A Labour of Love
One of Kris Van Assche’s favourite activities on a Saturday afternoon is to visit François Laffanour’s Galerie Downtown, on the Rive Gauche in Paris, to learn about French historical design, a speciality of the design gallery since the 1980s. It was probably during one of these visits that the Belgian designer and creative director for the luxury brand Berluti came up with the idea of collaborating with Laffanour on a project focussing on Pierre Jeanneret, the late French designer (and cousin of Le Corbusier), known for the furniture he designed for the Indian city Chandigarh.
The story of Chandigarh is legendary. It was a large scale project conceived by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister after independence from the United Kingdom in 1947, as a symbol of freedom. The Indian government hired Le Corbusier to create a master plan for the city. For the Swiss-French architect, this was an opportunity to realize his modernist vision. It was his most ambitious project and included government and residential buildings, commercial and industrial areas, as well as parks.
Le Corbusier hired his cousin Pierre Jeanneret to design furniture for the municipal buildings. Jeanneret solved the task by combining the lines and aesthetics of French Modernism and the Indian tradition. He used locally sourced materials, such as teak wood, which is robust and resistant to humidity, and employed local craftmen to create handmade caning for the chairs. Chandigarh was his most outstanding accomplishment and it influenced his life so much that he remained there after its completion. Upon his death in 1967, his ashes were scattered in in Chandigarh’s Sukhna Lake.
When in the 1980s the Jeanneret furniture, produced in large quantities, began to deteriorate and people came to buy contemporary furniture, his designs were put in storage, or abandoned, or sold for few rupees. But in the past ten to fifteen years, a market for these pieces has developed, and is now very strong. French dealers started to deal in Indian furniture and it was included in the homes of celebrities such as the Kardashians.
Now Kris Van Assche, who himself owns some Chandigarh furniture, has proposed the restoration of a number of pieces from the Laffanour storage in collaboration with Berluti. “At Berluti we have this very strong idea of color and patina, and this was new for me coming from Dior” says Kris Van Assche. “I wanted to bring the Berluti know how to the Jeanneret designs to give them new strength.”
Kris Van Assche’s team at Berluti carried out exstensive research to find the colors for 17 Chandigarh pieces. “We did 300 to 400 trials to select a dozen colors” Van Assche said. The French company Domeau and Pérès got involved to realize the upholstery with Venezia leather, which was then coloured and patinated by Berluti. The result is captivating, so much that most of the pieces were sold before the opening night of the presentation in Miami last December. “It is difficult to explain what I like about the Jeanneret Chandigarh pieces” Van Assche says. “They are very functional, but also extremely pure in their minimalism. There is no nonsense, nothing unnecessary in them.”