Cécile Molinié’s photographs are full of happy details from the daily life, but also of children. Her children. These caught moments are memories proudly displayed. The wonderment in front of an ice surface, the pleasure of celebrating a birthday or simply the happiness of being together. Very simply. A sure connection, the one of a mother’s love, which is the governing principle and pleases numerous readers. After having taken us on a trip from Paris to the surrounding countryside, Cécile chose to show her Christmas preparations on The Socialite Family. The packing of the presents, the shortbread biscuits they will put at the foot of the Christmas tree – she gave us the recipe -, the selection of the Christmas baubles: nothing has been left to chance. A creative and whirling ballet is taking place in Cécile’s living room! The children play along with an overwhelming enthusiasm, and, after the pricking of the clementines, they taste the biscuits covered with hot chocolate. A real tale full of complicity. Read it now.
Cécile, who are you?
The question of identity is a tough one… I have been a Parisian by adoption for 20 years, I am married and the mother of 4 children, and I’m lucky enough to work in photography and artistic direction.
What do you do for a living?
Like a lot of people today, my career has not been linear. I did very different things. A law PhD, I taught at the university, and I had a fascinating job for our French expatriate community in the French Senate. Since the birth of our first child, I have been able to work part-time, and this was a gateway to a more creative world. One year ago, I took a step since I refused another job in the Senate and decided to devote myself to photography and artistic direction, further to very interesting offers. It is really different, and it also reflects my personality and my very different interests.
How did you get the idea of telling your daily life through photography?
I have always loved photography. My father had offered me a wonderful camera for my 16th birthday and I married a man who liked photography as well. So we always have a beautiful camera within reach, and also a lot of books about the work of very talented photographers. I have always loved having pretty things, whether it be furniture, textiles, plates or even still lives of the daily life, for the harmony it brings to a place. And maybe also to offset the very intellectual and austere part of my job at that time. I found out about the Instagram community by chance 2 years and a half ago, and I met talented people and photographers. Patrick Modiano’s words on the work of writers in his speech at the Swedish Academy can apply to them as well: “thanks to them, life finally (…) takes some sort of phosphorescence it did not have at first glance”. I love the idea of telling a story through a picture and to let the imagination complete the photographer’s work and words, and the possibility to give emphasis to the small things that create the charm of our lives. That’s why I work with a talented graphic designer on the creation a website/blog: to show people a more complete and detailed work.
Do your children like helping you for the staging of your photographs?
It depends. They are very happy to help me in the kitchen (essentially when it’s about baking) and they are very sensitive to aesthetics. On the other hand – and I think it’s a good thing -, they don’t hesitate to be kindly ironical when I spend too much time stylising pictures when I do it on the family time. It’s all about balance. That said, they are extremely kind and accept to help me if it doesn’t take too long.
How are you going to prepare Christmas together? Does each of you have a task?
There is always a long moment together on the shortbread biscuits. It’s really THE Christmas biscuit in the family. We cut them thanks to pastry cutters they choose and we spend hours decorating them, all of us, young and old alike. My youngest daughter likes being in charge of the table, and she always chooses the most beautiful plates and the silverware. I’ll go look for berries and pine tree branches in the woods to decorate the table. One of my sons likes a lot being in charge of the candles, the other one the wood fire, and another one likes roasting the chestnuts in the chimney. Everyone does what he/she prefers and it’s usually quite complementary.
Who will be in charge of the Christmas tree this year?
It’s always something we do together, a great moment of excitement. The children (I suppose I used to be the same) are looking forward to it and this year the Christmas tree will be even more wonderful!
How are you going to decorate it? What are you going to put at its foot?
As for the Christmas tree, we have no rules: the children hang everything available (including their creations from school…). It makes it unique and lively. I often balance it after because they decorate especially the part they can reach, which is very funny to see! This year, I found very nice old baubles in a yard sale: it’s a real treasure. And I also found old glass birds. I’ll try to put them at the top of the tree in order to keep them several years. At the foot of the tree, we put the presents everyone thought of, and we add small surprises that make this night even happier. And I encourage each of them to offer something to the others.
Do you have a Christmas recipe you would like to share?
Yes, the one of the shortbread biscuits. It’s very simple, and you can decorate them with icing sugar and water. It’s a quite light classic you can snack all day long, with for example a citrus salad with cinnamon. You will need: 250g of semi-wholemeal (T65) or classical flour, 150g of brown or white sugar, 1 sachet of vanilla sugar, 150g of softened butter (at the room temperature for at least 4 hours), 1 egg yolk, 2 tablespoons of milk and 1 salt pinch. Start with mixing the butter, sugars and salt with a fork until you get a creamy mix. Then, add the egg yolk and the milk, and then mix it. Little by little, add the flour while keeping mixing. Knead the batter with your fingers and form a ball (add flour if the batter sticks to your fingers). The ideal is to leave it to stand 30 minutes in the fridge. Turn the oven on, at 180°C. Flour the worktop and cover the baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Roll the batter out with a rolling pin: it might not be more than 5 centimetres thick. Cut the cakes with pastry cutters (or with a glass). Place them on the baking sheet. Put it in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes and keep an eye on it: it must not be overcooked. Leave to cool. You can decorate them with a very simple icing made of icing sugar and water (3 tablespoons of icing sugar and 1 teaspoon of water) and dust them with coloured sugars!
Have you already bought the presents?
Some of them, yes, for my mother and grandmother. The children still don’t have a lot of ideas (are they too spoiled?). And, as far as I’m concerned, I have an infinite list of ideas for the house! I plan to go to Buly for small customised presents. I also have a soft (or not) spot for the boutique Gachon Pothier in the Marais, rue de Saintonge. A very specialised small selection I love. But in order to let Christmas be a unique moment, I prefer not anticipating everything. Then, it’s often the rush, but it’s part of the game!
Do you have some favourite places to prepare Christmas you would recommend us?
I went to Astier de Villatte’s to buy some decorations for Christmas. Some of them are very original and funny. They come from Germany and remind me of the Christmas markets there. I always buy chocolate Advent calendars at Jadis et Gourmande’s, one for each of us (yes, me included!)! My baker, Bruno Solques, is married to a woman from Czech Republic and I always order him decorated gingerbreads for our family Advent calendar. It reminds me of my childhood in the East of France. My favourite florist, Thalie, who supplied the Christmas tree Chaumet offered us, is a great inspiration. I also buy her hyacinths and Christmas roses. I offer myself (and often also to other people) a scented candle. I don’t take the same every year: it can be the Christmas candle by Annick Goutal or the Christmas green candle from Diptyque. As I always have some left from the year before, these smells are the smells or our Christmases, if you add to it the smells of clementines and Christmas tree. And a Christmas tea is always nice. My mother offered me the one from Kusmi tea, which is a delight in a black and golden box. This year, I found a tea sold by the brand Selency in Le Bon Marché. A delicious and organic tea, in a beautiful jar, just like those we could find in pharmacies, in a brown and quite old glass. And I always go to the BHV, which still has the soul of a bazaar: you could find almost everything and at any price.
Credits : Constance Gennari @thesocialitefamily
Curated by Chaumet.