Elsa Lenthal – Keeping a Tradition Alive
Elsa Lenthal is currently enjoying the best of life in France, with roots in Provence and aspirations in Paris. For five years, Elsa studied film and cinema production at school, in the capital city. She now works in Paris most of the year as an Assistant Director in the film industry.
In the summer, she returns to her parents’ home in les Alpilles near Les Baux de Provence to spend the warmer months with her friends and family. Elsa is a true ‘French Canadian’, her father is French, and her mother is a transplanted Canadian. This lovely, young woman is far from idle in the summer months. Elsa is single-handedly trying to maintain the tradition of creating lavender fuseaux, an old artisan craft.
Busy with her handmade craft and summer markets, she took some time to speak to My French Life™.
What is a fuseau?
A fuseau is shaped like a baby rattle. They are made with fresh lavender or lavandin and tied with bright, satin ribbons. These beautiful objects have been used to scent clothes and linens for centuries. A wedding tradition from the 18th century, fuseaux were often found in a bride’s dowry. The bright coloured fuseaux were used to separate linens. Inside the ‘head’ of each fuseaux is the lavender, a symbol of love and happiness.
A fuseau is all-natural and will last forever. After five years, the scent can be refreshed with a few drops of lavender scented essential oil. These objects can only be made by hand. It is a time-consuming process as each stalk must be carefully folded and then a ribbon is weaved through to secure the cuttings into place.
How did she get started?
Elsa is an only child; she is extremely close to her paternal grandmother who lives near the beautiful village of Gordes in the Vaucluse. As a little girl, her grandmother taught her how to make the fuseaux. She was determined as a young adult not to waste her precious, summer months inside. So unlike her friends who had summer jobs in stores and restaurants, she chose to set-up a market stall. She is now outside all summer making and selling her fuseaux. You can find Elsa hard at work, at three markets in Provence: Gordes (Tuesday), St Remy de Provence (Wednesday) and Eygalières (Friday).
How many does she produce in a summer?
Elsa works six days a week for two and one half months, from the middle of June to the end of August. The exact timing is dependent on the lavender growing season. She estimates that she makes ten fuseaux a day or roughly sixty a week. In a summer, she will fabricate and sell over six hundred!!
What is the process to create a fuseau?
Each fuseau is made with between thirty and one hundred stems of lavender or lavandin. Elsa uses exclusively lavandin as it grows well at altitudes of less than 800 meters. Her fuseaux are always of the larger variety, using one hundred stalks. The stems are tied together with a ribbon. Then each one is carefully folded over, ‘trapping’ the lavender flowers in the centre. The stalks are held with one hand, while the coloured satin ribbon is weaved through with the other hand. Unlike the mass-produced scented sachets, making the fuseaux is a labour of love, as each one takes about an hour. This artisan craft is difficult work, after a week of making fuseaux Elsa’s hands hurt.
Should you wish to learn more about this artisan tradition, Elsa has a beautiful website http://www.fuseauxdelavande.com/. You can also order online, and she will ship all over the world.
How does describe herself?
Determined, traditional and creative. Elsa was born in Paris. Her family moved to Provence when she was just a one-year old. She describes herself as deeply rooted in Provence. The summer months are the days when she is rejuvenated, passing the time where she spent her childhood. Although, she loves Paris and appreciates that it is where she must be for work, she does not describe it as her true home.
What does her life in Paris look like?
As an Assistant Director, she works long hours. Clearly her career is in the artistic arena. However, it can be stressful due to the long hours, deadlines, budget challenges and of course the actors themselves.
What kind of films does she work on?
Elsa is an essential member of the production crew for long films made for cinema, such as The Girl on the Train (2009) with Catherine Deneuve. The next time you go to the movies watch for Elsa’s name, when the credits roll, among the list of hardworking crew.
What are her hopes for the future?
One of Elsa’s dreams for the future is to have a to have a daughter to whom she can teach the craft and who will continue the tradition of the fuseaux. Elsa would also like to return to Canada to visit some areas where she has not yet been.All Images © Carolyne Kauser-Abbott