A revived Paris destination for art de vivre created by traditional artisans to contemporary designs is one of our favourite boutiques of 2012. We talk to the owner and creative director of Compagnie Française de l'Orient et de la Chine.
What makes a great gift? Aside from the joy of giving something that proves how well you know the recipient, we believe the best presents are original, never-seen-before, beautifully crafted objects. And while there are many boutiques around the world we could recommend where gifts that match this brief can be purchased (consult our City Guide), there are few stores whose collection entirely encapsulates the notion of the rare, the exotic and the artisan-made. Which is why we’re so excited by Compagnie Française de l’Orient et de la Chine (CFOC) in Paris.
At CFOC there are objects crafted from ceramic from Foshan and porcelain from Jingdezhen. There are perfectly shaped glasses by Josef Hoffmann. Linens are crisp and feature just the right amount of embroidery. Exquisite tableware is designed in-house and made in Limoges. “Contemporary art de vivre” is how CFOC-owner, the French developer and entrepreneur Laurent Dumas describes the pan-Asian-inspired collection.
Available at a splendid new flagship store on Paris’ Boulevard Haussmann – a feat of chic in itself with its oak parquet flooring and Japanese paper chandeliers – the CFOC products might be new but the brand is not. Founded in 1966 by Francois Dautresme, who travelled across China and Asia to source exotic products, the marque shuttered in 2010 before being bought by Dumas in 2011. After employing his childhood friends, the interior decorators François Schmidt and Sarah Lavoine as creative directors, CFOC once again began scouring not only Asia but the entire world for “savoir-faire that is rare or that is on the verge of disappearing”. Once traditional artisans are identified, the CFOC design team works with them to create products that are modern and sophisticated.
For the gift-giver, CFOC is a treasure trove of objects that will subtly attest to the purchaser’s good taste. What’s more, a visit to CFOC is surprisingly good value. “Good quality at a good price” is how Dumas describes one of the label’s guiding principles. It’s a winning formula: savoir faire + contemporary design – exorbitant price = the ultimate gifts from CFOC.
Laurent Dumas’ definition of luxury:
If luxury were a place:
Italy. Italian people have a great sense of luxury. The Italian way of serving you and taking care of you in their very old hotels is the best. Nowhere is this more true than at the fantastic Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda.
If luxury were a person:
Jackie O. She was never too much, always cool, just perfect.
If luxury were an object:
Hoffman glassware. Elegant and discreet.
Sarah Lavoine’s definition of luxury:
If luxury were a place:
The CFOC boutique.
Sitting here in CFOC, it feels like an established brand in the art of living. What is the story of the brand?
CFOC was born in the early sixties when it was founded by Francois Dautresme. He was like the raider of the lost arc. From an old fashion French family, he had the opportunity to go to China very early. He created a new ways of finding things from China – traditional objects and the traditional way of living which he put in a shop. CFOC at that time was like an adventure. Customers who came at that time found things they could not find elsewhere because it was very difficult to go to China. From then until 2002, it was quite a success story with 10 stores, mostly in Paris. But he died while he having a big exhibition in Rio de Janeiro of his collection of Chinese antiques. The company went bankrupt in 2010 and we had the opportunity to acquire it in 2011.
At the heart of the new chapter of CFOC is the team made up of yourself and creative directors François Schmidt and Sarah Lavoine. How did you come together?
Then story between Francois, Sarah and I is almost as long as the story of CFOC. The three of us share a 30-year-old friendship. I had always wanted to do something with Sarah as we had never worked together. I had worked with Francois on the interior design of buildings because I’m a developer. As soon as bought CFOC, we decided to begin this adventure not as a friendship business but because I knew that Sarah and Francois have an original way of looking at things, of working on interior design, objects, and art de vivre. I had the conviction and I was right that they were able to create a new contemporary vision of what was CFOC and what it had to become.
What was the mission of the new CFOC from a design point of view?
We had to respect the story of the place. It was not easy to find the right direction while also respecting the history and the company. Before, Chinese products were rare. Now they are everywhere but they aren’t good quality. So we tried to find the best of Asia – the best savoir faire, the best traditions and the best quality. We raised the standard of the products. And we don’t want to be different for the sake of being different. But here you need to find things you don’t find everywhere else.
By sourcing crafts and products from not only China but Asia and even some European countries, have you extended the original concept of CFOC?
Everyone thinks that Franocis Dautresme was only looking for products from China. But this was not the story of the old CFOC. In each country he visited he found glass, plates, a chair, a footstool… Everywhere he went he was looking for something original. This is what Sarah, Francois and the team tried to do. We were looking all over Asia – Vietnam, Bali, Cambodia etc. – but also Germany, Italy, Austria… everywhere. Whoever knows how to do something well, it doesn’t matter where they are from.
What makes a CFOC product?
The first direction is that it was to be very well done, very high quality. Then it was to be original – because it is not found anywhere else or because it hasn’t been seen in newspapers or because no one knows about it. And then it must have the right price for the best quality. Of course, we have plates that are by an old Japanese glass master who is making one plate a week and it is expensive. But mostly we are looking for good quality at a good place.
How do you find the craftspeople you work with?
I’m going to Japan at the end of the month for the first time. On our last trip we went to Indonesia, Vietnam and China. Of course, we don’t travel all the time so we have people helping us to find great craftspeople and designers around the world. It’s important to meet the people we’re working with.
Which are your five favourite CFOC products?
My absolute favourites are the Japanese plates.
Then the Hoffman glassware. The shape is extraordinary.
The big table from Bali.
The candles because of their colours and fragrance. They’re made in Grasse and the glass comes from Belgium.
Finally, I like everything that our flower motif is on, particularly the bed sheets with the white on white flowers.
170 Boulevard Haussmann, Paris
+33 1 53 53 40 80