Wolfgang Puck knows his forks and knives. Same with three-star Michelin chef Pierre Gagnaire. As does, of course, the King of Morocco. And when each of these opened celebrated restaurants in the last few years, they all turned to Alain Saint-Joanis for custom flatware. This small, family-owned company has been making cutlery in La Monnerie-le-Montel in the center of France since 1876. And although they’re not a household name, they are – for a certain group of folks – the only go-to when you want custom handmade flatware.
Whether you prefer lacquered (for your city dining room), olivewood (for the beach house in Martinique), resin (for your annual 4th of July bash), or a custom color to match your yacht, they can make it for you. We sat down with Alain Saint-Joanis President Alain Poujol for a few questions.
– What makes Alain Saint-Joanis unique?
The huge variety of looks … people come to Alan Saint-Joanis for quality and design. We have collections inspired by Art Deco, Celtic, Greek, nature … it goes on and on.
– What’s driving your new introductions?
We work with designers such as Thomas Bastide (head of design for Baccarat) for some styles, but most of the designs are developed in-house. That’s the privilege of being an old house…we have archives. For example, our Bamboo pattern is a re-edition from the 1950’s; this is rare nowadays, but the handles are made using real bamboo.
– How did this collaboration with Thomas Bastide come about?
Thomas Bastide is a longtime friend and a fellow motobiker. We share that passion. So we got together, talked about some of his ideas for new collections and developed them.
– Can you tell us about a project that stands in your mind?
Over the years we have developed so many great projects … for a wealthy New Yorker, we created a pattern with the handles looking like the Empire State building. You won’t see any pieces or pictures unless you get invited to his dining room. Part of the deal was to break the molds after the order was completed.
– Why are clients choosing your line? What are you known for?
Clients come to us for our designs, but they stay with us because of our quality. Right now wood is very popular because it’s natural. For U.S. customers, wood is protected by the Lacey Act – an Import Declaration – so it’s harder to come by. Our olivewood comes from trees that were used for their olive oil; we buy the wood afterward.
Also, we we are not overdistributed, and that means a lot to our clientele. Our work on metal is exquisite; one customer called our work “jewelry for the table,” and we really appreciated that.
– Who’s buying these? Is it being used in any restaurants or hotels?
Our main business is retail. Over the years we have been providing our silverware to a number of celebrities, but we never communicate on the names. We do sell to high-end restaurants. Recently we worked with the Crillon hotel in Paris for their reopening, we’ve also done Pierre Gagnaire’s restaurants worldwide, the Royal Mansour in Marrakech, and Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant at the Bel-Air in Los Angeles.
– You seem to do a lot of work with yacht owners. How did this get started? Can you share some of your more interesting projects?
Yachts and aircraft fittings, yes. Especially yachts manufactured in the Lurssen shipyard in Bremen (Germany). That’s where all the luxury megayachts come from. They started in business in 1875 and Alain Saint-Joanis in 1876, so we go way back.
– What’s next for Alain Saint-Joanis? We saw something about Basel on Instagram; can you share any details?
Art Basel is a great source of inspiration. Our Cable pattern, for example, is derived from the body of a writing instrument. Also Basel is worth visiting just for the fabulous Lackerli (local cookies). Editor’s note: if this has gotten you thinking, here’s a recipe for lackerli from Pierre Herme.
– Are all your pieces entirely made by hand?
No. The designs on the wood and metal are made in small runs, but they are automated. The assembling and the polishing is all done by hand. Also, the polishing and sharpening on knife blades is all done by hand.
– We notice you use a lot of wood in your collections. How did this come about?
We’ve been working with wood forever. In the old French tradition, forks and spoons would come in sterling silver, and the knives would come with a metal blade and either a wooden handle or a bone handle. At that time it was mainly ebony wood; now we’re using a lot of olive wood. We liked the way that looked.
– How long does it take to make your pieces?
One of our most complicated is the pattern named Royal with enamel handles. There is a dark blue finish with gold dust. it’s very beautiful. The complete process is 8 to 10 weeks. However, some very simple patterns such as Oslo are just incredible. They don’t take as long to make because there is nothing to add, nothing to remove … just perfect simplicity.
– How long have your artisans been with the company?
Most of the workers have been with us for a long time … the youngest over 10 years. It takes several years to train a good polisher. And then you want to keep him in the family.
– How do you define luxury?
Luxury is beyond materials. You can use the best materials and end up with a “bad” product. Making cutlery has been in our DNA for several generations, and we have turned this heritage into a passion. We are a maker, a manufacturer … everything we make is made with the final customer in mind, so we are very attached to what we produce. It has to make life more enjoyable, more beautiful.
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