Haute Couture for Furniture

Studio of Maurizio Galante

Studio of Maurizio Galante

PARIS — Rare are the luncheon guests who arrive bearing as a gift an object made by an haute couture designer. Still, when the Italian actress Valentina Cortese decided to bring flowers to a luncheon host, she called on her favorite couturier, Maurizio Galante.

“Valentina wanted flowers, but not an ordinary bouquet,” said Mr. Galante, a designer originally from Rome, now based in Paris. “We made her a shawl, entirely of hand-embroidered silk flowers, which she presented at lunch.”

From there, Mr. Galante had the idea of applying hand-embroidered flowers to household objects. Thus was born the “Valentina C” chair, a tubular steel armchair decorated with 120 handmade flowers — a marriage of high fashion and design made entirely in Mr. Galante’s haute couture atelier in Paris.

“The Valentina C feels like being seated in a bouquet of flowers,” Mr. Galante said.

The Valentina C chair, which the atelier produces in a numbered series of 12, is priced at €10,200, or $13,500.

A less ornate version is edited by Baleri Italia, the high-end Italian furniture maker, at a cost of about €5,000.

Today, Mr. Galante, whose name remains relatively unknown outside high-fashion circles, has bridged the gap between couture, architecture and design with the skill of an accomplished craftsman and the sensibility of an artist.

He joins the ranks of a handful of couturiers who have ventured into furniture design, like Maison Martin Margiela, Jean-Paul Gaultier or Giorgio Armani, and of the few who have tried their hand at interior design for boutique hotels, like the Hotel Maison Moschino in Milan, the Missoni Hotel in Edinburgh or the Hôtel du Petit Moulin by Christian Lacroix in Paris.

In the process, given the originality and rigorous construction of his designs, Mr. Galante has caught the eye of discerning clients like Zaha Hadid, the Baghdad-born architect, or Carmen Busquets, the founder of a high-end Web site for handcrafted bespoke products, who has also carried his designs.

“I have always appreciated designers who dare play with materials and proportions,” Ms. Hadid was quoted as saying in a monograph of Mr. Galante titled “Regard Transversal.”

What distinguishes Mr. Galante from other fashion designers who have spread their wings beyond the field of clothing is that his unique or limited-edition creations retain much in common, in both technique and form, with his bespoke haute couture pieces.

Everything is made using couture techniques, resulting in creations with an individuality that makes his designs akin to works of art.

Maurizio Galante

Maurizio Galante

Born in Latina, about an hour south of Rome by train, Mr. Galante, 48, first studied architecture before turning to fashion and graduating from Rome’s Academy of Costume and Fashion.

“The time between beginning and completing a building project was too long, and too many compromises had to be made along the way,” he said. “I did not have the patience to be an architect. In fashion I could do it all myself.”

Mr. Galante presented his first ready-to-wear collection in 1986 in Milan before moving to Paris in 1992. “Paris offered a balance between know-how and corporate organization,” he said.

Now one of the 11 members of the Chambre Syndicale de La Haute Couture in Paris, alongside fashion giants like Chanel and Givenchy, Mr. Galante presents one couture collection a year.

His clothes are experiments in twisted fabrics and intricate patterns cut to accentuate the movement of the body and the play of light on fabric. “The process of persuading my staff that a design is actually feasible is a long tale of seduction,” he said. “The process of creativity begins when I am told that something I have drawn is impossible to make.”

Although he devoted himself to fashion for years, the call of architecture and design, his first passions, have remained with him throughout the years. “I do not feel like just a fashion designer,” he said. “For me, fashion is just one form of artistic expression.”

Hotel Foro Appio

Hotel Foro Appio

In 2003, in collaboration with his partner, the Tel Aviv-born designer Tal Lancman, Mr. Galante introduced Interware, a design and consultancy service company. Since then, his repertory of objects has not ceased growing.

“We are different and complementary,” Mr. Lancman said in an interview in the Parisian studio where the two receive their clients. “We bounce ideas off each other, and we will not proceed with a project unless the other approves.”

In 2004, Mr. Galante embarked on the redesign of the interior of a four-star hotel, the Foro Appio, just outside Rome. Built in the 1780s, the structure, an old postal relay site, was painstakingly restored with modern materials while preserving its old Roman charm.

Even there, the touch of the fashion designer is recognizable. “Inside, we designed a new staircase to look like one of my spiraling haute couture dresses,” Mr. Galante said.

Today, Mr. Galante receives his clients in a showroom located on the rue d’Antin, near the Opéra Garnier, a place not unlike the laboratory of a Renaissance man. Every object, from the furniture to the wallpaper down to the last light fixture, is designed by the Galante-Lancman duo.

Clients walk past rooms overflowing with drawings and are shown into the Red Room, a fully upholstered space that has the appearance of an explosion in a red fabric factory. “This room was designed to look like the inside of a plush jewelry box,” Mr. Galante said.

Louis XV goes to Sparta

Louis XV goes to Sparta

The wall-to-wall and ceiling covering, made of a bright red Japanese fabric, is one of the products Mr. Galante produces in his atelier. Made of hundreds of small triangles sown onto vertical rods affixed to a metal grid, the curtain-like covering creates a thick vibrating surface that seems to pulsate and adds both life and depth to the walls and ceiling.

“The wall covering was inspired by the Dragon Coat, a red silk caftan decorated with crystal tubes that is one of our iconic haute couture pieces,” he said.

Cactus Sofa

Cactus Sofa

He applies the same motif to other decorative pieces, namely headboards or sofa coverings, which he sells through Interware or various Italian design companies.

Of the colors on the extensive palette that Mr. Galante uses both in his couture collection and his decorative objects, red has become a trademark. “Red is a color that is full of contradictions,” he said. “It is the repository of both good and bad memories, and the point where kindness and bitterness collide.”

The cactus pouf, one of his best-selling designs, is a polystyrene-filled sphere covered by a digital-print image of a thorny cactus. Once the cover is fitted, the image appears three-dimensional. “The pouf seems like the last place one would want to sit, but it is actually soft and comfortable,” Mr. Lancman said.

Taking humor a step further, Mr. Galante designed a larger version of the Cactus pouf, called the Mother-in-Law Sofa. “We thought it would suit the waiting room of a tax collector’s office,” said Mr. Galante. An example of the sofa decorates the entrance of the École de la Fédération Française de la Couture.

Playing with the same duality in ordinary objects he renders amusing, Mr. Galante this year introduced the Louis Marble furniture series, including a chair called “Louis XV Goes to Sparta,” a soft 18th-century-style armchair covered with a printed image of Carrara marble. “We wanted to merge in the same object symbols of French decadence and Spartan austerity,” Mr. Galante said.

Anemone light fixture

Anemone light fixture

He also introduced new light fixtures this autumn. His Murano glass suspension chandeliers — called Sea Anemone and Coral and crafted from more than 200 handmade articulated glass parts by Veronese Paris, a French custom lighting manufacturer — capture the same intricate surface effects that are Mr. Galante’s trademark in fashion.

“The light is diffused differently depending on whether the articulated flaps are opened or shut,” Mr. Lancman said. “It is an object that wants to be caressed.”

The chandeliers are priced between €30,000 and €60,000, with smaller versions available for €5,000.

Next year, Mr. Galante will expand his repertory even further, launching a commercial version of the tribal-inspired jewelry he showed for the first time in his haute couture runway show last spring.

Made outsized for the show, the earrings were inspired by antique roman headdresses worn by the runway models as headpieces, long enough to dangle over the shoulders and in constant motion with their wearer.  For his necklaces, made of uncommon materials like brass, copper, or horn, Mr. Galante found inspiration in what he calls ‘‘archaic Mediterranean’’ sources.

‘‘With the jewelry, I wanted to recreate the feel of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film ‘Medea,’’’ said Mr. Galante.

All will be one-off pieces handmade in France and Italy. ‘‘The objects we design, whether clothing, jewelry or furniture, are made to have an autonomous life, like a sculpture,’’ Mr. Lancman said. ‘‘We design conversation pieces.’’

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