French artisans bring Métiers d’Art to the modern era

MyFrenchLife™ - Crafts in FranceMétiers d’Art in France are thriving, and a new, young generation of French artisans are continuing a tradition that has made France renowned since the Middle Ages.

I recently saw a special report on French TV on Maurice Taylor, CEO of tyre manufacturer Titan. The American man is not unknown in France. In 2013, he was about to save the Goodyear Company in Amiens from closing down by purchasing the plant. He suddenly walked away from the deal, stating that he would bestupid” to operate in a country where workers were paid high wages for such little work. 

Indeed, as this now-famous man was being interviewed, he showed the journalists into his beautiful mansion in the US, where his wife was proud to announce that most artisanal items – the fireplace for example – had been specially dismantled and shipped from… France. 

My point here is not to discuss the pros and cons of such a shocking assertion but to remind everyone that we are not short of paradoxes as far as France is concerned: the country still exerts a unique power of attraction, despite its gloomy economic situation.

These thoughts were still on my mind when I met with Lucie, a young French entrepreneur, whose work consists of discovering new talents and making it possible for them to be known to the public. 

French artisans, past and present

When one thinks of artisans in France, one immediately travels back to the flamboyant 17th and 18th centuries; Versailles, the Bourbon Kings, ‘La Manufacture des Gobelins’, ‘le Compagnonnage’. 

MyFrenchLife™ - Crafts in France - feathers

Industrialization marked a slow-down – if not a stop – for many professions. Add to that a never ending nightmarish economic crisis and the ‘outsourcing phenomenon’, and it seems the beauty and glory of France’s handmade creations belong definitively to a bygone age. 

Or so you think…

Meeting with amazing artists

I have proof that the tradition is not only continuing, but is as creative and stunning as ever! On two occasions I had the opportunity to discover the work of a panel of artists thanks to the activities organized by Lucie’s company, Evanela

MyFrenchLife™ - Crafts in France - shoemakingThe first time, I visited a shoemaker’s workshop in Montmartre. Surprisingly, I discovered Parisian handmade shoes could be personally designed and ordered according to your tastes and needs.  A best-selling model is the shoe ordered by the costume department of ‘Sex and the City’ while shooting in Paris! 

The second time was even more enlightening and surprising! Four artists were present in Evanela’s booth at the trade show ‘Who’s Next’ at Porte de Versailles. Each had impressive works on display and personal and moving stories to share.

Prune, the feather-maker plumassière, uses feathers from the 1920s and 30s because they have a different feel and colour. She buys them in bulk at antique shops or flea markets… 

Then there was Celia, who chose leather craft for many reasons – one of which being that she loves the smell of leather!

Junior Fritz, the paper sculptor, is a Master in origami. His lampshade creations, made of infinitely small pleated paper, can be seen at ‘Roche et Bobois’ designer furniture shops. 

But perhaps the most touching story was Flory’s, the embroiderer. After she had chosen her craft, she learned from her parents that both her grandmothers had also been embroiderers! Her creations are so unique that she is regularly employed by French fashion houses to work on Haute Couture collections too.

EvanelaWho_sNext7July2014EmbroideressFloryBrisset (1)

These outstanding young people endure long hours of work and not necessarily high wages. But it is the passion for their craft and their personal talent that encourages them to keep the French tradition of excellence in art and craft alive.

No offense to Maurice Taylor, of course…

Do you think French art is thriving, or a thing of the past? Share with us in the comments below!

Image Credits
1. Celia, leather artisan, by Jacqueline Dubois.
2. Prune Faux, Plumassière, by Jacqueline Dubois.
3. Shoe making in Montmatre, by Jacqueline Dubois.
4. Flory Brisset, embroiderer, by Jacqueline Dubois.

About the Contributor

Jacqueline Dubois Pasquier

After teaching for 20 years abroad, I mostly live now in Paris, where I feel both like a native and an expat. I enjoy being part of My French Life™ as it makes my life in Paris even more meaningful and special. I have a passion for literature and movies. I share my thoughts in my blog and on twitter.”

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  1. Ellen Burns Aug 11, 2014 at 11:02 AM - Reply

    It’s amazing to see these young people following their passions and keeping the artisan industry alive in France!

    Too often these days people go for the cheapest, quickest, easiest, option and that’s how we’ve ended up in a world of sweatshops and overflowing landfills. We need to learn to appreciate good quality products again and recognise the gap between cheap/quick/easy and quality/ethical/long-lasting.

  2. Elise Mellor Aug 11, 2014 at 5:28 PM - Reply

    We’ve been seeing a resurgence of craft professions here in Australia, too. Artists’ markets are cropping up all over the place and they’re very successful. My guess is that in such a fast-paced modern world where so much is mass-produced and disposable, people are starting to appreciate things that are made by hand, slowly and with care. Things that are unique and borne of someone’s passion and talent.
    It’s great to see this happening and even better to see that Evanela is supporting the wonderful people who dedicate themselves to creating beautiful things.

  3. Christina Guzman Aug 11, 2014 at 8:55 PM - Reply

    Having many friends who are pursuing handmade crafts as their profession, it’s great to see that people are getting the support they deserve. It’s not easy making things by hand (especially since i’m terrible at making things) and even harder when you don’t get the recognition you need.
    Australia has been quite supportive as of late, creating a lot of buzz most of all through social media and craft websites, showcasing people’s work which is absolutely fantastic!

    • Elise Mellor Aug 13, 2014 at 9:24 AM - Reply

      Christina I am the same as you – I’m not crafty at all but so many of my friends make gorgeous artisan jewellery/accessories/paint/sculpt… it seems like every other weekend I’m attending another artist market to support someone – not that I mind! I also have a few friends that are in the process of applying for grants to carry on their craftiness which is just wonderful: they’re not easy to get but just the fact that our government offers them is good news 🙂

      • Christina Guzman Aug 14, 2014 at 11:42 AM - Reply

        artistic markets are so much fun!! you can find a lot of cool stuff there 😀
        no grants aren’t easy at all to get but it’s great that they’re there!

  4. Jacqueline Dubois Pasquier Aug 12, 2014 at 3:37 AM - Reply

    Thank you Ellen, Elise and Christina for sharing your thoughts on this topic.Indeed local handmade products are being more appreciated and promoted in all countries. I must admit it was a real surprise to discover such talent at such level of excellence, in unexpected domains (feather-making, paper-sculpting). It is not easy to exist and survive against the hegemony of the famous brands and the ‘made in China’ products. The various Art Schools in France are very selective. You don’t reach that level by chance. The leather-maker told me that in order to remain competitive in matter of pricing, she needed to sell directly her products. Evanela does this amazing job to help them be known to the public. For me there is a lot of humanity in this.

    • Christina Guzman Aug 14, 2014 at 11:41 AM - Reply

      I can only imagine how difficult it would be to get recognition. Like you said, the homogenisation of products and art is definitely suppressing people with talent. To see people feather making and paper sculpting is rare, yet shouldn’t be. Evanela is doing a great job – in a way they’re saving them from extinction.

  5. Sahara Wilson Aug 12, 2014 at 10:53 AM - Reply

    This was one of the things I loved about living in France – the cultural appreciation for well made goods.
    It’s interesting from a historical perspective, Jacqueline, that the Arts and Craft Movement of the late 1800s to early 1900s was really centred around the British isles rather than France. The proliferation of artisan work at that time in the UK and North America was amazing, championed by the very talented William Morris. I suppose where France did not have the same increase of artisans it had a steady flow throughout that period – such that it has been able to retain a large number of artisans when the movement went out of fashion right up into today.
    Thanks for sharing with us, it’s a relief to know the artisan market is still very much alive somewhere in the world!

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