Purple Magazine
— Purple #31 The Paris issue

pierre marie

pierre marie

interview and portraits by OLIVIER ZAHM

the designer of hermès scarves
just opened his own gallery
in the 9th arrondissement where
he brings a colorful contemporary
twist to art deco

OLIVIER ZAHM — In the media, you’re described as an illustrator, but I’m not sure that term is really appropriate for you.
PIERRE MARIE — It’s extremely reductive. Illustrators depict other people’s stories as images. I like to invent stories and draw them myself, but what matters above all is that there are ideas behind the images. I’ve spent a long time looking for a word that defines what I do. The word “artist” doesn’t quite work. The artist creates freely. I always have to adapt to an industry, a technique, a specific demand. At Hermès, we’re called “draftsmen,” and that sort of obsolete term has its charm. It’s close to the word “designer” in English.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Drawings, household objects, decoration, ornaments, fashion: you move from one field to another.
PIERRE MARIE — I really like the title “ornamentalist.” It refers to a specialist in ornamentation, a profession that has completely disappeared. Back in the day, in the decorative arts, there were people specialized in drawing ribbons, friezes, patterns, railings, wallpapers, bas-reliefs on buildings, fabrics, rugs. I feel closer to these 17th- and 18th-century men than to all the illustrators out there.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You started out very young, designing scarves for Hermès, and then you evolved toward the world of objects and decorating. You went from working in two dimensions to three dimensions.
PIERRE MARIE — I started with flat things, like silk scarves. This year will mark the 10th year I’ve been drawing scarves for Hermès. It’s a passion. But I also felt the call of decoration. I wondered: what would it look like if you could enter one of my drawings, experience it fully, as a total sensation? I never thought I’d work in decoration. It happened not so long ago because things open up and develop gradually.

OLIVIER ZAHM — A drawing becomes an object. It takes on the size of a wall or the volume of a room.
PIERRE MARIE — That’s right. I like it when an object has been created with a place in mind, an occasion, or for a person in particular. In fact, I’m re-engaging with the tradition of the ensemblier [in French, a decorator who designs a room or entire house as a stylistically consistent ensemble]. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the UAM [the French Union of Modern Artists]. There was an exhibition at Beaubourg not that long ago. It’s a movement dating from the first half of the 20th century, a bit of a continuation of what happened in Vienna. They were decorators with a total ambition. They believed in a total decorative art, the fusion of art and life. Later on, with the industrialization of the object, decoration was divided into different professions: the decorator, the interior architect, and the designer. Then minimalism swept through and flattened everything — rugs, tapestries, wallpapers became unthinkable. All of a sudden, everything had to be made in white, beige, sober colors, out of raw, noble materials.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, in a way, Le Corbusier was an ensemblier?
PIERRE MARIE — Yes, exactly. He made tapestries, painted murals, frescoes. He designed doorknobs, windows. He made furniture with other people. It was always tied to a project, a place, a person. The point wasn’t to commercialize the doorknob so that it could be installed in every single home. There is a clientele that wants luxury. And the ultimate luxury is to have a lamp designed specifically for your home.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You must have felt rather alone in that extreme ’90s minimalism.
PIERRE MARIE — When I was growing up in Paris in the 1990s, I never really paid attention to design or decoration. My world was full of abundance, narrative, color. And I didn’t like anything that was being made at the time. Yes, I felt completely isolated. Today, there is a revival of interest in pattern, color, the decorative in general. Minimalism was a way to cordon off taste. It’s easier to be tasteful when the spectrum is so reduced — you can say you have good taste because you’re using marble, brass, and the color white. People like Vincent Darré and myself, we’re completely capable of enjoying a beautiful minimalist work (like Andrée Putman’s, for instance), but minimalists are never able to appreciate whimsical or maximalist work.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Maybe one day, you’ll go as far as architecture. At home, you designed your own fireplace, your staircase, all your storage cabinets, your desk.
PIERRE MARIE — Yes, I love architecture. It’s marvelous to be able to design your own house.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did anything strike you as a child to make you develop such a prolific imagination?
PIERRE MARIE — Nothing special. As a child, I was into cartoons. I grew up with Disney. In fact, Walt Disney uses black outlines filled with flat planes of color. That’s something you’ll find in my drawings, as well. One day, my mother decided I should take an IQ test. The woman who tested me was a bit of a psychic. She said, “You’re going to make a lot of money by drawing flowers or building churches.” That really stuck with me. Today, I draw a lot of flowers.

OLIVIER ZAHM — In the tapestry you made with a manufacturer in Aubusson, you depicted a number of plants used in cooking, right?
PIERRE MARIE — They are spices. The tapestry is called Ras El Hanout, which means “grocer’s head” in Arabic because it refers to a blend of spices that’s found in the storefront of every grocery shop in the Maghreb. It’s out there for passersby to smell and then say, “Oh, this shop has a good ras el hanout, so it must have good products.” It defines the grocer’s style, his high standards, and the quality of his products, how fresh they are. I liked the name. With this project, I’m sort of sharing my own recipe.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Since we’re on the topic of technique — for every project, you find the technique that’s most perfectly suited. In your kitchen, for instance, you printed one of your patterns on melamine panels.
PIERRE MARIE — Yes, the Memphis Group made a lot of melamine furniture with whimsical prints. That’s not done anymore.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Another technique we could talk about are the screen prints on cardboard panels, which you affix to the wall like wallpaper.
PIERRE MARIE — I work a lot with screen printing. It’s a technique I like very much. There are some incredible colors available. I found the cardboard in Japan. It’s very beautiful and has an almost insulating quality, which creates a kind of muffled atmosphere. You’re free to change the pattern and reconnect with the ancestor of wallpaper, domino paper, which juxtaposes dominos or geometric forms.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Then they are placed in wooden frames.
PIERRE MARIE — Yes, using a very simple system of rods. Then they are stuck to the wall with Velcro. I can change the composition of the panels. I have a summer version, a winter version.

OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s amazing!
PIERRE MARIE — Well, I do what I can to keep things interesting. I’m pleased it works so well in my house. You see, each panel is numbered so that I can reconstruct the wall.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re not just creating a decor — you’re also rediscovering an older technique and creating an entirely new decorative system. You could patent this layout plan of screen-printed panels!
PIERRE MARIE — I looked into it but sort of gave up because it was too complicated. I’d rather be inventing new things. Whenever I try to research these kinds of administrative procedures, it saps my energy. I need to maintain a certain level of enthusiasm.

OLIVIER ZAHM — As an ensemblier, you also design objects. Some of them are functional objects, like lamps, while others are purely decorative, like flower vases.
PIERRE MARIE — Those vases are inspired by Dutch tulip vases, delftware, with the openings for stems in the form of columns. They’re often made of blue and white porcelain.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is there a little bit of Hector Guimard’s Art Nouveau in your work? Art Nouveau was so important for Paris.
PIERRE MARIE — When I first bought this apartment and started to think about how it would be decorated, I got interested in Art Nouveau. I always try to find the most repulsive thing, the thing people hate. And Art Nouveau, Guimard, the noodle style, all that sort of bummed me out. That 1920s style, for me, felt a little haunted. But then I moved to this apartment and saw that this style seemed very legitimate in the ninth arrondissement, which was a very lively neighborhood at the time.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It was a neighborhood full of townhouses for bourgeois men’s mistresses.
PIERRE MARIE — Exactly. Architecture at that time was inspired by antiquity. You have to have an open mind to notice that. So, it was called “New Athens.” There are a number of artist’s studios here, too, because just before the end of the 19th century, developers lobbied for additional floors to be added to buildings in the neighborhood, so that they could be made into artist’s studios. Before the 19th century, most buildings were only three or four stories high. All these studios were just added on. That’s how so many artists, like [Henri de] Toulouse-Lautrec, came to work here. There were sculpture studios on the first floor and painting studios on the top floor. Do you know the Musée de la Vie Romantique [Museum of Romantic Life], which houses Ary Scheffer’s studio? I really got into that whole atmosphere and started to find it very seductive and interesting.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s totally Parisian.
PIERRE MARIE — You can’t really get more Parisian than that.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s kind of a synthesis of all the major Parisian influences: the bohemian side, the artistic side, the Haussmannian side, and that grain of folly that had to do with women who wanted their patrons to spend fortunes on their social lives. It’s a totally different world, and there is that cheerful, lighthearted element in your work, too. Are you afraid of this impression of lightheartedness?
PIERRE MARIE — I think we’re going through a rather cynical time. It’s precisely the moment to talk about beauty, joyous things, dreams, to create optimistic things.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s not naive, either.
PIERRE MARIE — Sometimes it is. There are people who find my drawings childish or naive. It’s a reductive reading, but it doesn’t bother me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You also tend toward a certain abstraction. The wall in your living room, for example, is a combination of abstraction and patterns that are hard to recognize.
PIERRE MARIE — I titled it Flames and Ribbons. It’s both psychedelic and baroque. It has to do with a form of writing inspired by the 18th century. The flames and ribbons are treated like a kind of kaleidoscope, with hallucinatory colors. Because it is like a rosette, there is a very round flow that evokes a mandala. I think of many of my patterns as opportunities for meditation.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you choose your colors? You have a very large color palette.
PIERRE MARIE — Yes, I don’t have any restrictions. I like all the colors. Color is one of the most powerful modes of expression. Like scent, it harks back to something very instinctual. With a colorful palette, you’re speaking not only to the rational part of the brain, but also to the more unconscious part, to a person’s feeling, their deepest sensibility.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Why use so many colors in your apartment?
PIERRE MARIE — The only rule in this apartment was: no white! The reflex to use white is unbearable! But at the same time, the pale blue on all the walls is a fake white. At a certain point, your eyes calibrate all the other colors based on this blue. So, it becomes white, the neutral color in the composition.

OLIVIER ZAHM — There is brown, ochre, some light greens, almond.
PIERRE MARIE — There’s a little bit of everything. It’s a real range. There’s nothing worse than a white apartment with one blue wall that doesn’t make a case for itself.

OLIVIER ZAHM — I’m noticing that there are no paintings.
PIERRE MARIE — I’ve got three up there, Sol LeWitts. Very pretty aquatints. But I don’t collect art.

OLIVIER ZAHM — In a way, a painting takes on meaning as an element in space when it’s set against a white background. But by creating an ensemble, it’s a little like we’re already in the painting.
PIERRE MARIE — In that sense, it might be funny to hang some white paintings! I think that when there are paintings or photographs on the wall, they form a kind of vanishing point. All of a sudden, you forget that the wall is there — it’s like a window your gaze escapes through. There’s a little bit of that here because the tapestry, the stained-glass windows, or the patterns always catch your eye. They offer new vanishing points.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re not afraid of dressing up, either. You love fashion.
PIERRE MARIE — Since I was a kid… In fact, as a kid, I was bullied in school for it. I was lucky to have cool parents who said: “Listen, we don’t care what other people think. Be whoever you want to be. We’ll love you no matter what.” As a homosexual, it was great to have parents who could say that. So, even if I was bullied in school, I knew I’d come home to a peaceful haven, a protective cocoon, where I was free to be myself.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You still work for Hermès, but you’ve also worked for young designers.
PIERRE MARIE — I made a lot of patterns for young designers. At first, I mostly designed invitations cards because I was just out of graphic design school. I worked with Romain Kremer, Mélodie Wolf, Bernhard Willhelm, Yazbukey. I was 19 or 20, and I felt close to this world. It felt like the possibilities were endless. I had total freedom and a lot of energy. I built a network of friends. Little by little, I was asked to make an invitation card, then to make a print for a sweater or a t-shirt, or to art-direct a commercial. I even did casting for fashion shows. I got a full view of the fashion world at a time when — in the ’90s and early 2000s — it was a thriving industry, still operating on a human scale, with an explosion of young designers. Then I gradually started working for more established fashion houses.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You haven’t lost that interest in fashion?
PIERRE MARIE — No, I still keep track of many collections. I like to be able to tell fashion apart from mass market brands. Often, when people are talking about fashion, they confuse it with the mass market. They say it’s a vile, horrible, greedy scene. For me, fashion isn’t only that. It’s also a movement. It’s art.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And Paris? What’s your relation to the city?
PIERRE MARIE — I’m from the suburbs. I used to live in Perreux-sur-Marne. Paris is where I discovered art and fashion! I would go to Les Halles as a teenager. The first movies I saw at the Ciné Cité Les Halles were Kids and Showgirls. All the straight guys loved Kids, and they went to the Shop to dress up as skaters. I stumbled on the Comme des Garçons store, saw their Vichy collection with the bustles and bulges on the body. That was in 1997. I was 15 years old, and it blew my mind. I told my friends to continue on to the Shop, and I went in to look. I definitely didn’t have the budget to buy anything there, and it wasn’t addressed to me because I was just a kid from the suburbs. But it really moved me. I went back to that store often. One day, I was invited to a private sample sale, and I was finally able to buy my first Comme des Garçons pants. That was in 2000. I was so happy. I was also a huge fan of Björk, and I saw that the dress she wore to the Cannes Festival in 2000 was on view in the Kokon To Zai shop. That’s how I discovered the young designers on the Rue Tiquetonne. I went into the store and befriended guys who were into fashion and clothes. I got my first job by hanging around shops. It’s funny to kind of wander around like that, and at the same time, it’s frustrating not to be able to buy anything. It makes you more active.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Sometimes, you get more out of things when you can’t buy them.
PIERRE MARIE — When I think back to that time, I tell myself, “Today you’ve become a little fashion whore, who goes all out for a total look.” But I like that, too — it’s my Milanese side. I’m obsessed with Prada.

END

Camille Vivier photography — Yasmine Eslami style — Olivier Schawalder at CALLISTE, hair — Lili Choi at CALLISTE using M.A.C COSMETICS, make-up — Rouguy Faye, model

[Table of contents]

Purple #31 The Paris issue

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