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France's early exit from the current World Cup was due in no small part to a lack of goals. The same cannot be said of the French Trade Commission and UBIFRANCE, its internet portal, who last week staged the first Maison France in New York City, with the ambitious goal of bringing new French design and craftsmanship to the attention of the U.S. market.
I made time in my busy social schedule (actually, all it took was an invitation from the event's publicist, Katherine Kostreva) to attend the closing festivities for the exhibition, which were held at what used to be the Felissimo Design House at 10 W. 56th Street. It was a grand stage for the event--a townhouse designed at the turn of the 20th century by the architectural firm of Warren and Wetmore, of Grand Central Station fame, and remodeled by Clodagh at the turn of this century. The finale was well attended by design and architecture luminaries. Among my own acquaintances, I counted Thomas Jayne, Amy Lau, Carl D'Aquino, Paul Mathieu, Sophie Donelson, Julia Noran, and Joan and Jayne Michaels.
Thirty French companies were represented, with wares ranging from hand-tooled leather, wallpaper, and tablewares to furniture, lighting, and glass. Custom luxury was the catch-phrase, with craftsmanship a close second. Traditional artisanal techniques, such as glass blowing and woodwork, were manifested in traditional design motifs, and in new designs. An argument was made for the ongoing vitality and economic relevance of French decorative arts.
Several installations and objects caught my avowedly subjective eye. A few of these actually photographed well, and are shown here. In no particular order, they are:
• A display of hand-crafted glass cabinet and door knobs, courtesy of Verreries de Brehat. The artisan also makes glass finials, lighting, vases, and trophies.
• A cigar box of inlaid exotic woods with a portrait of Che Guevera on the cover by Elie Bleu, whose work continues and updates French deco traditions.
• A faceted metal sconce, almost surreal-looking popping off the wall, by Francois Champsaur, offered by Pouenat.
• Hand-blown glass balls by Julienne and Irene Daniaux, whose company, Diversion, showed a range of glass vases and decorations.
• A wall sculpture--"between painting and sculpture"--by Verodalla, a restaurateur turned artist.
By no means is this a complete list of products meriting attention. For Carl D'Aquino, the crème de la crème was the embossed leather work, available in custom patterns and colors, by Maison Fey. La beaute, as they say, est dans l'oeil du spectateur.