Sat, Jan 24, 2015 - Page 11 News List

Calligrapher to the fashion elite

Dior, Hermes and Louis Vuitton are among the fashion houses calligrapher Nicolas Ouchenir includes as his clients, and whose ink appears on the must-have invitations of Europe’s fashion shows

AFP, PARIS

French calligrapher Nicolas Ouchenir poses in his workshop in Paris on Jan. 14.

PHOTO: AFP

His hand is steady and sure as it delicately traces the contours of the biggest names in the world of style: the celebrities, the magazine editors, the clients. Nicolas Ouchenir is a calligrapher, a member of a rarefied profession whose ink appears on the must-have invitations of Europe’s fashion shows.

He may not personally meet all the VIPs attending the catwalk parades. But his personalized flourish to them, deliberately evoking the elegance of times past is carried close in their hands, in handbags, in tailored breast pockets.

With Paris Fashion Week already begun, Ouchenir is being kept busy. The phone rings incessantly in his office with the fashion houses’ press and publicity people calling to reserve his service — most at the last minute.

“You have to react fast,” says the 36-year-old, who is dressed in jeans and a white shirt, and sat behind a desk upon which piles of invitations await. Next to them are pots filled with quill pens, pens of whittled reeds and calligraphers’ instruments, all of them on a stained leather desk pad.

INSIDER

He knows well the codes and hierarchies of the fashion world, having eased ink onto countless cards that serve as coveted entry passes to the biggest fashion events in the world.

He is especially versed in the seating plans for those invited. Codes often marked on the invites correspond to the spots where the guests are to sit — with the front row, just a stiletto’s slide away from the catwalk, reserved for the elite.

LONG HOURS

“I have no fixed working hours,” Ouchenir says. He works out of an office on Paris’s chic-and-expensive rue Saint-Honore — shared with several other entrepreneurs working in different sectors. “Sometimes I work all night and fall asleep in my office and awake to find ink everywhere, or I spend whole nights waiting for a seating list in a PR’s office,” he says wryly, his humor serving him well in a business where “nervous breakdowns happen often.”

Ouchenir has been a professional calligrapher for 12 years.

He had an “obsession” with writing, he says, born from when he saw his childhood doctor in Paris scribbling out prescriptions with an old-fashioned quill.

There was no specialized course. He taught himself the craft after completing business studies. His career began when he started writing invitations for art show openings at the gallery where he was an assistant.

“I didn’t know that it was a profession. I just loved doing it... And it worked really well and people got used to seeing it. After a while, they only had to see the writing on the envelope and they almost didn’t have to open the invitation to know where it came from.”

WRITING STYLES

But building an “exclusive” reputation was, he says, the real key to success. For each client he develops a tailored style of writing, “like a fingerprint.”

For the French fashion brand Berluti, known for its men’s luxury shoes and leatherware, the writing is “very masculine, very simple, straight-lined, very bespoke,” he says.

“Versace writing is more rococo, with very long upstrokes and downstrokes. Margiela writing, for haute couture, is John Galliano English-style, but for its pret-a-porter it’s more like a typewriter.”

FASHION HOUSES AND TATTOOS

Dior, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu, Gucci, Pucci, Missoni — Ouchenir has an enviable portfolio of clients including not only the biggest brands but also young names like jewelery designer Elie Top and Hugo Matha, who makes “pochette” bags. It’s not just the fashion world that he lends his talents to. He has also done illustrations in magazines, worked for the Venice Biennial art exhibition, provided lettering for carmakers and for Champagne houses, redone the logo for the Ritz Hotel in Paris, hired his hand to old aristocratic families — and even stylized designs for unique tattoos.

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