The house of Leleu rose to prominence in the 1920s during the Art Déco period, and became known for the ornate classicism of its richly refined furniture and lavish interiors. In the Postwar years, Leleu décorateurs ensembliers whose design talents encompassed all elements of the interior, from lighting to textiles and carpets, responded to cultural shifts and emerging technologies with innovative pieces which incorporated glass, metal, and the newly discovered Beka lacquer. The palette of materials expanded with time, but Leleu's legendary technique and impeccable attention to detail never wavered.
The era of transition from the late 1950s into the 1960s was an increasingly effervescent time, marked for Leleu by projects of great magnitude, including the majestic ocean liner SS France, a flagship of the French art de vivre for which the country's finest artists and designers were called upon, and the Skanès villa of Tunisia’s then president, Habib Bourguiba. By the time the Leleu patriarch, Jules, died in 1961, the design house was enjoying a true renaissance that paid tribute to its legacy while looking toward the future.
It was Jules Leleu’s reverence for fine craftsmanship that had distinguished the company for nearly half a century, but each of his three children also took on essential roles in defining the business. Paule (1906-1987) joined the company at a young age, eventually becoming the colorist and head of the design studio. She also oversaw the textile department, where she designed more than 500 maguettes for carpets, fabrics and wallpapers. After studying architecture, and following a brilliant career in the French Air Force, Jean (1912-1982) became head of the bureau d’etudes, and supervised ocean liner commissions and grand projets: prominent public buildings, French government agencies and universities. Due to his social nature, André (1927-1995) quickly became the public face of Leleu. He oversaw the ateliers and all production, and was in charge of the private residences.
Maison Leleu was commissioned to design the interiors of the rezdechaussée of Medy Roc, the stunning Cote d’Azur villa acquired in 1957 by South American financier Robert Greif, and the project definitively launched the company’s evolving style into a new era. An enormous patinated and gilt metal console and similair dining table, both with eglomisé glass tops, anchored the great hall. Liedevin lacquer vitrines rested on patinated metal bases with gilt accents. Mahogany cabinets glimmered with mother of pearl marquetry and gilt bronze handles, a proud reissuing of a 1930s design that once again underscored the Leleu children’s reverence for their family legacy. The inimitable style of Paule Leleu was everywhere: in the joyous motifs and glorious colors that adorned furniture façades, tabletops, cushions and, especially, exquisite wool carpets. A sofa, together with its four matching club chairs, was emblazoned with her signature embroidery designs.
In 1960, Pierre Frilet approached Leleu to design the interiors of his new, expansive apartment on the avenue Foch in Paris. In addition to its extraordinary beauty and breadth, the Frilet collection is remarkable in that Mr. Frilet empowered André Leleu to purchase on his behalf significant Leleu pieces of previous decades, many from as early as 1948. These include a substantial selection from the legendary collection of the Comtesse Douieb de Lonlay, among them a pair of shagreen commodes with coral red lacquered tops, an important feux d’artifice commode, and pair of cabinets with mother of pearl and ebony inlay. Though the apartment was designed after Jules’ death, the Leleu children chose to integrate a number of his earlier creations, a further indication of not only how Leleu designs from every era may exist side by side in visual harmony, but of the high esteem the younger generation held for the work of their patriarch.
Since its founding in 1974, Maison Gerard has specialized in fine French Art Deco furniture, lighting and objets d’art. It has sustained a particular focus on and passion for the work of Maison Leleu, the famed French design house to which the gallery has devoted three exhibitions, in addition to providing the introduction to Françoise Siriex’s definitive text, The House of Leleu: Classic French Style for a Modern World.