Astier de Villatte is a superb example of a little soulful island in the middle of fast-changing trends, economic problems, and political wars. Don’t let yourself be fooled by the approachable handmade aesthetics, Astier de Villatte is probably the biggest ceramic manufacturer in Paris. Yes, you read it correctly, everything is handmade in Paris. Established in 1996, so there is no doubt that a factory of handmade objects in a city is truly working, and it’s not just a seasonal phenomenon, as a sceptical economist might think.
But let’s start from their shops. Somehow, you can tell apart businesses that have a deeper soul or real inner values. Even if these are not shared straightforwardly, it’s in the air. I have visited flagship stores of many famous brands, and despite their small sizes, Astier delivers a much bigger experience than most of them. Instead of being an energy-draining activity, visiting here is a trip to another time and reality. If only every company would take the design of their shops so seriously.
The rich historical background of Paris helps a lot. It would be difficult to execute this feeling in places where history is less present, or it is renovated away. Sometimes, ideas get so concentrated in the design process that they become dry and juiceless. Co-founders, Benoît Astier de Villatte and Ivan Pericoli, obviously know how to balance commerce and art. The shop is a pleasant place with rich textures, materials, and subtle colours, sometimes broken with occasional flower explosions or elegant still lives.
Their product categories combine ceramics, stationery, scented candles, some furniture, and a book. It may not be the combination of objects that would logically come into my mind at first, but it works well. As everything is handmade, there is no straight line in the whole shop, it feels so good to feel that human touch. I think logic is an overrated part of business, and we all need a secret ingredient, in whatever we do.
The selection of tableware looks like you have entered a flea market, a random set, but it is still so beautiful. Plates, mugs, bowls and jugs, all different shapes, some simple, some overflowing with decorations. All are potential centrepieces for your table setting. This is what differentiates them from most brands, who need to stick with a reasonable collection, because it’s otherwise too complex to manage. I have seen very few artists and designers who use their creativity in business that brilliantly.
Material connects. Everything is made from black terracotta, which is covered with milky glaze. They work with different artists to decorate their dishes. Despite their fragile and light appearance, everything is dishwasher and microwave safe, suitable for everyday use.
Colours, patterns, and decorations of this brand look old yet joyfully modern and have this crazy edge, which is familiar from the Parisian flea markets. Little sparks of joy, here and there. Random spot of colour. Not too serious, yet things that keep you awake in grey, everyday mornings. Interestingly, they have used colours of the French flag for decoration of dishes and mugs. I had no idea that this sort of thing could be done, so it doesn’t look insanely ugly or tasteless. But they seem to have mastered this too.
A book. This is a piece of art from so many different perspectives. It’s called Ma vie à Paris, and it contains a list of other businesses, with small descriptions, that is worth a visit in Paris. It is a brilliant guide even for locals, and a smart way to support other small businesses. How many of you have had the wit to list all your entrepreneur friends and sell it as probably the most beautiful and expensive phone directory and, at the same time, to secure great relationships with hundreds of other businesses? And I’m pretty sure that if there is a beauty competition for tourist guides, this will win by miles, and its value will not be lost after you return home. For printing, they bought, and therefore saved, one of the last typesetting companies in France, which uses metal printing plates and linotype machines, to keep the tradition alive.
Candles add another sensual layer over this brand. They are scented with perfumes specially developed by perfumer Françoise Caron, in collaboration with the Takagaso Perfumery in Japan, and it is named according to many exotic places over the world. Some loud people on the internet have complained about doubled prices, but we, as entrepreneurs, are happy to read this, aren’t we? There is no way to make everyone happy. Prices generally are high for all the products here, but not that high that you can’t afford them if you really want. And considering that it’s handmade, I would say that these prices are really fair, especially if you compare them with other luxury brands which behave much less responsibly.
Manufacturing of the tableware is done in the 13th arrondissement, and I have heard that they have hired mostly Tibetan people. It kind of just happened because at first, they found someone great, and then it just expanded because existing workers suggested someone else. Finding a good hire is the second most common challenge amongst small companies. You want to make sure that you hire a great worker. If it’s not the case, it can put your company at a serious risk. Paris is a wonderfully multicultural city, and I’m so happy to see that it’s also present in this brand.
To me, Astier de Villatte is an inspiring example of a business with beautiful core values, such as craftsmanship, improving and saving actively local environment and traditions, and elegance with a spark of joy.
They don’t try to impress you with the power of the luxury; despite their values actually are the true definition of it, at least to me. Local, ethically made, not awfully loud, or following other trends than their own heart. Five hearts.