Wolff & Descourtis-Galerie Vivienne

 

Wolff & Descourtis-Galerie Vivienne

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I was introduced to Victoria Wolff by Maribeth Clemente, author of THE RICHES OF PARIS, at a book signing at Brentanos in Paris.Afterward several of us had dinner at the Marché de Place St.-Honoré. My clients, from Melbourne, Victoria-Texas, Seattle and San Francisco, former Hermés fanatics, have fallen in love with Victoria’s gorgeous creations.

I was early for lunch with owner Mark Williamson (a Victoria fan) at Willi’s Wine Bar just up the street and popped in for this par hasard interview and photo shoot-I love the fabric in the shot–it would make a fabulous dress.

TG: When was the company founded?
VW: I can trace it to 1875 on the French side because before that it was in Alsace and we have no archives for Alsace. My family were Jewish peddlers going from village to village with fabric on their back. Around 1875 they had the opportunity to leave Alsace become French and join their friends. They were all from the town of Bischwillers, a suburb of Strasbourg.

Eventually they all moved to little town in Normandy by the Seine called Albouef because they needed water to make the cloth. They were making woolens for coats because at the time ready-to-wear didn’t exist and everything was custom made. All the men dressed the same way: white shirt and black cloak. They also made cloth for the military and the clergy. It was an enormous business with over 100 employees because they needed those long black dresses in wool.

Business was very good until the Second World War when they had to move around. The wonderful M. Descourtis in Normandy became my grandfather’s associate. Like many cities in Normandy Alboeuf was burned down and after the war all the people who could came back and started again. My family could because Georges Descourtis ran the company and returned it to my family. However my grandmother was fed up with Normandy and threatened divorce if my grandfather didn’t move the family to Paris.

So everyone followed my grandmother who opened a big warehouse nearby on the rue Vivienne and this location in the Galerie Vivienne. This district in addition to being part of Les Halles, Zola’s “ventre de Paris” was also the garment district. They were quite successful until tailors started to disappear because custom-made clothes were not in fashion and you could find readymade at places like the Bon Marché. It was a huge change.

TG:  Was this just after the war?
VW: Yes but it didn’t really seriously affect families like mine until the 60’s, 70s and early 80’s. So they had to do something other than making cloth for tailors and the decided to do fantasy and at one point there was a crisis in European textiles and you could buy fabrics in other countries like Turkey and Wolff & Descourtis no longer had a reason to go on.

TG: Was that when you stepped in?
VW: Yes, I offered to take over the business and do it my way.

TG: Did you have any background in textiles?
VW: I had been working in fashion and upholstery fabrics.  That gave me a good idea about doing the best for the best clients and then I went to work for a Spanish fashion house that worked in linen. I was selling to high-end professionals who were making garments. When it finally came time to open my shop I knew that I would only work with the finest fabrics. I knew from my upholstery background that the best printers were Como in Italy and I have continued to buy silk there ever since. In the beginning I was selling fabric by the meter and then more and more I began to do my own squares and shawls, revisiting archives for inspiration and re-coloring them to make something unique. (Victoria only makes 24 of each pattern so it is very unlikely that you will see your scarf at the symphony, opera or your city’s most exclusive restaurant.)

The velvet came later. I work with two families in Lyon who weave velvet with silk chiffon and hand paint the velvet for evening wear. The silk and silk/wool scarves are for every day–something to have fun with. So Wolff & Descourtis goes on.

TG: Who are some of the famous people who wear Wolff & Descourtis?

VW: Nicole Kidman loves the shop. She mostly buys velvets. She comes every two years. And there was a big monsieur, a very big monsieur called Pavarotti who was wonderful client.

Wolff & Descourtis • 18 Galerie Vivienne 75002 Tel 01 42 61 80 84

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