Vincent Farelly and Jean-Baptiste Martin bonded over brocante. The founders of Parisian design studio Antoinette Poisson met while studying art history and conservation, but spent their weekends scouring the city’s flea markets. Rummaging through antiques is still an activity the pair revel in. But today they visit with a specific goal in mind – to find the increasingly rare original papiers dominotés that Antoinette Poisson so lovingly recreates.
These decorative sheets of hand-block‑printed paper date back to the 1700s, when they were used to prettify everything from walls to drawers, boxes to books. “We just found a copy of Voltaire’s La Henriade with perfect gold-embossed end papers,” says Martin. “Though it’s printed in London in 1730, it uses German domino paper. It’s so beautiful. It now sits in the little museum in our Paris store.”
This fascination with 18th-century aesthetics is reflected in the brand name, taken from Jeanne Antoinette Poisson – the Marquise of Pompadour, who was the official chief mistress of Louis XV between 1745 and 1751, but is also considered to be the era’s first interior decorator.
Few companies have the pedigree of Antoinette Poisson. Martin interned with the British wallpaper conservationist Allyson McDermott, while Farelly spent time in the archive of the New National Museum of Monaco, but it was while working together on the restoration of a town hall in the French village of Viverols that they first discovered an antique domino paper. “We’d removed about 10 layers of wallpaper,” says Martin of the laborious process of reconstruction. “In the end we found this very early design from the mid-1700s.”
Since only small remnants of the wall covering had survived together, they set about carefully replicating its geometric form while staying as true to the original 18th-century techniques as possible. First, they sourced sheets of specialist paper, 44cm x 35cm in size, made from vintage textile rags at artisan paper mill Moulin du Verger, near Angoulême in southwest France. Next, they block-printed the design, which was handpainted in typically bright and deeply saturated tones – designed to be vibrant even when seen by candlelight.
“We were incredibly happy with the results. It looked very handmade and just like an 18th-century room,” says Martin of the restoration that led them to launch Antoinette Poisson in 2012 with Julie Stordiau (who remains an associate but has since relocated to Spain). What began with a handful of historic patterns has burgeoned into a richly rococo world. The store, opened in a cobbled courtyard off Bastille’s Rue St Sabin last September, showcases framed domino sheets alongside rolls of wallpaper, fabrics, cushions, ceramics, notebooks and wedding trunks, all decked in the geometric and floral designs. The newest addition to this ornamental array is a collection of nine silk scarves printed in Lyon, while a trio of antique glass mirrors framed with domino paper is also in the works.
Everything is made by hand in the adjoining studio: designed and printed by Martin and Farelly, then painted and crafted by premier main Catherine Montagne. “We give tours of the studio,” says Martin of the 11th arrondissement space that, upstairs, is also his and Farelly’s home. “If you buy a domino paper here you really understand how it was made.” With any luck, you might also meet the in-house lapin, Pompon.
As Antoinette Poisson’s reputation has evolved so has its commissions, including bespoke designs for skincare brand Darphin, macaron-maker Ladurée and perfume house Diptyque. In 2018, Alessandro Michele approached the studio to create prints for Gucci’s resort collection, and later applied the patterns to ceramic candle-holders, wallpapers and umbrella stands, sold at Gucci Décor. So enamoured was Michele with the antique aesthetic, he emblazoned the entire floor of Gucci’s Wooster Street flagship in one of Antoinette Poisson’s distinctive floral configurations.
Private, small-scale projects also continue apace. One London client recently employed Antoinette Poisson to decorate their Chelsea hallway in Papier Dominoté No 5, using more than 900 individual sheets of the monochrome and gold geometric design. And fashion consultant Laura Burlington, Countess of Burlington, makes frequent trips to the studio to stock up on cushions and fabrics for her London home (she has just ordered wallpaper for her kitchen). “I’m not usually a print person,” she says. “But I find these very easy to live with. There’s something so pleasingly graphic and contemporary about them.”
Despite their fresh feel, the prints are thoroughly immersed in French decorative history. Fittingly, Antoinette Poisson has curated wall coverings and furniture for the shop at La Cour de Marbre in the Palace of Versailles, where a rich cache of perfectly preserved domino papers was recently unearthed in a cupboard. The seeds, perhaps, for Antoinette Poisson’s next glorious round of historic reawakenings. Madame de Pompadour would no doubt approve.