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Emblem Paris: An Insider Look at Centuries Old French Enamel Production

Martin Pietri, founder of Emblem Paris, joins us to discuss the intricacies of Parisian design, and the historic roots of Émaux de Longwy. The over-200-year-old brand perpetuates a centuries-old and exceptional know-how on cloisonné enamels on faience.

Raymond Paul Schneider: When did Émaux de Longwy first start to develop their famous enamels?
Martin Pietri: Émaux de Longwy was founded in 1798 and is one of the oldest ceramic manufacturers in France. It was in danger of shutting down several times in its recent history. I’m a direct descendant of the Jacob-Desmalter family of master cabinet makers that rose to prominence in the 18th and 19th centuries—and so French craft is in my blood. As an entrepreneur I recognized there was a need in the market to preserve, celebrate, and revive the artisanal excellence of French craftsmanship and the country’s historic manufacturers—and expand on our legacy by bringing visibility to it, both near and far. In 2015, I acquired Émaux de Longwy, as well as Maison Taillardat, one of the last companies in France to perpetuate the techniques of the great French tradition of cabinetmaking and seat carpentry—and so Manufactures Emblem was born. The collective of French brands has showrooms in Paris and now, as of November, in New York.

Raymond: What are some of the classic motifs used in the Émaux enamel designs? Where does the inspiration for the different collections come from?
Martin: The mascot of Émaux de Longwy is the “Fiori di Mela”, a small owl. Today, the brand bears the designation of an EPV, Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant (Living Heritage Company) and has collaborations with contemporary artists like Lukas Works, Nicolas de Waël, Vincent Darré, Pierre Gonalons, India Mahdavi, and others. One of the iconic motifs that has endured is the pattern featured on the recently introduced Bishop stools by India Mahdavi. Enameled by hand and fired at 750 degrees Celsius.

Raymond: Does Émaux have a specific audience or theme?
Martin: For more than two centuries, the Manufacture des Émaux de Longwy 1798 has embodied excellence in know-how and creativity in the field of decoration and art. It also has a long and storied history that even involves Napoléon Bonaparte. At the time, investors set up Émaux de Longwy, a modest faïence factory that operated out of a former convent. On October 10, 1984 that all changed. On a journey from Luxembourg to Stenay, Napoleon visited the fortress of Longwy. His visit brought publicity and prestige to the brand and inspired a tureen decorated with the insignia of the Empire—the Legion of Honour was then born. Shortly thereafter the Manufacture des Émaux de Longwy introduced the technique of cloisonné enamels to France and developed it to the height of its refinement—their methods remain unmatched. In fact, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s birth, Émaux de Longwy’s artists created a series of iconic pieces that pay tribute to the most famous moments in the Emperor’s life. Today, the history of the house continues with a commitment to traditional methods and an eye toward innovation and continued collaboration with artists and designers of our time. Émaux has legions of long-time devotees, as well as design savvy individuals who are just discovering the brand thanks to increased exposure through the Emblem collective and designer collaborations with contemporary luminaries.

Raymond: Please describe Émaux de Longwy’s overall creative and design process, including the methods, tools, and materials Émaux uses to develop and prototype these designs.
Martin: Several workshops safeguard the secrets of Longwy enamel-making. These works of precision showcase exceptional French craftsmanship orchestrated by a passionate team of specialized artisans who have immersed themselves in a lifetime of rigorous training to achieve an unparalleled mastery of their métier. From the plaster model to the shelves, it takes no less than seven different skills, passed down from generation to generation, to create a single Longwy piece. The shape of the piece is created by our stylists in the design department and a plaster model is made by our molding workshop. This model helps create the mold—a hollow plaster cast in which a mixture of kaolin, clay, and water is poured. The plaster absorbs the water from the newly formed liquid clay, forming a “crust” along its walls.

The finishing department removes imperfections and smooths out the appearance by rubbing the piece with a sponge before baking it overnight. The resulting white terracotta is called the “biscuit.” The outline of the design imagined by the artist is then covered with a black ink using a drip, the only existing technique to decorate ceramics with enamels. This prevents the colors from mixing when each section is filled with enamel.

Once each section has been properly colored, the piece is baked overnight. A retouching operation follows which then requires a second firing. To check for any imperfections in the glaze, a burnt sienna powder is mixed with water and washed over the piece. This specific process is quite delicate and difficult to implement—it requires the expertise of our master craftsmen. Lastly, all Longwy pieces are covered with a thick layer of glaze that grants the object with a unique, uniform, and visually impactful surface, giving the deposited colored enamel a depth that is challenging to reproduce in decorated earthenware. Every piece that emerges from the Faïencerie carries the Longwy mark and is accompanied by a Certificate of Origin.

Raymond: Does Émaux utilize a proprietary or unique technique or technology to conceptualize these enamels?
Martin: In 1798 the Boch family founded the first ceramic manufactory now known as Émaux de Longwy. In 1835, the Huart family became the owner and helped it to prosper for over 150 years. In 1870, the Italian Amédée de Carenza, a specialist in cloisonné, joined the house and created a new artistic process: the black enamel line which replaced the brass wire—which delineates the different colors, resulting in more vibrant, visually impactful hues. This is a signature characteristic of Émaux de Longwy and illustrates how the first enamels were born. Since joining Manufactures Emblem Paris, the brand has experienced a real creative revival and has reconnected with the glory of its past thanks to its iconographic archives.

Raymond: Describe the overall brand DNA and Ethos
Martin: For several years now, many artists and designers have joined the “Longwy adventure”, forming a new chapter in its legendary history. Today, ceramists, decorators, jewelers, and painters illustrate a new vision of excellent work. Vincent Darré, Pierre Gonalons, India Mahdavi, Pierre Marie, José Lévy, Françoise Petrovitch, Michael Cailloux and many others still sign earthenware works that showcase their respective styles yet remain loyal to the storied DNA of the House.

Click here to see more of our “Anatomy of a Design” series.

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