–By Sally O’Dowd. This is the second in a two-part series about the creative inspiration and innovation behind D. Porthault, the French provider of luxury linens and bedding.  For the first post, click here

I love reading the “Who Made That…?” column in the New York Times Sunday magazine. Writers cover everything from contemporary earbuds to the classic Kikoman soy-sauce bottle. Inspiring this post are those pieces plus  James McAvoy, star of “Fifth,”  which opened in Great Britan last fall and opens this Friday in the states.  In a New York Times interview published this week,  he says:  “I try to learn what the story needs to tell the audience from point to point to point.”

Indeed, every product and experience tells a story, a who, what, when, where and how.  Much of that develops thanks to creativity, technology and innovation.  Furthermore, we take everyday goods for granted but (who knew?) printed bath robes and towels didn’t always exist. For generations, they were plain white or cream. In other words, boring.

Madeleine and Daniel Porthault in 1920.
Madeleine and Daniel Porthault in 1920.

But Daniel Porthault’s wife, Madeleine, was an artist, and she was inspired by nature and other artists of the day. Just as any business must see its services and products in a broader context, and how it can meet an unfilled need, so did Madeleine.

“She often visited Monet’s studio and garden at Giverny– Impressionism was a great inspiration.” D. Portault CEO Joan Carl says. “And she was a champion of the colorists, including Raoul Dufy and Henri Matisse, who had a home near her husband’s factory in northern France.”

Back in the 20s, Madeleine had the initial idea of hand-painting flowers on her husband’s linen to create a wearable garden for her clients.  Her floral printed peignoir sets were the first of their kind.  She focused initially on flowers (roses were the most popular), with butterflies and dragonflies entering her portfolio later.  Madeleine’s hand-blocked designs – many to a client’s unique specifications as to blossom and hue – resulted in nightgowns and robes that added color, romance and whimsy to a woman’s wardrobe.

New York provided inspiration for Porthault designs after WWII.
The bright colors of New York, including yellow taxis, provided inspiration for Porthault designs after WWII.

After World War II, France was a bleak place and in the process of rebuilding itself.  Daniel and Madeleine visited New York, colored by red sports cars and bright yellow taxis. Ever the inspiration, the Big Apple led to bold prints such as the New York Mille Fleurs (a thousand flowers.)

As technology evolved, Madeleine still wanted the hand-crafted painterly process to be felt in her productions.   Even today, craftsmen in Normandy mix each color by hand to achieve the perfect hue. Each color is printed separately–a red leaf air-dries first on tall rafters before the green for the stem is even laid out.  And then cutting, sewing, washing and ironing start by hand.

The D. Porthault Logo: Perfect symbol of the brand essence
The D. Porthault Logo: Perfect symbol of the brand essence

“Many of our employees are children and grandchildren of some of our granddaughters and grandsons of men and women who have worked at D. Porthault for decades,” Joan says. “Their overseen by what we call contredames and contremaitres, and that’s how we keep Madeleine’s vision alive.”

For the video,  or moving mood board, click here. And click on the logo for better visibility.

 Sally O’Dowd is CEO of Sally On Media LLC, an integrated marketing and PR firm in New York. Contact Sally: sally at sallyonmedia dot net.

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