There are some quite small boutiques that have an influence way beyond their size. Places such as Maureen Doherty’s Egg in London’s Kinnerton Mews, Carla Sozzani’s 10 Corso Como and Rossana Orlandi’s Gallery in Milan, Colette in Paris in its heyday – all were the sort of shop that the world’s most savvy designers kept an eye on. They knew that their owners had something special, an entirely individual take on fashion and design, a fresh way of dressing or doing up a home. Muriel Grateau’s little boutique on Rue de Beaune in Paris is just such a place. It’s an address passed around among the design fundi who make little pilgrimages to see what she’s been up to since last they were in town.
Grateau is best known for her ceramics – austerely simple plates, platters and bowls, usually of unglazed porcelain, that somehow seem to be exactly the ones we long to own. They come in an array of colours just like the table linens (from €35) that she has in 100 different shades (she famously takes a clutch of them to dinner parties as presents). Then she added a range of fabulously original and sophisticated jewellery followed by some exquisitely refined handbags. Every single thing in the shop has been designed by Muriel Grateau herself and she works closely with the artisanal ateliers that create them.
She began her creative life in fashion – she was serendipitously spotted by Hélène Gordon-Lazareff, the then powerful founder of French Elle, who wanted to know where she bought her clothes. “I make them myself,” Grateau answered, which led to her being offered a job as a fashion designer in Italy. However, after she married a Frenchman and went to live in Paris, she turned her creative talents to what we might call l’art de vivre. “I didn’t want to be tied to doing so many collections a year any more and I felt the need to go beyond fashion. I felt interiors were becoming much more important as an extension of a personal look and style. At the same time, it seemed to me that a new spirit was winging its way into the world of interiors – something prettier and more feminine and I liked that.”
In 1992, she opened a small boutique in the Palais Royale to sell a small but beautifully curated collection of accessories for the home, alongside some of her impeccable knits and pristine white shirts. She started with a line of tableware after finding little ateliers in Italy who would produce the quality and the colours she wanted. Then she designed some plates and bowls, and introduced glass from Venice (“at that time little known to the French”).
These days, though, in the boutique she moved into on Rue de Beaune on the Left Bank, she confines her talents to her cult linens, Art of the Table accessories, jewellery and leather bags. Everything is extraordinary because everything Grateau does is innovative and special. Her porcelain plates (from €95), for instance, are all made in France, where they are hand-poured and hand-finished with the tint embedded throughout the material – a process invented by Grateau herself and one that goes against all the conventional rules for manufacturing porcelain. In her chic white-walled boutique they are brilliantly displayed in colour groupings, ranging from the deepest black to an austere white as well as an appealing Pop Art collection. There are wine and water glasses, jugs and bowls (from €120), all in colours that work with the porcelain and the table linens – lots of smoky grey and claret and offbeat hues.
Grateau’s first collection of jewellery centred around black onyx and was shaped by the work of great jewellers of the art deco period, as well as by Boivin, whom she particularly admires. “I wanted to make jewellery that was modern, that was very personal and stylish but that didn’t look ‘rich’,” is how she put it to me. “I love the contrast between the simplicity of some of the materials I used – such as crystal and onyx and precious stones like diamonds and sapphires.” She loves the colour black and often uses blackened gold and black onyx, and all her pieces have a very strong sculptural presence.
Some of her most arresting pieces are her rings – some are made from carved black onyx (“I wanted sombre, black stones and after I found them I had to learn the carving techniques used for cameos”), some are carved in rock crystal, while a particularly spectacular one (€22,000) is made from onyx that is mounted with a great coral cabochon surrounded by chocolate-brown diamonds. There are brooches (from €9,800) made in the shape of brocade motifs but fashioned from gold and then lacquered in black, white or brilliant glittery colours and set with precious stones. Her bracelets, too, are strong statement pieces – she often combines rock crystal and jet-black onyx or adds some subtle black diamonds to intricately carved black onyx. Grateau’s jewellery, like her porcelain, has garnered a cult following with many of her customers becoming collectors. As to prices: a ring in hand-carved crystal is €3,980, a pair of earrings made from rock crystal “pebbles” engraved and set with black diamonds and black sapphires is €9,600, while a bracelet made from hand-carved rock crystal with 18ct blackened gold and set with 22 black sapphires is €29,500.
A more recent addition to her boutique is a range of almost monastically simple bags (from €1,395), which are made sumptuously desirable by the use of the supplest, softest of leathers, the precision of the designs and the fineness of the detailing and finish. She calls the range Nomade – for she created it with the travelling woman in mind. The bags come in a range of colours (including black, white and pale pink), sizes and leathers and there are some equally simple, exquisite small clutches and purses that take refinement to a rarefied level. The price depends on the leather and the size but they start at €995.