Thursday, 16 July 2009

A La Place Clichy - a Leading French Carpet Retailer of the Twentieth Century

In the twentieth century the number of companies involved in the retailing of carpets is of course important, but only a few have managed to gain international recognition and fewer still have been able to sustain that level of recognition.

The Parisian store (Grands Magasins) A La Place Clichy started in 1882, decided to concentrate on retailing oriental carpets from 1890 onwards. The company was particularly aggressive in its advertising campaigns and was one of the world's most innovative companies in its retail and competitive philosophy. In the early 1900s it was the first to advertise its products using black and white illustrations in the popular magazines of the day. They were also the first in the carpet retail trade to commission an artist to produce a coloured Art Nouveau poster. This poster was used throughout the twentieth century as part of the company branding and was to become a well known logo for the store. The poster was designed by the Swiss-French artist Eugene Grasset who was a contemporary of William Morris. As a fine artist and illustrator he was well known for his logo produced for the Larousse Encyclopedia. Grasset's poster was used extensively and could be found in a wide variety of publicity for the company, from adverts in magazines to the cover for their catalogues, and included postcards, ashtrays etc. the poster represents a carpet merchant and his assistant (who is not seen), displaying a rug draped on a camels back. The merchant is facing a customer in a colonial white suit. I believe that the origin of the design probably lies in a small coloured metallic lighter, possibly produced by Carla Kauba in Vienna, which was very popular at the time. The poster was also famous as it was selected for the folio Les Maitres de l'Affiche which was produced in 1895 and was printed by Chaix of Paris.

Eugene Grasset Art Nouveau poster, Les Maitres de l'Affiche 1896. The Carpet Index Library

A La Place Clichy established their reputation with oriental carpets, but they were also able to follow the trends of the market, even though they were not always as successful with their modern carpet lines. During the 1920s they produced work by many designers including:

Francis Jourdain
Jeanne Dangon
Rene Crevel
Edouard Benedictus
Emile Gaudissart
Gustave Fayet
Charles Siclis
Jules Coudyser
Suzanne Kaehrling

Jacques Verge
Solange Patry Bie
Yvonne Fourgeaud
Camille Cless
Magdeleine Dayot

The last five designers in the list were more regularly commissioned than the others. Most of the designers are still largely unknown to the general public and if they had not been mentioned in the company's catalogues, they would have remained forgotten. This is a common occurrence with the majority of the design work produced by the company as they were never reproduced, archived or published. A La Place Clichy is also rarely mentioned in reference books for any of their Art Deco rugs, as the company was very much involved with mechanical Jacquard woven rugs called carpette rather than tapis, and were less prestigious than hand knotted carpets.

In the 1930s they began to specialise in the selling of rugs that were oriental and North African in origin rugs and the work of the production department was reduced. After World War II they created La Boutique in order to promote their skills in modern flooring. The company remained successful until the 1980s, but by the 1990s the store was forced to close permanently.

I wanted to make a comment on this company because they were probably the best at communicating on the subject of the carpet, and even though they were more biased towards the oriental rather than the European, it must be admitted that the posters naive, colourful and exotic imagery showing the carpet being brought to Europe on a camels back, is still very much part of the imagination of the average customer, as any carpet retailer will inform you. The image of a mechanically woven rug wrapped in its plastic packaging and then transported in a truck, is much less of a romantic picture to conjure up for the customer. So cheers to Eugene Grasset and A La Place Clichy.

Post written by Jean Manuel de Noronha

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