Elizabeth Garouste

Garouste & Bonetti II, The World of Interiors, June 2010

"'I had no wish,' said Lacroix at the time, 'to surround myself with that cold and cerebral design that had been advocated for ages.' This was 1987, when Lacroix was the talk of the town. Having just left Jean Patou, he planned to produce out of nowhere something that had not been seen for a long time: a new haute-couture house. In April he got in touch with the two 'Barbarians'; in July they held their first fashion show. 'It was meteoric,' says Mattia Bonetti placidly. They had to invent a place in three months starting from scratch: a suite of three salons, separated by arches and extending for 350 square meters, between a courtyard and a garden. Lacroix adopted his usual manner: graphically, 'graphomaniacally' you might say, issuing ideas, cuttings, torn-out pages and suggestions, which all contributed to a gigantic collage that summed up his idea of the place. As none of the three designers particularly cared for the established codes, the first line of action was established. 'We wanted,' Elizabeth Garouste recalls, 'to give an idea of luxury, without using traditionally luxurious materials', to get away from the banal codes of good taste. Luxury, she says, would be expressed in the flamboyance of color, in the richness of pattern and – Mattia Bonetti adds – in the 'luxury of the handmade', the skilful joinery of the furniture serving as shorthand for the perfectionism of haute couture."

"Hence the sophisticated poverty of the materials (Arte Povera was then in fashion): a simple block of wood (but studded with bronze); pieces of branch (but richly lacquered); long drops of natural linen (but hemmed with velvet arabesques); surfaces of terracotta (but enhanced with gold leaf); sofas in simple shapes (but 5m long)... The references intertwine or clash in a sustained assault on the economic orthodoxy of the design of previous decades. It was a return to what 18th-century theoreticians called architecture parlante, one that is expressive of its purpose: not so much in narrative dimension but as portrayal of personal mythology. 'Here,' said Lacroix, 'you will find everything I love: overtones of Jean Michel Frank, the Cocteau spirit, the influence of projects by [Emilio] Terry and a whole host of references to the theatrical aspect of things, but... devoid of any obsession with the past.'"

"In the opinion of Garouste and Bonetti, these salons marked the beginning of their rise to international prominence. They were, and are, one of the essential elements of Christian Lacroix's 'brand image'. They express a particular moment when it finally became possible, and urgent to move away from the cold functionalism of Modernist orthodoxy. It was a return therefore to the imagination, the dream, the taste for ornament, to the short circuit between past and present. Thirty years have passed. 'That it is dated is a fact,' comments Bonetti, 'that has to be accepted. That you can even immediately date it is great. I have gone onto something else, but I don't repudiate any of what we did. It's not an 'evolution' to move from the Neo-Baroque towards the minimal; I am, at least, dual: I can want something clean and pure one day, and something 'baroque' the next. In matters of style... you don't go from something 'less good' towards something 'good'. The worst errors are committed in the name of progress."


Garouste & Bonetti I, The World of Interiors, November 1996

"When the Garouste and Bonetti enterprise was started in 1980, it was the dawn of a flourishing era in the world of decoration. Elizabeth Garouste and Mattia Bonetti came from different countries with different horizons. In Paris, Elizabeth had been to the ultra-liberal Ecole Alsacienne, where she was taught to 'express herself'. Elizabeth 'played at Picasso, or at prehistoric man' but, to her amazement, her unbridled imagination won her no more than four out of 20 in the baccalaureate drawing test.

She was still a very young woman when she married the painter Gerard Garouste, then just starting out. In the evenings, the Garoustes often went to Le Palace, the famous nightclub, and its restaurant, Le Privilege. Both were run by Fabrice Aemer, who clustered around him everyone who was creative or fun in 1970s Paris. It was here that the Garoustes met Mattia Bonetti. Bonetti, a Swiss, had attended the Ecole des Arts Appliqués a l'Industrie in Lugano and had worked on the fashion side of the textile business in Italy. Mattia was interested in cinema, photography and theater and he undertook several ventures with David Rochline, Elizabeth Garouste's brother."

"When, in 1979, Fabrice Aemer asked the Garoustes to redecorate both Le Palace and Le Privilege with Mattia Bonetti, the world of Paris nightlife was enchanted. It was the beginning of a highly successful partnership. 'We were fascinated by everything to do with ornamentation, illusion, baroque. We liked fake stones, prehistoric references, wrought iron and raffia – none of which were taken seriously at the time – and we decided, the three of us, to create a collection of 12 elements: chairs, screens, mirror lamps, tables. We each put 11,000FF into the venture.' When Gerard Garouste's paintings began to sell very well, he parted professional company with Elizabeth and Mattia, leaving them to their work as designers and decorators."

"At first the distribution of their objects proved difficult as Garouste and Bonetti defied categorization: they were neither craftsmen nor artists, neither fish nor fowl. Five or six years were to elapse before the opening of galleries such as Neotu or the lighting shop En Attendant les Barbares, both of which would be receptive to their work. In the meantime, Elizabeth, who looks like Snow White, and Mattia, a blond Prince Charming, were lucky enough to meet Jeanne Lambert de Loche, who was working at Jansen, the decoration mecca on the rue Royale. She offered them her shop window to display their collection, a minor event which generated major interest from the media. The company of Garouste and Bonetti was born.

Further recognition followed in 1986 when Christian Lacroix commissioned them to decorate his couture house and boutiques. In 1987 Bernard Picasso hired the team to design the furniture, objects and carpets for his house, and then there was a commission from Nina Ricci to design a new cosmetics line. David Gill introduced Garouste and Bonetti to the British public in 1988."

"'Our style hasn’t' changed much since the beginning, apart from the fact that the things we do are more sharply defined. We still like contrasting luxury materials such as gilded or silvered bronzer and wood, and we still prefer the natural look, which we call "organic style" because of its soft, asymmetrical outlines. What interests us is the outer frontier of good taste, the zone where kitsch and chic collide. Ours is an ambiguous blend, somewhere between Marie-Antoinette and Africa.'"