bal harbour blog

Arts & Letters

Nicolas Ouchenir.

By Janelle Zara

The stresses facing the go-to calligrapher for Paris’ fashion elite, at times, run high. “During couture week this year, I hand-addressed 102 envelopes for a very big designer—one that everybody knows—from 10 p.m. until morning for a show that was the next day at noon,” says Nicolas Ouchenir, the man in question. “I used a very special handwriting. It was super chic. Then the next morning, they decided to cancel the show.”

It’s all par for the course for Ouchenir, whose Paris-based studio situated just across from Colette contains rows upon rows of fashion week invitations for heavy hitters such as Rick Owens, Maison Martin Margiela, Hermès and Gucci, just to name a few, each meticulously conceptualized with the most basic of materials: pen and paper. This Paris Fashion Week, he intends to pull a marathon of similar all-nighters that begins the two weeks before the start of the presentations and lasts until all of the fanfare ends.

The state of Ouchenir’s desk, covered in various inks, crumpled papers and an array of writing utensils, indicates the workspace of a very busy man. Despite our age of evites, text messages and emails, his work is still high in demand, seemingly for two reasons. First of all, “When you receive a handwritten invitation, it makes you feel really important and essential to the event,” he theorizes. “When you get an email, you get the sense that the party is going to be the same without you.” In his early days as a gallerist at Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand, he was sending his collectors handwritten notes before power publicist Pia de Brantes enlisted his craft for her firm. She opened his world to clients like Versailles, Rothschild and Prada, which eventually led him to open his own studio 11 years ago, although the two continue to share office space. “She’s my second mother,” Ouchenir says.

Secondly, there isn’t quite anyone else who does what Ouchenir does. There’s a cosmic, philosophical air to how he approaches his work, which focuses on creating entirely unique signatures for his clients while other calligraphers use preset scripts.

“I’m sorry, but that’s boring,” Ouchenir says. Instead, “I create your own A, your own B, your own C. Calligraphy is not fashion. Calligraphy is you.” His process begins with parsing who you are, exactly, which may involve having a coffee together or walking the streets of Paris, New York or L.A. “It’s a question of senses without asking any questions. I feel the atmosphere,” he explains.

The next step involves fewer pleasantries and more arduous writing and rewriting, perhaps creating 350 different samples of the potential next Giambattista Valli font, which changes every year. The end product is a manifestation of the brand in script—Van Cleef & Arpels’ has a musical quality to it on par with the whimsy of its floral jewels, while Cartier’s is decidedly bolder and more masculine. For Rick Owens, Ouchenir sought to create a signature that was slim but also tough, from time to time engraved in swathes of black leather.

All the intuiting that goes into Ouchenir’s work also lends itself to more intimate applications. “You have letters you never gave to your lover and you want it engraved on their tomb?” he says. “Ask me, and I’ll make it for you.” He also creates letters to engrave into the skin, frequently designing tattoos for his high-profile clients. Although he refuses to name names, he does allude to having designed an album cover for a certain ex-Mouseketeer, and leaves it at that.

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