I bought this print not just because I’m a drapery nut, but because when I was looking thru a stack of dessins gouaches at Marche aux Puces and spotted this ad, our favorite dealer mentioned that Leleu was very French and an important brand that sadly was no longer. The name triggered my memory- Paris Deco Off 2019. That’s when I first heard the name Leleu, when Susan and I had a wonderful conversation with Alexia Leleu about the venerable design firm and her efforts to revitalize it. That sealed the deal – I had to have it.
Leleu, a classic French design house as esteemed and recognizable as Maison Jansen, that played a key role in the history of twentieth-century interior design.
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, the Leleu style, synonymous with refinement, luxury and quality, was expressed in a range that included furniture, textiles, carpets and wallpaper, and of course, draperies.
Responding to cultural shifts and emerging technologies they produced 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.
It was Jules Leleu’s reverence for fine craftsmanship that distinguished the company for nearly half a century, but his three children took on essential roles in defining the business. Paule, known for her exuberant motifs, glorious colors and signature embroidery was head of the design studio. Jean supervised the ocean liner commissions and grand projects. André quickly became the public face of Leleu. He oversaw the ateliers, production and the private residences. They often reissued designs and integrated earlier creations into new projects, showing not only how Leleu designs from every era could exist side by side in visual harmony, but underscored their reverence for the family legacy.
In 1971, the year that marked the 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire, the last Shah of Iran hosted a party. “It wasn’t just any party, but the most expensive affair of the century,” says Alexia. On a site adjacent to the ruins of Persepolis, he built an extravagant tented city from scratch, indulging in such luxuries as catering from Maxim’s, uniforms by Lanvin, Limoges dinnerware, and 50 tented rooms by Maison Jansen and Maison Leleu. Following the three-day, 600-person event, Maison Leleu was never paid, and the company couldn’t recover.
Enter Alexia. “As a child, I knew that my grandfather, Jean, and his siblings were important figures in the design world,” says Alexia. “But it was only after I began my own research that I realized the impact they had.” After discovering Françoise Siriex, a decorator who had worked for the house for 23 years and was their unofficial archivist, she decided to revive the esteemed design house. Unveiled in January 2019 at Deco Off, the first collection, “Itinérance,” was a series of carpets based on 12 drawings from the archive. That’s where Susan and I first viewed the collection and spoke with Alexia about her efforts to bring Leleu back to life.
For me, the Leleu ad serves as a reminder of a golden era of decorating and design and as evidence of how much we can learn from the design icons of the past if we just listen to their story.