French fashion icon Inès de la Fressange is the public face of effortless chic—these days, with her own clothing line for Uniqlo and a brand ambassadorship with luxury shoemaker Roger Vivier. A rare peek into the Parisian apartment where she lived as a new wife and mother shows that her inimitable genius extends to interiors.
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The last decade of the 20th century was a busy one for Inès de la Fressange: The onetime Chanel muse cut ties with the fashion house, launched herself as a perfumer and designer, opened an eponymous boutique, married businessman and art historian Luigi d’Urso, and gave birth to two daughters. In 1991, she welcomed Vogue into her home; now, she takes us on a trip back to that time in her life to explain how she turned a flat in the center of Paris into a Swedish Gustavian–inspired haven for her growing family.
At first, I didn’t especially want to live in the center of Paris. The place we found was a very bourgeois, conventional flat, with eight rooms and only one bathroom, in an 18th-century building. (Eugène Poubelle—the préfet who organized garbage service in Paris in 1844—once lived there!) But I immediately felt the good vibes. It was large, and all the rooms were square, which is a very nice way to live. And it was near the gardens of Tuileries and Parc Monceau, on a very quiet street with a baker, a butcher’s shop, a pub, and a restaurant, and had a long balcony and no building in front, so it was very luminous. My husband was Italian, and he thought nothing could be as Parisian; it reminded him of all the French literature he’d read. The neighborhood inspired a lot of Marcel Proust.
I wanted a comfortable place, but not conventional. Tradition without the boring aspect. I imagined I could create the feeling that the place had always been like that, that nobody would think that everything had been redone. I wanted effortless chic—not a showroom. It’s just like with dressing: You don’t want to be a fashion victim.
I loved the Swedish artist Carl Larsson’s books showing his drawings of his home with his family and dog. The Gustavian style was inspired by French Neoclassicism, but far less ostentatious—less gold, less shine, more humble and light. It was totally unknown in France at that time, but I loved it and understood quickly that I could make it work here. I always like to choose the decoration to suit the place. If this home had been in Marseille, I would have done something different.
IKEA didn’t even exist yet in France! In the 18th century, French furniture was painted in gold leaf or left dark brown, but in the Gustavian style, it was painted white. Finally, I went to Stockholm to buy the furniture at Bukowskis auction house. (I couldn’t understand a word during the sales.)I was thrilled to find the very same things I’d seen in Larsson’s drawings.
The stripes and ginghams that I wanted were hard to find in Paris—some I bought in Stockholm. The curtains are cotton, taffeta or silk, and the upholstery is cotton. I was also obsessed with finding a white fabric with large white stripes that wasn’t shiny, and finally I realized I could just use the reverse side! As for the combination of different sized navy and cornflower checks, it just had to fit with the size of the furniture: not too tiny, not too big.
When I first visited the flat, there was dark green carpet everywhere. I was happily surprised to discover antique wood floors beneath, but they were dark brown. I had them all totally bleached and cerused. Even where we didn’t use rugs, it was not at all just “bare”—it was very studied! I did pale green for the living room walls, with a gold-leaf trim, and pale blue in the library.
Obviously these pictures were taken before we had babies! After we had our two girls, it was slightly more messy. It was perfect for family life, especially because of all the gardens in the neighborhood. The girls remember this place; they loved it. Our entertaining wasn’t very organized—usually small dinners or lunches decided at the last moment. I would do huge birthday parties for my eldest daughter (the youngest was born in August, after we had moved out) and totally transform the place. One year the theme was pink, with paper roses and curtains and sweets. Another year it was red with beach umbrellas. And another was a jungle theme with huge tree branches and plants. Too much was never enough—I was crazy! At Christmas the flat was totally transformed again with Swedish straw decorations, many light strings, and a big Christmas tree, of course.
If I were to redecorate the place today, I’d include even more places for storage, to have a minimum of things sitting out. Swedish style is very nice and tidy! Plus, now I know it’s not good to accumulate too many things—we should regularly get rid of clothes, souvenirs, awful presents. I suppose that’s the Marie Kondo influence!
This Story originally appeared in volume 7 of frederic Magazine. Click here to subscribe!