Some of the world’s most beautiful stationary sits stacked on shelves in a discreet shop in Paris’ haute 8th Arrondissment. With clients like Sofia Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and a host of French nobility, Benneton Gravuer has been turning out exquisite paper products and other engraving for over 130 years.
When the French engraver Emile Benneton established his eponymous line in 1880, he found his exacting attention to detail in high demand by Paris’ booming bourgeois scene of artists and intellectuals, along with royal courts all over Europe. Still in Benneton family hands today, the house has retained its appeal to the world’s most discerning clients without losing its sense of artistic joy or the savoir-faire that has helped it transition seamlessly into the contemporary era of mass electronic communiqué.
I met with Benneton’s graphic designer, Louise Pianetti-Voakrick, at the shop on the Boulevard Malesherbles to learn more about what makes the brand so distinctive and revered.
Originally located at 39 Boulevard Champs-Elysee, the Boulevard Malesherbles location is only the second in the company’s history. Despite the rapidly globalizing luxury market, Ms. Pianetti-Voakrick told me Benneton had no intention to expand beyond its Paris location. “For long-time clients, we have their designs on file, and can mail their orders anywhere in the world,” she tells me. And indeed, the store itself is a wonder that every potential client should experience.
Its walls are comprised of intricate carvings, floral motifs, and covered with crests the house has designed and painted for generations of European nobility. The floor is decorated with a Persian rug, and the Laurents — Etienne and Anne-Marie — bustle around an ornate desk, and in and out of a back room. Etienne is Benneton’s current director, and his mother, Anne-Marie, is the owner and former director. A fluffy white dog hops around underfoot before settling into her bed in a corner. The whole thing feels impossibly French.
Pianetti-Voakrick displays the house’s range of business stationary (Goyard is a client), along with gift sets and correspondence cards which can be engraved with a range of motifs, among them seahorses, panda bears, and interlocking French and American flags. Holiday cards, wedding invitations, cards, menus, and birth announcements round out the range of offerings.
Heraldic engraving of family crests and designs of emblems and monograms are another specialty, while a smattering of leather goods and candles complement the stationary and crests. All of Benneton’s craftspeople are part of the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, a highly selective organization of the country’s most elite artisans who have a special workshop in the 10th Arrondissment, not far from the shop.
And while most brands are busying themselves with celebrity designer collaborations, Benneton does the designing for those who usually operate on the other side of the sketchbook. “We work for designers, like Marc Jacobs,” Madame Laurent told me with a smile. At the same time, the brand listens to and learns from their clients’ exacting taste. “Clients ask for things, and we listen,” Pianetti-Voakrick said.
One instance of this is a charming line of stationary with individual dogs engraved on them, born at the bequest of buyers who wanted their canine companions immortalized on their stationary. “We try to keep a true savoir faire,” Pianetti-Voakrick says of this relationship between hewing to tradition and evolving along with their clients’ needs.
These patrons come from all over the world. Many are from France, America, and England, but they also hail from Switzerland, Brazil, Germany, Belgium, and Spain. Benneton stationary is a family affair, with the children of clients continuing to go to the brand as they grow up. For those who desire Benneton’s elegant, whimsical designs to be a more constant part of their lives than simply employing it for stationary, the company’s charming 2014 calendar may be the answer. Meant to sit atop one’s desk on a small acrylic stand, twelve sheets of eggshell paper adorn the months of the year in their most flattering lights, from a pink flamingo for July’s high heat to a radiant purple tree for fall’s scattering foliage.
After all, it is only fitting that a company that has been making some of the world’s most beautiful stationary for 130 years knows how to mark the passage of time with the utmost elegance and verve.