The Paul Follot dressing table and chair in Brighton Museum

University of Brighton student Ruby Mitchell discusses a dressing table and chair designed by Paul Follot that can be seen in Brighton Museum’s Twentieth Century Art & Design Gallery.

Photo of dressing table with mirror in Brighton Museum
Paul Follot dressing table and chair.1913-20. Ebonised and gilt carved wood, dressing table has a marble top. Personal photograph.

On a visit to Brighton Museum I was immediately drawn to this beautifully crafted and highly detailed set of furniture, comprising a dressing table and matching chair. They radiate timeless elegance and are very much luxury items. Standing in front of the pieces I was transported back in time, I envisioned a lady dressed in 1920s glamorous attire, sitting at her dressing table, perhaps putting on her makeup – a true image, and symbol, of femininity.

The dressing table and chair were designed by Paul Follot (1877-1941) a French designer of luxury furniture and decorative art objects, in the years before and after World War I (1914-1918). He was one of the leaders of the ‘Art Deco Movement’, and he had huge influence on other designers at the time.

This set is a striking example of the treatment of ornament and materials that characterised Art Deco in the early years of the twentieth century.[1] The table and chair were designed for the singer Germaine Lubin, a Parisian soprano. Clearly designed with luxury in mind, which the Art Deco movement is known for, it was produced just after the First World War, when the dressing table became a very popular and desired item of furniture, something of a shrine to cosmetics and fashion. Paris led the fashion world and the Art Deco movement was inspired by fashion designers; therefore Paris was the epicentre of the luxurious ‘1920s look’.[2]

The Art Deco style arose in the years after WW1, primarily for the French luxury market that relied on quality French craftsmanship. It was influenced by the cultures of ancient Egypt, Africa and Japan, and it was also an expression of the ‘Jazz Age’, which was a time of celebration following the end of WW1. The 1920s are remembered as ‘les années folles’ when people claimed the right to live as they pleased, to discard the old and moral conventions and to have fun after the dark days of the War.[3]

Ever since the time of Marie Antoinette, French design has been associated with opulent and lavish lifestyles, and French style encapsulates luxury and indulgence. For example, I see similarities between Art Deco and the Rococo designs of the mid-1700s; whilst appearing very different they share a preference for decoration and ornamentation and the finest materials. Art Deco feels like a sleek, modern take on Rococo; flowers have become geometric and clean lines have replaced the swirls and curls of the earlier designs, yet the two styles share a love of luxury.

Fine materials were also very important. The dressing table and chair are made in deluxe and expensive materials; ebonised and gilt wood, with marble. Bruhammer and Tise tell us:

‘the fine carved details of the scalloped edges and gold floral design really showcases the quality and opulent style of Follot’s design works, making vague references to French historical styles’[4].

Follot’s pieces are examples of the fine Art Deco luxury that people yearned for: modern, new and exciting. A woman’s dressing table is quite a personal item, similar to that of a handbag, and thus it can give an insight into somebody’s life. These are the kind of pieces of design I dream of owning one day, and I can see them being passed down through the generations and adored by everyone who comes across them: beautiful, luxurious and inspiring pieces of French luxury design.

Ruby Mitchell, student on BA (Hons) 3-Design & Craft, University of Brighton

Image Gallery

References

[1] Brunhammer, Y. and Tise, S. (n.d.). French Decorative Art, 1900-1942. 52.

[2] Klein, D. (1987). All colour book of Art Deco. Hong Kong: Cathay Books, p.24. p.4.

[3] Lesieutre, A. (1978). The spirit and splendour of Art Deco. Secaucus, N.J: Castle Books, p.19.

[4] Brunhammer, Y. and Tise, S. (n.d.). French Decorative Art, 1900-1942. 52.

Leave a Reply