An interview with Emilie Mazeau-Langlais, the French Cardboard Furniture Designer heading to INDEX
Cardboard first made an impact on Emilie Mazeau-Langlais' life at a very young age.
As a child, she routinely built playhouses out of huge cardboard boxes, a hobby that led her to discover furniture and ancient wooden pieces at antique dealers across France. She found she had a keen interest in the furniture stylings of Louis XV. These two passions eventually married, driving her to combine the two.
"I wanted to make furniture that I couldn't afford, from a raw material easy to find, malleable, and to be able to think that, happen what may, there would always be room for creation," she said.
From then onwards, Emilie would spend her spare time in the workshops of local craftsmen, where - for hours on end - she would contemplate the high-precision work, the shape of the tools and the techniques on show.
It was in 2006 that she created her first piece of art, which has since become the emblem of her as a creative: a Regency chest of drawers made with small pieces cardboard taped together.
Since then, her self-taught technique has evolved enormously, despite the obvious constraints brought about by her choice of material.
Emilie explained: "You can't wet cardboard. It's use, in the strict meaning of the word, as a raw material, is constraining. I often wonder how I'm going to go about my work. Everything is raw material, I don't use paper, my angles are made of cardboard too and nothing is hidden.
"It's my stance. It takes me up to two months to make a large dresser."
Her own designs and plans to begin her three-dimensional creations come from her preparatory work. It comes as no surprise that she is the only one to have mastered the technique, as a craftsman would. Her creations cannot be mechanised.
But why create, specifically, that one era of furniture?
"Because it's the most beautiful! I like curves and rounded contours. It's very feminine furniture. The emblematic piece is the chest of drawers, with two drawers – always."
The original design is owed to the cabinetmaker André-Charles Boulle who signed a pair of chests of drawers for the great Trianon in Versailles for Louis XIV – the purpose of which then remained to be invented.
As for the Louis XV chest of drawers, with its long, fine curved legs, made of rosewood marquetry, elm burl, embellished with lacquer, with marine varnish, with porcelain, with turtle shell - the technique of which she has taken over – is today her signature piece.
The chest of drawers has become a popular piece of furniture, the style of which is deeply inscribed in the history of French furniture.
Nevertheless, Emilie is not a reproducer. She has her own identity.
"I'm currently working on a piece of furniture: Bonheur du Jour (a writing desk) with the French fashion designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. Next spring, an exhibition of my work will be held in a San-Francisco art gallery. I'm also tempted by collaborating with a porcelain maker for the creation of new chests of drawers."
Emilie now manufactures bedside tables, chests of drawers, cardboard padded headboards, console tables and love-seat, all of which perfectly integrate into any style.