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Past perfect

Dan Jude explores the heritage of fine French craftsmanship

Feature

by Dan Jude
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Past Perfect

From Louis Vuitton to Chanel, Lanvin to Hermès, French fashion is imbued with a strong sense of heritage. Away from the catwalk, history and tradition are equally central to French retail; nowhere more so than in the textile and tableware industries, which are dominated by a handful of luxury brands that date back centuries. From linen manufacturers in Eastern France to porcelain producers in the world-famous Limoges region, family-owned, long-established companies continue to prosper, while many of their more recently established competitors struggle to survive.
Le Jacquard Francais, one of the oldest French textile companies, is still enjoying great success some 120 years after its foundation in 1888. Named after the legendary 18th-century weaver Joseph Marie Jacquard, the man who revolutionised the weaving process, Le Jacquard Français fuses yesterday’s traditions with today’s innovation. While the technology, personnel and even the company name have changed over time, the ethos of the company remains the same, as does the factory site in the Vosges region. Offering a unique range of meticulously designed table, pantry and beach linen, Le Jacquard Français continues to attract both French and international shoppers searching for immaculate craftsmanship and a trustworthy name.

Some 700km to the south west, in Limoges, tradition also reigns supreme. No company exemplifies the spirit of the French crafts industry quite as much as Royal Limoges. Established in 1789, it is one of the oldest and most prestigious porcelain manufacturers in the world. Still a family business, the company has occupied the same factory site since 1816. Royal Limoges covers the entire production process, from making its own clay to designing exclusive patterns, before assembling the exquisite crockery in its sophisticated production plant.

Paris is also host to many successful brands that can boast a long and fascinating history. One such company is Pierre Frey, a family-owned maison de luxe founded in 1935 that designs and manufactures luxury fabrics and wallpapers. The company is as groundbreaking as it is eclectic, offering shoppers a diverse array of materials and styles, with 5,000 shades to choose from. While the Pierre Frey design philosophy may be forward thinking, tradition remains a central tenet of the company, epitomised by its remarkable archive. Since 2003, more than 30,000 documents dating from the 16th century to the present day have been assembled in Paris, where they can be searched by period, colour, motif and technique, and used to inspire contemporary design.

The success of all these traditional French brands is due to balance as much as anything else; balance between old and new; between tradition and technology; between the classic and the contemporary. By looking to the future while proudly preserving their heritage, these much-loved French brands have thrived while newer competitors have fallen by the wayside. If they continue to innovate and move with the times, they will flourish for centuries to come.

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