I met Louise Brody at the Very Swell event last summer at her fabulous and historical apartment in Montparnasse and liked her unique style and savvy entertaining.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in London. My parents, who were quite poor at the time, had a little flat in Cranley Gardens, South Kensington. It’s still my favourite part of London, but now you have to be super-rich to live there! When I was 3 my father was offered a job as director of the research department at Westinghouse Labs and we moved to Pittsburgh, where I lived until I left for university. The 60s and early 70s were a great time to grow up in the US and I’m very thankful for the liberal education I received and the easy-going life we had there during my childhood.
When and why did you move to Paris?
I moved to Paris in 1989. I have always loved Paris; I came here a number of times with my parents as a child, then visited from London as a young adult. But the déclic came in 1989, when London was a sad city, offering little work and less fun, so I decided to cross the Channel in search of both! I filled up my Volkswagen Beetle with all I could stuff in and arrived in Paris just before the Bicentennial celebrations. I had no job offer, very little French and even less money, but somehow I was sure that things would work out, and so they did. Within two weeks I had landed my first freelance design job for a newly-created publishing house and never looked back.
You specialize in designing art books and catalogues. How did you get started and what was your background in art and design?
I studied History of Art at London University and then did a Diploma in Art and Design at the London College of Printing. But in a way I feel I was predestined to design art books. My father’s family had one of the most important printing presses in Budapest before the war and my grandmother was the art director. My father himself had studied typography before he switched to physics! Beautiful typography and art books were part of my childhood and my heritage, and I knew from a very young age what I wanted to do as a profession. I have always freelanced, so that gives me the freedom to choose my projects.
What are some of your recent books and which are the ones you are proudest of?
Some of my recent books are “Naples”, “Jean-Michel Frank”, “Villas 50”, “Haute Couture”, “Art, Échecs et Mat”, “Empreintes du Sacré”… I’m usually proudest of the latest one to be published! No, seriously, probably Jean-Michel Frank and Naples for the moment.
Tell us about your design philosophy and how you work.
I believe that beauty and clarity go hand in hand, and that the designer should be at the service of the content, and strive to present the material in a way that enhances it and appeals to the prospective reader. Each project is distinct in its demands and part of the challenge lies in adapting one’s thinking and creativity to the specific context. There is always the “blank page” syndrome at the start of a new book and then suddenly ideas fall into place and the design solution becomes evident. I still do little sketches at first to organise my ideas before moving on to the computer. It is a wonderful tool, which lets one try out and modify numerous solutions, but the very first design hypotheses are still best worked out manually on paper I believe.
You have lived and worked in England, Italy, and Singapore. Please tell us a little about the experience in living in those places and how it differs to living and working in Paris.
It’s a little difficult to compare because the situations are so different - I haven’t worked full-time in London for over 20 years! But I do work with foreign publishers from my base in Paris, and I have to say that the American and British work ethic and design cultures are still closest to my heart… The Singaporeans are a little too serious and the French not quite enough , and both tend to prefer more traditional styles of design, whereas the Anglo-Saxons are on the whole more open to new ideas and contemporary styles, at least where book design is concerned. My experience in Italy was mostly on short stays to oversee the printing of various books, but I was always impressed with their technical know-how and their desire to please the client! What I appreciate most about working in Paris is the constant inspiration one finds at one’s fingertips – numerous exhibitions, bookshops and galleries, and stimulating exchanges with other designers, artists, photographers…
You live in a very special atelier in Montparnasse that has an interesting history to it. Can you please tell us about that. Also please tell us about the exhibitions you organize at your atelier.
I do indeed live in a very exceptional place, an artist’s atelier built in 1904 by Süe et Mare in a lovely courtyard in Montparnasse, and where Picasso lived in 1912-13. He created his first cut-paper collages while here, and the atelier is part of early 20th-century Parisian folklore, “Les Heures Chaudes de Montparnasse”, when Picasso’s neighbours were Modigliani, Foujita, Brancusi… In 2009 I started presenting exhibitions in my home; I found it interesting to show artists’ work in a living space rather than in isolation as one sees them at a traditional gallery. I have shown young, unknown artists and more established ones, and all have found the experience enriching. Visitors often tell me how much they appreciate seeing art in such an unusual setting. And for my husband and myself, it is fascinating to perceive how our living space changes character with each exhibition.
Is there a dream subject or person you would like to do a book on and haven’t yet?
I have been very lucky so far in my professional career, and have already worked on quite a few dream projects – a book on 1950s architecture (my absolute favourite period), one of exquisite Haute Couture Polaroids by Cathleen Naundorf and a number of photography books with Ferrante Ferranti, each one being the discovery of another marvellous subject. But if I were to choose a real dream topic it would be to realise a book – and an exhibition! - of my husband’s work. He is an architect, and also paints and creates marvellous sculptures in steel. I really believe his work should be more widely known, and hope to find the time to concentrate on this project in the not-too-distant future!
You are curating a photo exhibit for The Herald Tribune. Please tell us the details of the exhibition and how you received the commission to curate the exhibition.
The International Herald Tribune project is a really thrilling experience for me. I am not only designing the catalogue (which has just gone to print this morning) but have also been asked to create the scenography for the exhibition. One of the directors has been coming to my atelier shows for a while now, and liked both my graphic design work and the exhibition presentations so that’s how I came to be chosen for the project. We are showcasing 125 images from the IHT archives to celebrate their 125th anniversary. The photos are a fascinating documentation of the newspaper’s, and the world’s, history over the last century-and-a-quarter. We see how personalities (political figures, writers, musicians, movie stars etc) were perceived in their day, and how these images were presented to the public. The prints have hand-drawn crop marks on them, and typed or scribbled captions on the back with indications such as “URGENT, two columns, this evening”. The exhibition runs from October 31 to November 12 and will be followed by an auction of the prints at Drouot on November 19.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what three pieces of art or design would you choose?
Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion (which would double nicely as a house), a painting by Rothko and a Calder mobile.
What do you prefer about Paris?
I would paraphrase Johnson – “When one is tired of Paris one is tired of Beauty”.
I know how lucky I am to live in the most elegant city in the world, with its endless vistas of harmonious architecture and leafy avenues. Crossing one of the bridges on the Seine still takes my breath away, after 23 years of living here. Being constantly surrounded by such beauty is an eternal source of creative inspiration and a balm to the soul.
International Tribune 125th Anniversary Photo Exhibit
October 31 to November 19
Cercle France Amériques
9 Avenue Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 75008
Metro: Franklin Roosevelt
Louise Brody websites
In addition to my Eye Prefer Paris Tours, we now offer Eye Prefer New York Tours, 3-hour walking tours of New Yorkís best neighborhoods including Soho, Meatpacking/West Village & Tribeca. Tours cost $195 for up to 3 people and $65 for each additional person.Come take a bit of the Big Apple on an Eye Prefer New York Tour!
Come experience my blog ìliveî with my Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I lead. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.Tours cost 195 euros for up to 3 people, and 65 euros for each additional person. I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris. www.eyepreferparistours.com
New! Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, co-author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook (with Olivia Kiang-Snaije). First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotteís professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 185 euros per person (about $240)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Tuesday,Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday
Minimum of 2 students, maximum 6 students.
Click here to sign up for the next class or for more info.