Serena Fokschaner meets childrenswear designer Cordelia de Castellane at home in her Paris flat.
Photos by Sandi Friend.
It is late afternoon in the Parisian fat of children’s fashion designer, Cordelia de Castellane. Her two youngest children are perching on colourful Eames chairs, finishing their homework.
Sunlight filters through tall windows, casting slanting shadows across parquet foors. Overhead, exposed beams frame pale walls and bold, contemporary art mingles with 1970s’ lighting and 18th-century furniture. It’s very chic, very French and just a bit, as the Parisians might put it, ‘rock and roll’.
The front door opens. Cordelia arrives, apologising for her lateness; she has been in meetings all afternoon. The children rush to greet her flourishing their drawings. She scoops them up while depositing her two phones on the La Cornue kitchen worktop. It is one of those torridly hot Parisian days but the former model turned designer looks collected, her swishy brown hair and hazel eyes enhanced by a green silk shirt, jeans and pristine trainers by fellow French designer Isabel Marant.
You can’t help but notice her engagement ring made of the words ‘marry me’, spelt out in tiny diamonds. ‘My husband, Igor, gave it to me when he proposed,’ she explains, going on to recount the story behind their three-storey maisonette. ‘When we frst met, he owned the top two foors of the fat. After we got married, the fat below came up for sale so we bought it. We were incredibly lucky.
The couple now live here with their four children, Stanislas 15, and Andreas 12 (both from Cordelia’s frst marriage to fashion scion Hubert Lanvin) and Clelia 5 and Vadim 4. Over time, they have re-shuffed the layout to create a home that is both stylish and family friendly. ‘I call it my doll’s house... ma petite maison,’ says Cordelia, huge H&M earrings tinkling as she shows us around the apartment, which is set in one of those discreet hotels in the 7th arrondissement.
On the first foor, the family gravitates to the open-plan dining area and handsome steel-edged kitchen. Next door, a large room is divided by a sliding door into two bedrooms; one side pink, the other blue, for Clelia and Vadim. The dolls’ house belonged to Cordelia when she was a child; a charming bedstead is customised in neon pink. She has deployed clever, space-enhancing tricks: favourite toys are pegged up high on washing lines; doors are lined with glass or mirror. In Andreas’ compact teenage bedroom, a practical bunk has a desk tucked underneath. Overhead, original beams are exposed adding a feeling of height. ‘It’s not a huge flat so we’ve had to be creative but I prefer that. I like everything to be cosy: on a human scale.’
There’s an approachable feel to C de C, the label Cordelia runs with her business partner, Segolene Gallienne. ‘I design clothes for everyday. The pieces are casual but chic and everything mixes and matches.’ Her pieces start at around £25, a fraction of what other smart brands charge so it explains why the label appeals to sophisticated but cost-aware parents. Cordelia began the business with home sales; she now has 20 shops worldwide and three in London, in South Kensington (Fulham Road), Notting Hill and Hampstead. ‘I’m a designer but I became an entrepreneur by default.’
Her heritage played its part in her career. Her Greek-born mother, Atalanta, is a former decorator and she is a cousin of Victoire de Castellane, jewellery designer for Christian Dior, and a great grand-niece of the celebrated French architect Emilio Terry. ‘I was the youngest of three children,’ explains Cordelia, ‘and I spent my holidays with my parents; we went to the Biennale, to museums all over the world.’ Trips to Parisian flea markets honed her eye for ‘design and art’, evidenced in pieces around the flat: an early Charlotte Perriand chair sits near a tiny Sonia Delaunay; a large Marc Quinn of Kate Moss hangs above a set of mid-century chrome stools: ‘I’m a collector; wherever I go I love to pick up unusual pieces.’
Born in Paris and educated in Switzerland, Cordelia had a privileged upbringing but she is no it girl. As a teenager she spent her holidays interning at Chanel, where her uncle Gilles Dufour was Karl Lagerfeld’s right-hand man. Leaving school at 17 she got her frst job at Emanuel Ungaro. ‘I worked there for seven years in the design studio learning how to mix pattern and colour. It formed me for what I do today.
Coincidentally, Cordelia’s husband’s mother, Catherine, was a director at Ungaro for many years. Given their shared cultural backgrounds, decorating the flat was straightforward, although Cordelia laughingly admits that she does have the upper hand. Walls painted in Farrow & Ball greys and fluttering linen curtains (Pierre Frey) offset works by Japanese artist Takashi Murakimi, whose smiling flower cushions beam from the velvet sofas upstairs. Next door, black floors are the foil for four large Warhol screen prints of Marilyn Monroe. In her white eyrie of a bedroom, a 19th-century gilt chair from her father’s ancestral castle gleams next to a rare glass console by Garouste and Bonetti. There is no sign of a computer; but there are books everywhere. ‘We’re all big readers,’ she says.
The Blackberry buzzes, reminding Cordelia that it is time to head back to the offce to tie up the autumn-winter collection. Her eyes light up as she describes the designs: ‘It’s a homage to Paris: a bit princessy, a little bohemian – with a rock n’roll edge.'