Leaving Paris for a “sleeping beauty” in Bordeaux. An umpteenth move that made sense for Emmanuelle and Jean Mell, the founders of Authentic-Bazar. Their desire for travel was instilled in them at an early age and, like a leitmotif, it naturally dictated the rest of their lives. Family travel to the four corners of the earth, as well as professional travel, shaking up their respective careers in art direction and publishing (for her) and development management in a travel agency (for him). A constant craving for exploration and seeking out pastures new led them – after twenty years of “good and loyal service” – to create their own adventure, turning the page and embracing this new entrepreneurial project with absolutely no regrets. An e-shop with a thousand and one objects gathered across the globe, which focuses on the handmade craftsmanship in the industrial age, reflecting their “(fascination for) people and their cultures”. A true extension of their tendency to fill their suitcases and bags with “handcrafted treasures”. Summer habits that have become their profession, where every skill they encounter is showcased. Just like the individual behind it! Lacquer from Vietnam, ceramics painted with pigments from Fez: so many age-old techniques handed down with precious anecdotes that the pair, now settled in Bordeaux, are eager to learn about. Their interior is a faithful reflection of their wish to make their label an “open window on the world”. Because in these blue-tinted spaces, organised around a central staircase, there is no attempt to hoard. On the contrary! The vintage pieces they find sit alongside those objects unearthed during their (many) escapades that haven’t yet arrived on their website. A Berber pouffe, pottery from Tamegroute and hanging lamps made in Indonesia remind this modern globetrotting couple that the next trip is never far away!
Emmanuelle, Jean: can you introduce yourselves?
We’re a pair of globe-trotters and have built our career, projects and family around the world of travel.
Can you tell us about your backgrounds? You’ve spent more than 20 years immersed in the world of travel. Tell us more.
I’m the former artistic director and head of print and web publishing within a small private group of travel agencies focused on faraway cultures. Since my childhood, I’ve loved flipping through home and architecture magazines, and today enjoy seeing workshops transformed into private homes, going to exhibitions and roaming the world in search of new ideas. My first big trip: Burma in 1998 and the discovery of craftsmanship using pieces of string due to rationing. My latest encounter was with an African art dealer whose life would inspire the French adventurer, Joseph Kessel! My experience? Filling my suitcases with treasures and holding temporary sales. So, moving from that to launching Authentic-Bazar was a simple step.
I’ve been a hardened traveller for nearly 30 years, I’m fascinated by people and their culture. I’ve walked the Silk Road from Istanbul to Kathmandu and the far reaches of the Far East several times, followed in the footsteps of Henri de Monfreid in East Africa, discovered the ancestral culture of the peoples of the Near and Middle East, and crossed Central America to meet its inhabitants at a time before gypsetters discovered the region. As the Director of Development for a dynamic Asia-based agency, I was fortunate enough to travel across this continent and realise that the beauty of this world is often where you least expect it. This never-ending curiosity prompted me to create Authentic-Bazar, a window that opens onto the world, a bridge between traditions, a hub of local know-how and a resource for our society, which is on the lookout for these values.
How did your experiences shape your tastes?
Good question. Everything’s connected! My curiosity about the world dates from my earliest childhood when I scoured cupboards and was fascinated by the treasures that an uncle brought back after 7 years of travelling through and painting in India in the 1950s. There’s also my paternal grandfather who I never knew but who frequented and collected works by artists of his time. He had an eye for art! Serusier, Belmondo senior, Modigliani: he sold everything, so he could set up a business. A commercial learning curve! All of this shaped my vision and primed my senses. For us, a journey is but a “name”. We’ve always believed it’s just as easy to fly to the other side of the world as to hop on a train and travel to the other side of our beautiful country. The planet is an extraordinary playground, sharing knowledge is mind-blowing, and cultural exchanges are limitless. The retina takes photos, the brain stores them, some things touch us more than others, and this creates individual taste. Jean and I share our love of mixing and matching styles. We like to mix the 1950s, 1960s and contemporary pieces with crafts from different sources, provided they have a tale to tell.
We stumble upon or look for pieces that have a soul because they are hand-made, have a unique character, have a social impact or preserve traditions.
Which destination impressed and inspired you the most?
That’s a tough one to answer. The destination that still inspires me the most? India with its incredible craftsmanship, and its marvellous haveli gates. The country that marked me the most was Cambodia, which I visited in 1999, exactly 20 years after the Khmer Rouge genocide. It certainly puts life into perspective. Something more cheerful? Vietnam, with its frenzied cities, lacquer-work, smiles, rice fields, the colours of the costumes of the ethnic groups of the North, among others. And also Zanzibar and the remains of the Omani colonisation, seen in its architecture and furniture: fabulous. And then, of course, there’s Burma! A country of subtleties where a look can speak a thousand words since freedom of speech doesn’t exist.
Eastern cultures with an unbridled imagination, Pakistan and its extremely elaborate, colourful furniture, often low-level; Pakistani trucks, real driving works of art; everyone’s ability to adapt to their environment to create everyday objects for them, which for us are works of art.
What led you to create Authentic-Bazar, a brand focused on objects?
Authentic-Bazar was born from our desire to share. We stumble upon or look for pieces that have a soul because they are hand-made, have a unique character, have a social impact or preserve traditions. We highlight these crafts on our website and in pop-up stores, so customers can discover our wares throughout a weekend or an entire week. After 20 years of good and loyal service in our respective jobs, it was high time to move on, right? We played with the idea of Authentic-Bazar for a long time. It was a natural progression. The name came to us just like that, in a matter of minutes. Jean and I are a good fit, complementary, so working together was obvious.
You seek out pieces, but you also get pieces made, pieces that show off specific know-how. How do you select them?
Right now on a whim, depending on our encounters. For example, during a workshop visit, we’ll have an idea and a team will work on it. This was the case for our Naam salad bowl collection, designed and made in a small workshop in Fez. They are individually hand-painted with a brush! This is pretty unbelievable in a day and age when most objects are produced on an industrial level!
Did you know that the approach to colour across continents and cultures differs? For example, in Europe, we tend not to mix colours with opposing shades, while in Asia it’s quite the opposite. Just look at the ceiling of the Forbidden City, and you’ll see what we mean. Yves Saint Laurent noticed this before anyone else. We follow the same principle. We observe and are inspired by other cultures. This means our lacquered trays may blend both zesty and duller colours. We found a lady who manages a specialist high-end lacquer-work workshop with incredible expertise to make them. Simply put, ideas come to us when we meet different people. We start with solid know-how and our imagination does the rest. We like to say that craftspeople make dreams, and we then pass those dreams on!
We found this house by luck. We sold our Parisian house faster than expected and had to quickly move out.
Tell us how you found this house.
We found this house by luck. We sold our Parisian house faster than expected and had to quickly move out. We had decided to leave Paris, and Bordeaux was an obvious choice for us. However, although this city has stunning, classic architecture it doesn’t have many loft apartments or modern houses. We found a neighbourhood we liked and came across this beautiful place where most of the work was done, and all that remained was to freshen it up.
How did you create its look?
We didn’t change the placement of the rooms, as the structure revolves around the central staircase. On the other hand, we structured the spaces by painting them in contrasting ways. We regularly repaint the rooms, which allows us to change their ambience. We tried our hardest to restore the house’s nobility, which had been stripped by the previous owners, and we did so by working on the materials and colours. We also love to host dinner parties or invite friends for the weekend, so we have designed multifunctional spaces such as our office or our kids’ rooms, so we can accommodate numerous visitors.
What about the furnishings?
We don’t believe in unnecessary consumption, so we’ve had the same furniture for ages. We prefer to buy lovely pieces that last and will move with us when we move home. The idea is to adapt them to suit each home. We left a Parisian loft apartment and moved into a very traditional bourgeois house. That’s a big change! In addition to the Nordic and Italian vintage and contemporary pieces, our Authentic-Bazar nomadic objects were found all over the place and add some extra soul.
What does your interior say about you?
Our interior reflects our personalities! That could be said of anyone, don’t you think? We love big tables (Paola Navone’s Gervasoni in the kitchen seats up to 10 people!), so we can enjoy dinners with friends by the fireplace in winter. We organised the winter living room to meet this need, and we like to live both in and outdoors, so our kitchen opens onto the patio. After that, we’re modern-day nomads, so nothing stays in place, and we move pieces all the time according to the seasons or our moods.
We prefer to buy lovely pieces that last and will move with us when we move home. The idea is to adapt them to suit each home.
What are your favourite places in Bordeaux?
We published a Bordeaux city guide on our Instagram account! It’s packed with amazing places, from ultra-classic to ultra-sophisticated. For something mouthwatering, we recommend Symbiosis for their well-thought-out cocktails, Amédée for their team, the welcome, and cuisine inspired by their trips, Coutume Studio whose founders are devotees of singular, decorative pieces, Maison Zurcher for their delicious bread and pastries and Apollo with its legendary “soul train” evenings that plunge you back into the sounds of Motown. And you mustn’t miss out on the bi-annual Quinconces market for the region’s best finds. A sort of flea market meets designer event!
For you, The Socialite Family is?
Singular and rebellious: a different approach to decor, which pushes boundaries and creates trends rather than following them. An open mind, curious, welcoming. We have been following you since the beginning, we have seen you evolve, and we’re part of more than 360,000 people who follow you… How do you handle it? Under pressure or take it in your stride? (Laughs)
Where will we find you in the coming months?
We hope to be in another home! A home that matches our aspirations, more like a 1970s loft. On a more serious note, we’re working on a one-off showroom project in Paris, if not you’ll find us on the road, obviously with Authentic-Bazar in tow! Will you drop by and see us?
Photography : Victor Deweerdt – Text : Juliette Bruneau @thesocialitefamily