If the parlor floor’s been fixed up recently, odds are there’s a Serge Mouille hanging above the mantle.
Two Northwest Brooklyn brownstones, several blocks apart, same chandelier.
Where Did It Come From?
Serge Mouille, a Parisian industrial designer and metalsmith, began making lamps in 1953 at the behest of Hermès designer Jacques Adnet. Adnet wanted someone to make lights that were the opposite of the ornate, overly complicated Italian designs that had flooded the market in the ’40s and early ’50s. Mouille complied and, three years later, showed his first model at a group show with Jean Prouvé, Isamu Noguchi, and Charlotte Perriand at a gallery in Paris. It was a standing lamp with three arms, each with a breast-shaped aluminum shade. In the next couple of years, Mouille designed lighting for the lounge of the cruise liner France, for Christian Dior’s salon in Paris, and for the actor Henry Fonda, who camped on the steps of his workshop until Mouille agreed to create a lamp especially for him. Mouille later began designing wall sconces and chandeliers.
Why It’s So Appealing
“It’s not overdesign; it’s not underdesign. Other similar — but more explicitly modern — pieces feel a bit more trendy. Mouilles are elegant, and they’re timeless.” —Vicente Wolf, designer who has been using mouille for nearly 30 years
“It’s sculptural, has movement, but is still quite minimalist.” —Ralph Pucci, designer
“Mouille’s chandeliers are deeply sensual; they’re intimately handcrafted and are capped with a recognizable nipple (the housing for the electrical necessities). Both things have given them an enduring sex appeal.” —Katherine Hammond, interior designer
Its Path to Ubiquity
Anthony DeLorenzo, a New York dealer in 20th-century decorative arts, displays works in Soho by two then-obscure French designers, each of whom he discovered on scouting trips to Paris: Jean Prouvé and Mouille. A pair of Mouille’s sconces goes for about $700. Eight years later, DeLorenzo opens 1950, a shop devoted to ’50s French furniture design, on Lafayette Street; Mouille lamps are front and center. DeLorenzo is later credited with bringing French Art Deco to the forefront in the States.
David Weeks founds the Brooklyn-based David Weeks Studio; his style is clearly influenced by Mouille. Ralph Pucci believes Weeks actually brought attention back to Mouille, just as “the Rolling Stones brought attention to the sound of Chuck Berry.”
Noho’s Gueridon begins selling Serge Mouille Re-editions, created using Mouille’s original molds, proportions, techniques, and materials; it is the first store in the States to do so. (Design Within Reach would soon follow suit.) Later that year, original Mouille lamps are called collector’s items by the Times, which reports that decorators are snatching them up from Paris lighting shop Lumière et Fonction for more than $13,000.
French dealers present Mouilles at the first Design Miami (known then as Design.05); decorators take note and begin using them in projects on the Upper East Side and Brooklyn.
A mainstream moment.
Jenna Lyons’s Brooklyn brownstone is photographed for Domino; an image of her bedroom (which has a Mouille) becomes one of the most-pinned interiors ever; later, she installs Mouilles in a handful of J.Crew stores.
Raf Simons is photographed at his home for Vogue underneath a massive three-armed Mouille standing lamp.
The knockoffs start in earnest: a near-identical “Mid-Century Three-Arm Ceiling Lamp” look-alike goes for $1,449 at Chelsea’s France & Son.