Thanks to her willpower, Mathilde Lacombe ended up imposing on the market of online beauty with Birchbox. It was not that easy for this...
Amélie, Julien – can you tell us about your background?
I grew up in a family of craftspeople. Once I’d graduated from business school, I spent 16 years working in the family business, starting out in the sales team. Then, my passion for those craft skills led me to take up lead the product management team – a role that I have held at Puiforcat for the last nine years.
After studying interior architecture in Paris, I headed to the United States for an internship. I ended up spending ten years in New York, managing visual merchandising for a number of different cosmetics and perfume brands. I returned to France in 2007, when I joined the House of Hermès to perform a similar role in their perfume division. After four years, I had the opportunity to shift into a more broadly-based role for Puiforcat.
What is your role at Puiforcat?
The role of the Collections division in Puiforcat is to define our product strategy in terms of image, range, and services, and to work with the different business lines to implement it.
As Director of Communications and Operational Marketing, my job is to project our brand image and to promote our collections in the media, at points of sale, or to our customers directly.
How to you come up with the ideas for the various collections? What is your starting point on each occasion?
Since it was founded in 1820, the House of Puiforcat has always had an acute sense of functionality through design, from its know-how as a goldsmith through to its tableware and decorative products. Naturally, this is something that we continue today, with the aim of striking a balance between reissuing items pieces from our archives and creating objects for contemporary needs, offering items with clean lines created with a broad base of expertise. We all start from different perspectives, but come together with a shared desire to create an object that is beautifully balanced and that reflects our company’s DNA. For the Art Deco jewellery box that you saw being made in the workshop, we found a black and white photo of the box in our archives, showing it as it was designed and made by Jean Puiforcat in the 1930s. In the picture, the lid of the box is slightly ajar and you can see inside to the inner compartments. The shape of the box and the way that the lid is covered all over in cabochons immediately grabbed our interest. In our recently-launched Puiforcat Orfèvre-Sommelier collection, our approach was built around a continuation of the “art of good taste” with a broader interpretation of the art of decorative tableware, adding an alternative facet to the tasting experience. We entered this segment of the market in the year 2000, with a cup for tasting Champagne – a project that combined the artistic expression of a goldsmith’s labour with the expertise of a Champagne maker. in 2016, we continued with the theme by entering the wine tasting market, which is a landmark of French culture.
Once you have come up with an idea, how does it take shape? Who makes your designs come to life?
Our in-house draftsman creates the technical designs for each piece. This involves specifying the shape and scale when we start with an archive photo or design, then finding the right dimensions and achieving balance in the object’s proportions. When we work with a deisgner on a contemporary creative porject, this stage is often simplified. The designer provides accurate indication of the shape and scale, particularly via mock-ups. However, there then follows an entire technical development process with the help of craftspeople from our workshop, which enables us to optimise the manufacturing stages to achieve a perfect result. For the jewellery box, their expertise in gold-working techniques and their skill with their hands make all the difference to the finished product: clean edges, sharp corners, a concealed, bespoke hinge that disappears completely, a mirror-polished furnished both inside and out so that objects placed in the box are given their chance to shine.
Our aim is to strike the right balance between design, use, and expertise.
How is it organised? Who is involved in the process? How much time does it take?
From a purely operational perspective, we organise work assignments and meet several times per month: the art directors, the designers, and the craftspeople. Our aim is to strike the right balance between design, use, and expertise. We manage these restrictions and find the right set of requirements to ensure that we are all proud of what we do. As such, the time taken is secondary, and often, the simplest things need the most time to set the right tone. In the case of the jewellery box, it took over 15 months of technical development to reach such a perfect piece. It takes over a hundred hours in the workshop to make it and position each of the 228 cabochons that decorate the lid.
What news can we expect from Puiforcat in the near future?
To continue to develop our range to reflect contemporary requirements. Our skills and expertise provide us with the opportunity to be highly demanding and incredibly flexible. As such, in 2019, we plan to prevent a new range of semi-bespoke items, as well as expanding our tableware range, combining our design flair with masterful craftsmanship. In parallel, new everyday objects will combine the experience of preparing and tasting food with designer appeal. We will also be starting work on a major branding project to celebrate the firm’s 200th birthday in 2020.
Photography: Eve Campestrini – Text: Caroline Balvay – Translation: TextMaster @thesocialitefamily