Christian Liaigre: 1943-2020

By: Caroline Hipple, President, Norwalk Furniture

For nearly 25 years, my partner and I have made our own “la rentrée” design pilgrimage to Paris in early September, just while the Parisiennes are making their own la rentrée – arriving back for a new season from their month long August holiday.

Our “back to school” is heading to Paris to seek the best that the design world has to offer and to find new inspirations to bring back home to the United States. Each visit includes trekking through the giant halls (8 of them) for the Maison et Objet trade show at the Parc des Expositions, traversing the streets of Paris for the annual Design Week festivities, navigating the alleys ways of the Marché aux Puces, or searching out new galleries just on the edge of nowhere.

Over these years of visiting Paris during la rentrée, we have arrived in many different guises but with a common purpose. As large retailers seeking sources, as consultants leading clients for projects, or as manufacturers seeking inspiration. It has been quite an education tracking the design life over two decades there.

As for me, a “Decorative Arts Historian” (i.e. history of furniture and architecture, my major in college), no visit to Paris is complete without a visit to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs to reinspect the icons of our trade. In addition, every trip has included seeking out the latest in inspiration from Christian Liaigre. As such, we were very saddened to learn of his passing in early September. A giant among our industry, he has cast a bright light over design around the world.

Monsieur Liaigre has defined organic modernism for more than three decades. One trip down the spiral staircases of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs will tell you that his aesthetic celebrates the French masters of modernism that have preceded him. His livable, luxurious but discrete interiors bring to mind Jean- Michel Frank, Jean Prouvé, Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, and Charlotte Perriand. There are also the nature and primitive influences of Noguchi and Nakashima, Gio Ponti and the mix mastery of Axel Vervoordt present in his vocabulary. Brâncuși and Giacometti also seem to lurk in some distant memory, coming alive in his interiors yet again.

What do all of these visionaries have in common? It is simple, literally. A love for form, function, originality, the nature of things, remarkable craftsmanship, and the celebration of all of the best in materials. Liaigre makes them live for today. He was trained at the Beax Arts and Arts Decoratifs in Paris and proceeded to practice interior architecture and interior and product design for more than three decades. In 2016, he retired and turned his atelier over to long-time associates who carry on his traditions. They now have an atelier on the right bank on Fauborg St. Honore.

The first thing you notice about Liaigre’s work is its inherent elegance and restraint. The luxury of his interiors, products and materials seems to grow out of that restraint. The textures and colors are earthy and harmonious. Natural tones of charcoal, linen, bronze, saddle, cerused oak, and char infuse the senses. You can almost smell the scent of a wood fire or the freshness of chestnut trees or grasses and herbs in bloom.

The lines are modern, organic and seemingly grounded in nature. Like Japanese wabi-sabi, the materials speak, the touch of the hand is always present and flaws are celebrated. His love of the equestrian life lives in his collections through the use of fine leather, stitchery and hardware taken from the world of saddlery. It is the masterful mix of all of these elements into a common design vocabulary that makes his environments so pleasing.

Smoky, sensual, natural moods are evoked through his use of wenge wood, ebonized, cerused and sandblasted; cast bronze and sculptural shapes in accent pieces; and sensuous textiles, velvet, mohair, and Belgian linen. The colors of oatmeal, chestnut, ivory, and ebony, with surprise moments of pale lavender and citrine feel rooted in the earth from which they have come.

Want to visit a bit of Liaigre? Here are a few ways. In Paris, have a cocktail at the bar at the Hotel Montalembert in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés on 3 rue Montalember. Or visit an exhibit at the Christian Liaigre atelier at 77 Fauborg St. Honoré. The company that carries on his work is hosting an exhibit there until October 12th. In the U.S., check out the Mercer Hotel in Soho NYC to see one of his public spaces.

Caroline Hipple is a lifelong decorative arts explorer, long admirer of the talent of Christian Liaigre, and has the privilege of leading a company that handcrafts upholstery in the United States.

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