"It doesn't happen all at once," says Parisian-based designer Andrew Gn as he surveys his former office that is being transformed into a a trés elegant salon where he has already begun welcoming a coterie of very important women.
The early 18th century townhouse with its soaring ceilings and mullioned French doors on the Rue du Temple in the Marais district is converting nicely into a stunning atelier for the designer and his distinguished clientele. The nuts-and-bolts part of the business has moved across the street, so in the place of desks, computers and crowded clothes racks, Gn is creating a sleek setting, with hints of Old World elegance, for displaying his fashion masterpieces.
"We created this space because we have a lot of VIPs who want to come to us to view the collection and for their fittings," Gn says. "It's all about a new way of shopping. There are a lot of the elite in the country who want to shop that way. It's private. They can drink champagne in a beautiful salon."
Although the space is stunning, Gn demurs that it isn't quite complete on the day of our visit in early June. Yet one can clearly see the vision. The absence of a carpet here, a settee there is reason for Gn feeling the need to explain that everything in the salon is hand-selected and must be found one piece at a time whether it's searching the antique stalls of Les Puces or the Portobello Market in London.
"We designed the space using only antique pieces so you can't just say 'It will be done in six months,' " he says. "We have to search for the pieces and find them when we can. It just doesn't happen like that!" he says.
"If the princess of Qatar is paying $20,000 for a gown, she might want to have a better environment, I mean, if she's going to pay $20,000."
In fact, Gn is headed to London that afternoon, a day early for a charity benefit featuring his fashions, so that he and his partner, Andrew Gn director Erick Horlin, can make it to the antiques market the following morning. But their departure is not before a fitting with Susan Tolson, wife of U.S. Ambassador to Paris Charles Rivkin. Gn is doing her dress for Prince Albert's wedding in Monaco.
In this city replete with gilded, historic salons, Gn's atelier represents a marriage of a classical enthusiasm with new world sensibilities. Take the 18th-century Murano glass chandelier, for example. The original 13-foot-high chandelier was too large for the salon so the creative Gn had it separated into two still massive works.
A floor-to-ceiling lacquered panel across one end was inspired by Whistler's Peacock Room and was created by a respected French lacquer atelier. At the opposite end of the showroom, a sumptuous mural painting (toile gold leaf on oil) by Iranian artist Roshanak Varasteh reveals Gn's whimsy. A massively-scaled pomegranate tree with exotic birds and prancing gazelles spreads across the wall.
Gn's sly wit never far from surface, he adds, "If the princess of Qatar is paying $20,000 for a gown, she might want to have a better environment, I mean, if she's going to pay $20,000."
Before entering the light and airy showroom, guests must pass through the dark reception area (black floor, low black ceiling) furnished in the 18th-century empire style from Liberty of London, the black and gold pieces dating from the early 20th century. The walls are luxuriously upholstered in black silk with gold shot woven through. It is a time warp that stirs the visitor's senses before stepping into the spacious salon.
"We are treating retail as a very personal event, going back to the old way," he concludes.