Nicolas Ouchenir is perhaps fashion’s best-kept style secret: he is a calligrapher for virtually every top house in Europe: Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Jil Sander—the list goes on. So in demand, his right hand is specially insured. “It is more expensive than Beyoncé’s behind” he assures with a smile.
The 35-year-old Parisian has developed a rare niche for himself. He doesn’t simply translate the house’s graphic chart into pretty, swirly letters but acts as a pictorial consultant for each brand. “I’m given very loose visual indications, which I translate and re-inject into a modern alphabet. It should never be a clean copy-and-paste attitude: I try and give each client a personal twist based on my vision of their product.” For Rick Owens, he invented stick-like letterings to match the tough, somber aesthetic of the Californian designer; for Hermès, he whipped up a sophisticated yet minimalist type fit for the house’s traditionally sporty DNA.
Born and raised in Belleville—the capital’s east end—Ouchenir first developed a taste for word art as he graffitied the city’s walls during his teenage years. But he didn’t envisage handwriting as a profession until he began working in an art gallery, where he started to write every opening’s invitation by hand, and realized the high impact it had on people. “It is then that the powerfully intimate and timeless nature of sophisticated calligraphy occurred to me,” he reminisces.
The well-connected gallery owner led him to a flood of customers and a real gap in the market: giving a personal twist to that which is a commodity. “The demand never stops growing, my clients now range from Carine Roitfeld to Coca-Cola.”
Today, his imagination is boundless, and employs all types of tools: “In order to modernize this skill, you must push all boundaries and be a little wild.” In the past he has written invitations using blood (not his own, thankfully), hair, a fork. He recently found himself with an urgent deadline for L’Officiel magazine as he was on a holiday in Morocco, and produced an artwork made out of washed-down mud, used, rinsed pages from his notebook, and a quill made from a piece of cloth. “It is increasingly btordering on art and loose creativity,” he feels. Indeed, upcoming collaborations will include working with large-scheme projects, architects, interior decorations, and glassblowers. But Ouchenir concludes, “A return to craft has to make sense on a broad cultural scale.”
Photographer: Fe Pinheiro for danielogorman.com. Stylist: Nicholas Galletti for mfilomeno.com. Groomer: Louis Bester at LouisBester.com.