After a round-the-world journey and an aborted move to Jaipur, India, one of the “biggest hits of their trip”, Brune de La Guerrande and César Vilaceque decided to settle in Lisbon. Why? The premature birth of their twins, Pablo and Noé, and the desire for a gentler life near the sun and the sea, “unconsciously guided by my Indo-Portuguese ancestors,” says the ESAG Peninghen graduate. In encountering the Portuguese capital, the designer actually ended up finding herself. A “me” deep inside me that just wanted to be listened to, to be considered! By leaving everything behind and starting again, the couple discovered themselves. And also designed Bisavó, a brand of medals in 19-carat gold with coloured enamel, a tribute to their fascination with the various protective amulets they encountered on their travels. An opportunity to revive a skill – and a jewel! – to stop the skill from being lost, but also to do something with their hands. This has also led this hyperactive artist to continue developing her work in her studio, not limiting herself to any medium. One of the most striking? Ceramics. Learned by lovingly creating her first object, following her first course: a cross. A symbol of homage to her long-departed parents, which she describes as the idea of putting nature back at the centre of a universal faith. Poetic and delicate, her creations charm as much as they challenge, ending up in living rooms other than her own. Hers is a plant-filled oasis composed of furniture and objects brought back in great big boxes from the four corners of the earth and which, like their apartment, reflect their every whim.
Brune, César: can you introduce yourselves, please?
It all started across a car bonnet at the graduation party at our art school, ESAG Peninghen. We met during the last week of the five years of study … and since then we have never been apart!
What is your background?
I am a designer. I never adapted to the classical system of national education! It was when I went to art school that I finally felt like I belonged and got to work. I trained at Andrée Putman’s former agency – Écart – which specialises in hotel design and matching furniture. Then I was self-employed, freelancing for individuals and restaurants, etc. It was when I lost my mother that I decided to set up my own business. This reflection has always appealed to me, the rightness of decision-making at the moment of reconnecting to life. It is often the painful obstacles in life that make us partly who we are!
I am a graphic designer and art director. I worked as a freelancer and also spent a lot of time in the magazine industry working for Editions Jalou and Condé Nast.
After a few years of working together, we had a great shared desire to widen our horizons, get a change of air and shake things up a bit! In short, to be elsewhere. The result at the age of 30: a one-year trip around the world. This had more than the desired effect. Beyond the change of scenery, we had a real break from the hustle and bustle of Parisian life! It was a return to the essentials of our aspirations, of our lives. We came to rest again with some difficulty, but with notebooks full of ideas and the idea of leaving again, and we ended up working together with the idea of offering restaurant projects that were thought out and designed in their entirety. From the name/logo to the design of the furniture and the choice of teaspoons!
You completely changed your life in 2016 by moving here to Lisbon. Why this city and, more generally, this country?
After our world tour, we wanted to move to Jaipur in India. India was one of the biggest hits on our trip. It’s a breeding ground for ideas, a hive of life! But the premature birth of the twins was a bit rock-n-roll. So we adapted and decided to think about another destination to live a cooler life, near the sea and in the sun! My Indo-Portuguese ancestors must have guided me unconsciously (laughs). So we took our one-year-old twins under our arms, got into our mini-van, and drove quietly along the Atlantic coast with Lisbon in our sights! All this with my computer on my lap while I continued working, remotely, on projects in Paris.
For the decoration, it was a bit like Christmas. I opened all my boxes from our world tour. They were sent to us by boat from almost every country, all filled to the brim (...)
Was it your move that led to the creation of your revisited traditional medals brand, Bisavó?
During our world tour, we opened ourselves up to other cultures, to beliefs and a variety of protective amulets. We were completely fascinated by them! This quest very soon guided our itinerary, and we would go and meet a particular artisan who made a particular object. It was a real treasure hunt! Every day brought a different adventure. While I was wandering – or rather getting lost – in Lisbon, I came across an antique medal that a Bisavó (a great-grandmother) was selling at a flea market. The colour – which I particularly like – combined with the gold won me over. I loved it, and I wanted to bring this skill back to life, to dust off a jewel that was disappearing. So we have relaunched this craft of enamelling in colour on 19k gold to create a piece of jewellery that transcends fashion and speaks to all generations – and faiths! I am very proud to see our creations worn differently by children, teenagers, mothers and grandmothers.
What message do you want to convey through this jewellery?
The idea is to bring together all the differences within the same family. It’s about loving, saying it, and wearing it! Today, everyone has their own spirituality; everyone does their own thing. Ultimately, we are all unique and singular but form a whole! The idea with Bisavó is a bit like that: the uniqueness of each person within the same family. We engrave colourful symbols in gold and offer medals to the whole tribe, the clan, family, friends, cousins, godmothers and godfathers, fathers and mothers: something for all occasions. To express love, to pass something on, to give, to protect and to inspire in everyday life. Basically, you tattoo your story on gold! It is also a real pleasure to know that, in our own way, we are contributing to the preservation of skills that are tending to disappear here in Portugal.
Tell us about your upbringing. Where did you grow up – and consequently develop your taste?
I come from a large tribe. My father was a lover of life, people and good things. He taught us to be bold! My mother was very creative, a DIYer and a great bargain hunter! She pushed me a lot to believe in myself and to do what I love. She came from a slightly “old school” background. Losing them at a young age brought my three brothers and sisters closer than ever. My grandparents were architects, painters and designers on the one side. On the other side, I had a grandmother who was ever so slightly crazy, but in the end, she was the one who understood everything! I also had lots of cousins, and we were left to our own devices, so we would go on expeditions with a board, mask and snorkel, exploring, making up stories all day or creating tree cities in the countryside. We used to go to church, but I was already more into rock as meditation! (Laughs)
I was an only child, and my parents were rather eccentric and worked in the fashion industry. I was always in the backstage area of fashion shows and at flea markets second-hand shops at weekends with them or at my grandmothers during the holidays. So I grew up in a festive atmosphere, more surrounded by adults than children.
How do you, in turn, make your children aware of this?
We haven’t really thought about it. They live in our world, so of course, they’ve absorbed the bright colours and the mix of genres. Beyond that, the most important thing for us is that they find their own uniqueness. So we give them a certain amount of independence and freedom. A simple example: they may dress very strangely, which makes us laugh, but we let them experiment! Let’s say that if you give them a basis, they will add their own bad taste. We believe that it is from each person’s own experience that individual identities are born.
Tell us the story of how you came across this apartment.
We arrived in Lisbon when property prices were low. While we were searching for the perfect property, prices tripled. It was crazy. People – especially foreign investors – were buying apartments as if they were buying a pair of shoes, presumably to sell them for twice as much six months later. We were gazumped several times even though we’d found somewhere we loved. When we saw this place, we moved very quickly. It wasn’t love at first sight, but it ticked a lot of boxes: it was in its original state, and I knew that I could make something of it.
How did you design it? And furnish it?
À défaut d’un extérieur, ce qui était important était de laisser de l’espace à nos trois petits gars. Nous les avons installés au grenier que nous avons aménagé et qui est baigné de lumière. Ce sont leurs 30 m² de liberté. Ils ont chacun leur petit coin dans leur lit cabane sous la pente où il n’y avait pas beaucoup de hauteur. Autre point hyperpositif : le bazar est canalisé là-haut et ne déborde pas trop dans le reste de l’appartement. La seconde plus grande – et importante – pièce chez nous, c’est la cuisine. Car tout le monde y finit toujours ! Nous In the absence of outside space, what was important was to leave room for our three little guys. We’ve located them in the attic, which we have fitted out and which is bathed in light. That is their 30 m2 of freedom. They each have their own little corner in their cabin beds under the sloping roof where there wasn’t much height. Another very positive point is that the mess is channelled upstairs and doesn’t spill over into the rest of the apartment. The second biggest – and most important – room in our house is the kitchen. Because everyone ends up there! We recovered the height of the attic, and for want of a terrace, I made myself a jungle. A sofa and a disco ball, and off we go, boys and girls! For the decoration, it was a bit like Christmas. I opened all my boxes from our world tour. They were sent to us by boat from almost every country, all filled to the brim. Ten years later, I was rediscovering treasures. For the rest, it’s a bit like a game of “exquisite cadaver” combining objects related to our families and different places. These are things that tell the story of an era or of encounters, pieces from designer friends, pieces I’ve found or drawn.avons récupéré la hauteur des combles et, à défaut d’avoir une terrasse, je me suis fait une jungle. Un canapé et une boule à facettes, et Roulez jeunesse ! Pour la décoration, c’était un peu Noël. J’ai ouvert tous mes cartons de notre tour du monde. On nous en envoyait par bateau de presque chaque pays, tous remplis à craquer. Dix ans après, je redécouvrais des trésors. Pour le reste, c’est un peu un cadavre exquis d’objets se rattachant à nos familles, à des lieux. Ce sont des choses qui racontent une époque ou des rencontres, des pièces d’amis designers, chinées ou que j’ai dessinées.
For you, The Socialite Family is … ?
A glimpse of a family making its own unique way, but also a heck of a woman and team behind it all!
Where will we see you in the coming months?
Who knows? On new paths to other countries in search of other crafts! It’s already an itch, anyway, and we said to ourselves when we came back from our world tour that the ideal would be to go on a “mini-retreat” every five years instead of waiting for the end of the road to enjoy it. Paradise is in real life now! Let’s make the most of it!
Photography: Constance Gennari – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily