To the Georgian Restaurant at Harrods. 8.01pm. Escalators crisscrossing silent marble halls in noble ascent and descent, unencumbered by shoppers. Animals sleeping in the pet store; ghostly dummies casting unmoving shadows in the clothes department; mirrors in the furniture showroom reflecting nobody. But something is aflutter on the top floor.
It’s the arrival of Le Grand Atelier, a pop up shop devoted to the French artisanal tradition showcasing the finest food, decoration and design products from across the
Chanel Channel. The companies selected by Harrods all boast the prestigious Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant (EPV or Living Heritage Company) label. The initiative is backed by the French Trade Commission, UBIFrance, and the Institut Supérieur des Métiers.
Holding court in the centre of the room is Raine, Countess Spencer, aristocratic ambassador to Harrods, looking resplendent. Black neckerchief, diamond earrings as big as the Ritz, that bouffant, all set off by deb poise. Not forgetting her pink satin blouse. She is lest we forget the daughter of Barbara Cartland.
His Excellency, Monsieur Bernard Emié, French Ambassador to the UK, addresses everyone. “We are here to celebrate the best of French craftsmanship in this flagship of London, this world famous store. This pop up for a month in Harrods shows the very best of the French way of life. ‘Soft power’, that’s what we like to call it. Even if we are paying high taxes in France! Who could imagine a finer setting?”
In between nibbling on Ladureé’s macaroon tree, we talk to our favourite two exhibitors. Grey Tahiti mother of pearl, veined horn, ostrich or pheasant feathers, satin or silk plummets, Duvelleroy couture hand fans combine materiality of worth with craftsmanship of note. Embroiderers, engravers, pleaters, it’s a team effort. The house’s emblem, a daisy stamped on the rivet, provides provenance for prosperity. Fashion designers such as Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Lovisa Burfitt have worked with Duvelleroy. Katy Perry is a fan. So are we.
“Were thrilled to see our fans at Harrods, the kingdom of fashion and retail,” enthuse co owners Eloïse Gilles and Raphaëlle de Panafieu tell us. “It’s a beautiful recognition of the revival of Duvelleroy and one of the best places on earth to meet new clients for modern hand fans. It’s important for us to explain the savoir faire that’s behind each one of these creations and wonderful to be identified as a signature of French style. The Grand Atelier event and Living Heritage Company label offer such an opportunity.”
We’re also fans of La Maison Dissidi. It represents three generations of cabinetmakers from the Rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine furniture district of Paris. Staffed by a team of highly qualified craftsmen, chief exec Dominique Roitel tells us: “La Maison Dissidi is a depository of ancestral savoir faire creating pieces of unsurpassed quality.” The company specialises in the reproduction of traditional furniture and wainscoting but also has the wherewithal to create contemporary items.
“The little desk presented in the ground floor shop window of Harrods,” Dominique points out, “is a copy of a piece of French furniture circa 1740. It is entirely handmade in our Parisian workshop and finished in French varnish with contrasting bronze gilded gold and black leather.” Perfect for the Countess to write letters from her home in Mayfair.