Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
Luxe Pauvre
"Pippa" chair. Courtesy of Hermès.

“Pippa” chair. Courtesy of Hermès.

“Luxe pauvre” (transl. impoverished luxury) has nothing to do with deprivation—on the contrary it refers to a most heightened form of an opulent aesthetic, one that, ironically, precedes minimalism by several decades.

Jean-Michel Frank (1895-1941), the French aristocrat who found in design an outlet for his introvert nature, is still considered the master of this refrained form of luxury. For Frank, luxuriousness was expressed through the nature of materials he used in his designs for furniture and interior decorations. His own understanding of that type of precisionist approach to quality living was the result of his apprenticeship with Eugenia Errázuriz (1860-1951), the Latin American beauty and heiress who married into the French winemaking family of Errázuriz. Design historians credit Errázuriz with the concept of “luxe pauvre” as a way of life.

The first collaboration between Jean Michel Frank and the House of Hermès took place in the late 1920s, when prominent patrons of modern art, such as Marie-Laure and Charles de Noailles, embraced the designer’s aesthetic with enthusiasm that quickly spread across the higher echelons of Parisian society.

Fifty years later, in the early 1980s, Rena Dumas, architect and wife of Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermès who served for years as Creative Director of the company, revived several Jean-Michel Frank designs for Hermès. Dumas reinterpreted Frank’s designs while also maintaining the original restraint of the purely functional items. Materials used for this line of furniture include pear wood, shagreen, and crocodile leather, all of which contribute to the timelessness and luxurious feel of each item. The minimal approach to construction ensures the furniture is lightweight and easily transferable, an idea in perfect sync with Hermès’s roots in the nomadic culture of horsemen.

The original “Pippa” chair was the departure for a line that has expanded to include an armchair, chaise longue, screen, ottoman, and desk, all of which equip the contemporary nomad with the essentials of sumptuousness in daily life.

© Thomaï Serdari