Design & Decoration S01 ep8: Albert Bouilhet, Christofle, [Paris]
Interview with Albert Bouilhet
We were trying to get Salvador Dali to design flatware for us. And I must tell you that the show that this man managed to put was something out of this world.
In 1830 two brothers in laws one was called Charles Christofle and the other
was Joseph Bouilhet were partners in a jewellery store in Paris.
They met 10 years later in 1840 a rather very strange type of character that
you would find in the middle of the 19th century this man was called Henri De
Roulz - He was a chemist, a play writer, an opera composer and most
probably a crook on top of all that. Because he sold to my ancestors a pattern
of Electroplating, which he pretended that he had invented, and in reality, he
had worked on the work of two brilliant British silversmiths called Elkington.
The big advantage of this pattern was that you could produce silverware at a
fifth of the price of the sterling, because you would then use copper or brass
and then cover it with silver.
How Christofle became so successful immediately was due to one king and
one emperor. The first King was Louis Philip of France who was not very rich,
but liked to live comfortably and placed quite a few orders which made us
become supplier of the court and so on and well known rather quickly. But the
man who was really the biggest promoter of Christofle was Napolean the Third
and he was telling everybody "You know this beautiful silver that you see here
is not sterling and I am very proud to tell you that this is Christofle'. Being a
very hospitable king, he had all the reigning courts or family, coming through
Paris and of course we had immediately orders from the Russians, from the
Austrians, from the Prussians from everybody.
I wanted very much to be an architect and my father told me that I was not
enough talented to do so and that my younger brother Henri
6.35KM: Who became and architect!
6.36Who became an architect and was I must admit an extraordinary designer.
Like my father, like my grandfather and like my great grandfather and so the
only guy who couldn't hold a pencil was I, so he said "Why insist, after all…"
And so I started from the university onwards my life at Christofle. And very
cleverly my father immediately sent me abroad.
He sent me first to Germany, he asked the owner of the company will you
please put my son at the lowest level, pushing a truck.
At the lowest level of whatever he wants to do - let him be at the bench,
certainly not in the offices. I did this for one year. After that experience I was
sent to Maryland Connecticut where there was the biggest silverware factory in
America called… , which doesn't exist anymore, which was called International
Silverware Company. I learnt the new method of producing silver in the most
All this marketing that we know nowadays of luxury trademarks was something
totally unknown. The idea of going to a market like the United States, and
saying to a shopkeeper who sold silver and saying to him that " I am sorry sir,
but your shop is not good enough for Christofle" was something unheard of.
People would say….
8.27KM: But you were doing this?
The only passion of my father was this artistic world. He was a close friend of
Jean Cocteau. Jean Cocteau had this mania that he was drawing all the time,
on everything. While at restaurants he would make drawing on the plate, on
the table clothes and my father one-day said, Jean this is a very good idea. Do
you mind if I ask the restaurant here if I can take the plate with me?
That gave my father the idea to send to every leading important artist of that
time the same restaurant plate, stupid white plate, asking them to make
anything they wanted. He gathered a collection of 200 - 250 plates, which of
course he exhibited in his gallery later on and it was a great success. He did
that later on with painters, poets, musicians, where they would write a score on
When the government started to generate the Pompadour Museum in Paris,
an Italian called Piano and an Englishman called Roger, Piano and Roger were
the architects of the Pompadour Museum
KM: Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers!
That is it, and Henri was the man who was responsible for all the inside…
KM: The interior..
Yes, the interior of the building. Henri started to work with me on a constant
basis since 1967. He was the curator of the trademark. In other words, nothing
that was produced under the name of Christofle could be released without his
A Maharaja placed an order with my great grandfather and it was very specific.
He ordered a bed and at each corner of the bed there should be a life-size
naked statue of 4 ladies. One that was to represent the Italian symbol of
Beauty, the second one was Greek, the third one was Spanish and the fourth
one was French. In the mattress of the bed should be music that could put him
to sleep for 40 minutes. And the ladies were ventilating him whilst he was in
the bed with big fans held in each arm. The most extraordinary thing was that
the man who ordered this bed was 21 years old.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Albert Bouilhet, Christofle, Paris