Wednesday, April 09, 2014
An Introduction to Gérard Mille
In my cache of 1950s and 60s-era French design books, there is a designer whose work crops up again and again: Gérard Mille. In the mid-twentieth century, Mille was one of France's most prominent designers, something that I attribute not just to his high-profile clients but to his elegant and rarefied style as well. I guess that it's appropriate that two French phrases come to my mind when I see photos of a Mille-designed interior: recherché and comme il faut, the latter because Mille's style is what one might expect of a French sophisticate of the day.
Photographer-turned-antiquaire Roger Prigent was also impressed by Mille, having photographed Dior-clad models for French Vogue in Mille's Paris apartment. As Prigent told the New York Observer in 2002, "It was a beautiful apartment. I didn't even know that people could live that way." But live that way Gérard did, alongside his brother, Hervé, who was the editor of Paris Match. The Mille brothers often held court in their rue de Varennes apartment, entertaining friends like Coco Chanel and Louise de Vilmorin.
The photos that you see here, which were published in L'ŒIL magazine and later in The Best in European Decoration, show Mille's apartment circa early 1960s. Whether this is the same apartment that made such an impression on Prigent, I'm not sure. But the photos do convey Mille's preference for fine antiques (which included a Boulle desk and a Jacob console) and formal fabrics. The title that accompanied these photos seems to sum up the home quite well: "Small appartment [sic], great taste". How's that for being concise? Too bad only one of the photos is in color.
An aside: while researching Mille, I discovered a very chic, early-1930s smoking room that was credited to both Jean Dunand and Gérard Mille. The room, which was originally installed in the Paris apartment of Colette Aboucaya, was a collaboration between Dunand and Mille, who was Aboucaya's decorator. Could this be the same Gérard Mille whose apartment is seen here? I'm assuming so, but I'm still trying to confirm this. Regardless, I included a photo of the Dunand-Mille smoking room, which was called "Les Palmiers", at the end of this post because it is so incredibly fabulous. The room's walls and doors were lined in Dunand-designed lacquered-wood panels, which were embellished with Cubist-style palm tree motifs that gave the room its name. After Aboucaya's death in 1997, the room was dismantled and sold through Drouot. The new owners then installed it at Château de Gourdon. In 2011, the room was auctioned off yet again, this time by Christie's, on whose website the smoking room photo appeared.
In case you're interested in buying a copy of the out-of-print The Best in European Decoration, there seem to be a few copies available on Amazon as well as well as Abebooks.
The Smoking Room:
Mille apartment photos from The Best in European Decoration; the smoking room photo from Christie's