Legendary Parisian eyewear atelier opens in London with British designs and surprise stories
Espresso cups tinkle on a marble table as Franck Bonnet and Pierre Bonnefille talk animatedly on the first floor of bespoke eyewear brand Maison Bonnet’s Paris atelier. Situated near Place des Victoires, the space – a welcoming, polished salon in velvety dark tones – opened in 2009 and was designed by Bonnefille, one of France’s leading interior architects. Now, the loquacious duo are working together again on a new atelier on London’s Stafford Street, set to open in late June.
‘Around 60 per cent of my clients are foreigners, and they come to Paris once a year on holiday – but they find themselves in London almost monthly for work, so it made sense,’ explains Bonnet, the CEO and fourth-generation owner of the family business. ‘It also made sense to continue our collaboration with Pierre.’
The pair’s professional relationship is anything but typical. ‘We have known each other for about 20 years,’ says Bonnefille. ‘I do the maison’s interiors, and Franck does my glasses. But we’re also friends.’ The duo share a love for beautifully made objects (like Bonnet’s father, Bonnefille is a Maître d’Art, a title awarded by the French Ministry of Culture to distinguished professionals from the arts and crafts) as well as a passion for good conversation, saying that it sparks their creativity.
A sketch of the table design for the store by interior architect Pierre Bonnefille. Photography: Thomas Chéné
‘Conversation is everything at Maison Bonnet. With new clients, we set up a meeting that can last up to two hours, where we just talk about their tastes, their work, their style icons, their dreams. We need to get to know them as much as possible to offer them the most personalised model we can,’ says Bonnet.
Adds Bonnefille, ‘With my designs, I’m just mimicking what Franck does: we meet up and he tells me his vision. My job is to give it material form, as an interior.’
In the case of the Stafford Street atelier, that vision includes warm lighting, multiple mirrors and bespoke furniture that nods to Bonnefille’s Metamorphosis collection (which, in turn, features forms inspired by rocks and minerals, and texture courtesy of powdered copper) as well as to vintage British design. It features London-sourced antiques, including display cabinets that originally belonged to the British Museum, the drawers of which Bonnefille has worked into a new table.
The interior of Maison Bonnet in London which opened in September
‘They are in Cuban mahogany, which is protected right now, so quite rare. They are about 200 years old and were disposed of by the museum, which is how they ended up in our hands. I was obsessed with them, not only for their link to traditional British design, but also because recycling them meant breathing new life into them, making them dynamic and modern, rather than just static pieces of furniture against a wall,’ says Bonnefille. ‘That sort of metamorphosis is pretty much what Franck does when he takes a vintage tortoiseshell to mould it into a pair of glasses.’
The British Museum Cuban mahogany drawers. Photography: Thomas Chéné
And yet, adds Bonnet, in the end his process is as much about humility and self-effacement as it is about knowing how to source precious materials or having unique expertise. ‘With my glasses, what I want is to frame a person’s face in the most natural, comfortable and becoming way. Nothing can distract from the client’s personality, which is why I don’t even sign the glasses.’
The same discretion applies to the interior design, where, according to Bonnefille, it’s never about the big statement pieces, but about the ones that will best showcase Maison Bonnet’s artistry. ‘There’s nothing I hate more than those big empty spaces with a giant chandelier and a luxury handbag on top of a single marble column,’ he states, adding that he prefers to create a sense of intimacy. ‘After all, there is something very intimate in the way Franck looks into a client’s eyes while he’s trying glasses on them.’
It’s such moments – encounters and conversations – that inspire both men, much more than sitting long hours in an office. ‘It’s all about the stories,’ says Bonnefille, ‘which is why I’ll be adding some objects, on top of the display cabinets, that will tell further stories.’ He’s keeping quiet on the details for now.
‘They are a surprise, even for me,’ says Bonnet. ‘I guess we’ve found one subject we can’t have a lengthy conversation about.’§
As originally featured in the June 2018 issue of Wallpaper* (W*231)