When Heritage and Art Collide


A symbol of Perrier-Jouët’s 200-year-old heritage, Maison Belle Époque in Épernay reopens its doors


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When Heritage and Art Collide
Art January 1st, 2018

Recognised for its elegant floral champagnes reflecting the essence of the Chardonnay grape since 1811, Perrier-Jouët has always been intimately linked to nature and art, thanks to its founders, Pierre-Nicolas Perrier and Rose-Adélaïde Jouët.

Today, the brand owns the largest private collection of museum-quality French Art Nouveau in Europe, which it proudly displays in its newly-reopened Maison Belle Époque along the Avenue de Champagne in Épernay that connects to underground chalk cellar tunnels protecting thousands of bottles of aging champagne.

Over 200 pieces of furniture, objects and artworks by the leading lights of Art Nouveau – from Louis Majorelle and Hector Guimard to René Lalique and Auguste Rodin – adorn the 1,200-sqm mansion. Several generations of the Perrier-Jouët founding family once lived there, but in 1990, it was transformed into a guesthouse.

By the end of 2014, the two-storey, rectangular 18th-century country house required a complete overhaul. The two-and-a-half-year-long renovations were overseen by Paris-based interior architecture firm, Gaia Design, helmed by French designer, Gaël Lunven, who set out to return the residence to its original configuration and create new perspectives by eliminating the central staircase and bringing natural light back to the first floor, while respecting and showcasing the exceptional Art Nouveau collection.

All six bedrooms were made more spacious and luxurious, receiving new dressing areas and large living rooms and bathrooms. “It was a challenge to create a real Art Nouveau atmosphere and give back to this family house its prestige and original character,” Lunven notes.

A visit to the Maison Belle Époque is like stepping back in time, and the privilege of spending the night there is reserved for Perrier-Jouët’s VIPs and professional visitors only.

Working with 15 different artisanal companies, Lunven and his team meticulously researched the art of the period to ensure that the entrance hall mosaic floor composed of 330,000 white, red and grey marble tiles cut and set by Gilles Delfino and the decorative frescoes and friezes hand-painted by Sophia Kalil’s stencil artists were authentic.

He says, “We have worked on 18th-century, 19th-century and Art Deco projects before, but this was the first time we worked in an Art Nouveau style. We did a lot of research and it was very interesting because it was one of the most creative periods in design.”

Designer of Paris’ well-known Art Nouveau metro station entrances, Guimard’s curvy pear wood doors frame the Émile Gallé salon, where a Gallé walnut table with legs hand-carved in the shape of giant dragonflies is surrounded by Georges de Feure chairs.

The adjacent Majorelle drawing room showcases the designer’s beech armchairs, sofa and banquette carved and gilded with fern décor; Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s portrait of cabaret singer Yvette Guilbert on which she scribbled, “Little monster!! You have made a horror!!”; and a blue Sèvres crystal vase that the French President gifted to François-Rupert Carabin, which he disliked so much that he added a sculpted pear wood base with three female nudes looking away in horror.

Antique Cordoba leather wall panels, wood marquetry beds and cabinets, colourful stained-glass windows, mushroom-shaped lamps and a tiled earthenware Sarreguemines stove embellished with flowers, leaves and insects rub shoulders with modern-day Tai Ping rugs, Veronese Murano glass chandeliers, wooden doors by cabinetmaker James Ébenistes (who worked on the Hôtel de Crillon and Ritz Paris), and textile coverings, curtains, lambrequins and valances from manufacturers Prelle, Verel de Belval and Charles Burger.

The house required an epic 1,100 metres of fabric, 270 metres of fringing and 2,000 work hours.

Ateliers Philippe Coudray restored the entire Art Nouveau furniture collection, reupholstering, revarnishing and regilding. Upstairs, a blue bedroom with splashes of gold is punctuated by a Guimard pear wood bed, and marble and stone bathrooms come in a variety of tones.

It was Eugène Gallice, brother-in-law of Charles Perrier, the son of the founders and an avid botanist, who first acquired the mansion in 1850. The art collector and founding member of the French Art History Society passed the house on to his sons Henri and Octave.

While Henri managed the champagne business, his younger brother immersed himself in Paris’ Belle Époque artistic scene when the city was the capital of culture and entertainment. He commissioned Émile Gallé in 1902 to decorate a Perrier-Jouët champagne bottle, which resulted in a gilded, free-flowing motif depicting white Japanese anemones that still adorns the Belle Époque cuvée today.

When Michel Budin, a relative of the Gallice family and an Art Nouveau collector, took over Perrier-Jouët, he played a decisive role in enriching the house’s Art Nouveau collection and had the idea to transform the house into the Maison Belle Époque. Today, the brand even loans pieces from its collection for museum exhibitions, including the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

Perrier-Jouët’s creative director Axelle de Buffevent ensures that the brand’s relationship with established and young designers and artists who embrace the botanical world carries on into the 21st century through regular commissions, thereby building a legacy for future generations.

At the same time, contemporary art also fills the home. Creating a dialogue between past and present, Perrier-Jouët’s creative director Axelle de Buffevent ensures that the brand’s relationship with established and young designers and artists who embrace the botanical world carries on into the 21st century through regular commissions, thereby building a legacy for future generations.

Austrian duo Mischer’traxler’s Ephemera interactive ornamental garden table thrones in the lobby and Japanese artist Ritsue Mishima’s ‘All’ombra della Luce’ installation of Murano glass discs resembling champagne bubbles is suspended above the new bar, while Studio Glithero’s haunting artwork, ‘Lost Time’, featuring beaded chains hanging in loops reflected in a pool of water, which is inspired by Gaudi’s method of creating the perfect curve for the Sagrada Familia, guards over the cellars.

The house also serves as an artist residency where selected artists are invited to stay for as long as they wish in order to find inspiration to create nature-inspired artworks from the Art Nouveau collection and Perrier-Jouët’s winemaking process and craftsmanship through cellar master Hervé Deschamps.

Perrier-Jouët has always been about crafting nature into intricate wines and the brand views Deschamps as a kind of artist of nature and terroir mastering the art of blending with the goal of reproducing the same champagnes every year, conceiving each cuvée as a unique work of art created with extreme precision.

At the end of the day, each new collaboration is an encounter between two creators – a mixture of the artist’s creative know-how and Deschamps’ wine expertise – where the fusion of knowledge aims to perpetuate Perrier-Jouët’s Art Nouveau legacy, which is all about injecting beauty and poetry into everyday life.

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