The ‘signature optimism’ of the art of Alexandre Benjamin Navet signals it’s springtime in Europe, and how better to celebrate than to ouvrent les portes of artisan ateliers across toute la France (Europe too) for the 15th edition of Journées Européennes des Métiers d’Art. The theme for the 2021 edition is ‘Materials at Work’ to allow the public to see ‘exceptional French know-how’ at first-hand. Renowned heritage brand Pierre Frey celebrates the season and the event with a new addition to its Toile de Tours fabric collection designed by Alexandre Benjamin Navet and on view at the company’s ‘Materials at Work’ exhibition.
The collection’s name dates to the 1920s when George Le Manach of La Maison Le Manach—founded in 1829 and famed for sumptuous silks and velvets woven on backstrap looms—decided to create an informal line of cotton jacquard weaves. Toile de Tours—a play on words derived from toile de jouy—was a declaration to their clientele that this modern collection was the heir and usurper to the quaint, pastoral scenes of their grandparents’ toile de jouy. The new designs were created by a variety of artists and designers. Patterns were fresh and contemporary, and reflected for example, the vogue for motifs inspired by the African continent. La Maison Le Manach was acquired by Pierre Frey in 2013.
Navet studied at Paris’ École nationale supérieure de création industrielle. Known as ENSCI Les Ateliers, the school is in a building that once housed famous interior design firm Maison Jansen. Navet’s ‘keen sense of drawing’ and mastery of colour are evidence of a brio and joie de vivre he shares with artists like Henri Matisse and David Hockney. His floral fantasies have been displayed on the facades, windows and interiors of luxury jewellers Van Cleef & Arpels boutiques with the intention passersbys would ‘feel as if they’re walking in an open sketchbook’.
Navet was given ‘carte blanche‘ by Pierre Frey to create a new jacquard weave Toile de Tours. Navet’s Tours design joins around 120 designs in the Toile de Tours collection. From among the more than 3,000 documents in the Pierre Frey archives, Navet drew inspiration for his design from an early 18th-century Bizarre silk (patterned silks produced in Europe and England circa 1690-1720 featuring abstract motifs and exaggerated scale), a circa 1780 Jouy woodblock print (Jouy is the birthplace of toile de jouy patterns), and a 1930s Braquenié flower vase motif from the 1930s. Vases and flowers are frequent subjects in Navet’s work.