"Arabic is a huge inspiration for me, I love how the letters are created" - Fashion calligrapher Nicolas Ouchenir
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Born in Paris, calligrapher Nicolas Ouchenir first went to business school before realising his dream career. Now, over 20 years later, he is one of the most in-demand calligraphers in the fashion and beauty industries. Earlier this year he collaborated with Shiseido on its latest collection and he is currently in the process of organising an exhibition in Marrakech. Read on to find out how the Middle East inspires his work and how manages his time during Paris Fashion Week when he's most in-demand...
How would you describe what you do?
I am a calligrapher and an art director. I create signature from imaginations.
How did you get into calligraphy?
I went to a business school and then I realised that I preferred the arts to finance. That was twenty years ago and my first job was selling art at JGM Gallery in Paris. At each of our openings, I insisted on writing the invitation cards out by hand. That's how it all began. Later on, I left the gallery after the death of Niki de Saint Phalle who we represented. Later, Pia de Brantes, the queen of public relations, got me started. I began to pen the invitations of the great aristocratic families and for state functions at Versailles and then I met Muccia Prada and Rick Owens.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I take photos of everything. I have a really good memory, even when it comes to things that you don't want to remember. I love reading; I have huge libraries of books. I do a lot of research. One day I gave this lecture at a graphic design school and I told the students that for me, calligraphy is a way of life more than a thing to do. But, most of the time, my inspiration comes from my friends and people in the street and around me.
What is the contemporary approach to calligraphy today in a digital world?
All these mood boards, Tumblr pages etc. today don't really belong to anyone in the end. There is no longer a sense of property, whereas writing shows who you truly are. You need to know yourself in order to take a pen and put your feelings down on paper. There are difficult phases in every lifetime and I think it's important to take the time to sit down and be alone sometimes.
Your main business is invitations for fashion weeks, particular Paris where you are la Crème! What can you tell me about that? What are you doing in-between seasons?
I only do invitations for fashion shows during Fashion Week. It's a big season, very intense, very commercial. But the majority of my work is very diverse. Handwriting helps to create an identity, a form of wealth. A fashion house's graphic guidelines reflect its history, whether invented or not. Between seasons, I'm working on logos and visual identities for several houses like Nina Ricci, Christian Dior, Cartier, Chaumet and more. I'm also working on exhibitions of my work. I had an exhibit during the last Fashion and Photography Festival in Hyères, in the South of France and I'm actually working on an exhibition in Marrakech.
You are also the brand ambassador for Louis Vuitton and Mont Blanc, is that right?
I am a consultant, so every time they want to launch a product in relation to calligraphy, they ask for my opinion.
How would you describe your studio in Paris?
It's like a cabinet of curiosities with so many inks and tools. I am at the opposite of minimalism, since I love having a lot of things to inspire me. I am not especially attached to objects but more to what they make me feel.
What do you think about the art of calligraphy in the Middle East?
For me, the Middle East is the cradle of writing. It's important for me to see how calligraphy is used everywhere and Arabic is a huge inspiration for me. I love how the letters are created.
Now, read Farouk's previous column with Silvia Damiani, the Vice President of Damiani jewellery.