that are emotional to me; beauty is a state of mind. Crafted objects, made by hand, are the ones which interact the most with our body, with what we are, humans, in every sense. Ultimately, they are all different, even if they look the same. A crafted beauty is coming from this truth; it can’t lie.

Q: The modular designs in the collection enable endless customization. Why was that important to you? What do you think it is about customization that appeals to people?

A: Crystal is a complex material, liquid and hard, cold and warm, as magical as it is indomitable. As a result, each item in the collection carries its own personality. I wanted to create a collection with objects that are used every day, and the complete collection includes items that range from barware and furniture to glasses, flutes and mirrors. In a way, anyone can empower these objects on a very personal note, reflecting its habits, by creating its own customization. As long as the beauty of the everyday resonates through these objects, I’m happy, and they are being put to their best use.

Q: How has beauty affected you during this pandemic? How have you spent your days? Where have you found joy?

A: Unexpectedly, I had the chance to move into a big house with an outside space in Lisbon a few months before the pandemic. With my girlfriend and sons, we have planted a lot of plants the first week of the lockdown. We have spent our days watching them grow, and admiring their beauty... and, incidentally I also did some work, dedicated a precious amount of time to creation, and tested my homeschooling skills.