It was a chance meeting at the Hôtel Costes six years ago that persuaded designer Carole Tessier that her artistic vision was also commercially sound. She was dressed in a pair of intricately embroidered jeans she had designed for herself, in collaboration with the illustrious haute couture embroidery atelier Maison Lesage, when a woman walked over to ask where she could buy them. “I looked up and it was Beyoncé,” Tessier recalls. “I offered to make her a similar pair and I also designed some in miniature for Blue Ivy.”
But Tessier was already thinking of changing her focus from jeans – which were selling for €10,000 – to handbags. “I wanted to create a collection that would look as chic with jeans and a smoking jacket as it would with a very glamorous party dress,” she says. The result was Preciously Paris, launched in 2014, a highly glamorous collection of clutches – “like jewels” – with a disarmingly witty aesthetic, all lavishly embroidered and ornamented by master artisans.
Tessier didn’t set out to be a fashion designer. Like so many little girls growing up in the 1980s, she loved playing with her Barbie – but her main occupation was decorating the doll’s pink house. “I would change her interior decoration every week,” she laughs. “By the age of 12, I had my own subscription to Elle Decoration.” That desire to create never waned, and on leaving school in Geneva, she enrolled at Paris’s La Grande Chaumière, the alma mater of Modigliani, Giacometti and Louise Bourgeois. After a year focused on drawing, she studied for a master’s in interior design at the Académie Charpentier. She then moved to New York to work in the office of architect Frederic Schwartz, who was competing for the new building on Ground Zero, before moving back to Paris and the studio of Didier Lefort, who specialised in five-star hotel resorts such as the Four Seasons in Bora Bora. At 28, she went to work for Pierre-Yves Rochon, as part of the team responsible for the refurbishment of the George V.
However, it was when she applied for a position with Rémi Tessier Design – a studio renowned internationally for its interior design work for superyachts – that her life changed direction. “I was a fan of Rémi’s style – that blend of very minimal yet very sophisticated – but when we met, we fell in love immediately.” Their first collaboration after they married was designing a chalet in Gstaad, where Rémi referred all the decisions about the textiles to his wife. “I developed an idea for embroidered fur curtains, in collaboration with François Lesage – it was very complicated to do but they looked wonderful. I fell for embroidery at that point, and it gave me the idea for the jeans and then the bags.”
What makes Preciously Paris so special is the artisanal skill that goes into its silk-velvet or silk- satin creations (from €2,500), coupled with Tessier’s artistic eye. Each clutch combines the skills of many craftspeople, including specialist leatherworkers, metalworkers, embossers and embroiderers. The bags, which have shoulder straps made of lambskin from a historic tannery in the south of France, are also highly collectable: every design is either unique or limited edition. Tessier designs every bag herself, working closely with heritage fabric houses such as Le Crin, founded in 1814 and renowned for its elegant and impressively soft textiles woven from horsehair. “There are a lot of people selling ‘luxury’ that is not luxury at all,” says Tessier. “My quest is to achieve the sort of timelessness of a work presented in an art gallery; hours of highly skilled craftsmanship go into these pieces, and our clients appreciate the rarity of the materials.
A recent standout was the exquisite silk-velvet clutch called #1 (€6,575), made with Fondazione Arte della Seta Lisio, a Florentine atelier that manufactures its fabrics and brocades painstakingly, by hand, on jacquard looms that have been in use since 1906. The bag’s design references the complex geometric patterns of Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, and was executed with the ciselé velvet technique, which contrasts looped (uncut) and cut pile to create a chiselled or embossed effect. “The first time San Marco velvet was set up on the loom by Giuseppe Lisio was in 1926,” Tessier explains. 2019’s new 10-piece collection (from €3,800) also draws on the architecture of Italian cathedrals, as well as Renaissance imagery and Greek and Roman mythology – all their intricate panels emerging slowly from the hands of master craftspeople.
“Even as a student, I was interested in visiting the historic ateliers and studios of Paris,” she says. “They are a big part of French culture, but it is still important to safeguard their future. To me, it is essential in a world where everything is dominated by the digital.” The process does, however, mean that Preciously Paris will remain a small brand – but its founder has no misgivings. “I don’t want to compromise on how the bags are made or how much time they take,” says Tessier, who now counts Nicole Kidman, Natalia Vodianova and Damien Hirst among her clientele.
These are indeed bags with an attitude, which requires a certain confidence on the part of the wearer – someone who’s likely to be “highly sophisticated yet young in spirit”. Like the woman who conjures up the designs, they are also likely to be attuned to the art world, the source of much of her inspiration. Beyoncé now owns two of Tessier’s clutches – the Beverly Star (€1,725), a playful Hollywood homage with a nod to Basquiat’s LA paintings, and the pearl-adorned Webster ($1,894), a special edition vintage-wallpaper-inspired piece created for 2016’s Art Basel Miami with the city’s Webster hotel.
While she is happy to operate quietly under the radar, delighting those in the know, Tessier has launched a bridal collection (from €1,400), and several other special editions (€2,875) for top hotels such as the Hôtel de Crillon and Le Bristol, in Paris, with plans under way for a project with Claridge’s, in London. The brand is currently found online and in select boutiques in Europe, the US and the Middle East.
But as the name suggests, Preciously Paris is firmly rooted in its namesake city. The Tessiers live in a fabulously situated white-on-white apartment close to the Parc Monceau, where one room is dedicated to showing Tessier’s creations. Rémi is her biggest advocate, and she is still involved with his studio. “I choose the fabrics, commission embroidery for the sheets, select the porcelain and the cutlery – I bring the feminine touches to the room,” she says.
On top of this, they have an extraordinarily busy family life with their seven children – ranging from twins aged 11 down to their only son, aged one. “I am quite organised, but there are certain times of the year that are complicated – such as Paris Fashion Week colliding with the start of school,” Tessier says. “I dream that one day I may be able to sit on a terrace in Saint-Germain-des-Prés and watch the world go by.” For now, though, she’s just taking it all in her stride.