|French version here|
Catherine and Sigolène first crossed paths when they were sixteen, in Paris, thanks to Sigolène's brother, Christophe, who introduced them to each other after assuring them that they looked a lot alike.
At first glance, this was not obvious, but deep down, it was true.
They shared the same penchant for eccentricity, the same desire to make everything themselves, and the same desire to distinguish themselves by transforming what surrounded them, to better appropriate it.
It was all the more surprising since they both attended traditional high schools in rather conservative neighborhoods, where they felt, each on their own, very unique.
A few years later, in 1984, when Sigolène decided to study industrial design, Catherine, who was struggling to learn classical singing and was beginning to doubt her choice, followed her. The Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle wanted to train good designers, betting boldly on the autonomy and empowerment of its students.
The school was endowed with great resources and when Sigolène and Catherine entered, some sixty students were frolicking in eleven thousand square metres of space, of which only one thousand were equipped. After a month, the founders of the school resigned and left the establishment to protest against the questioning of their initial project.
So there was a small revolution among the students and the director was fired. Then most of the teachers left, followed by half the students. Those who stayed happily took over the wood, plastic and metal workshops, the huge empty rooms, the terrace, and, with the few remaining teachers, took the opportunity to carry out lots of experiments.
In this soup, the surprise over, Catherine and Sigolène felt good.
With another student, Renaud Supiot, they formed the group Braguette Magique, and made latex jewelry of all colors and shapes: hedgehogs, mice, elephants and spermatozoa, plump, rubbery, pink, blue, polka dots, striped and variegated. Or, a river of strawberries, a necklace in the shape of a highway, and an exceptional piece like the North Pole jacket, decorated with bears and penguins in relief. It was a small underground industry, with cans of latex, plaster molds lined up side by side, and new ideas every day.
Everyone came to see them, try them and even buy them. A friend, Léna Hirzel, a student at the school, suggested that they produce them in series and distribute them. She and her husband, Jacques Guillemet, founded the Pylônes company and started production. The success was immediate. Shops around the world were ordering, and many articles and TV shows were devoted to the three little prodigies whose creativity defied the economic crisis.
All the same, during this time, the school became a school again and Catherine and Sigolène went back to their studies, happy with their small glory and the pocket money that their royalties brought them. And then, five years after entering Ensci, they graduated and were very perplexed about their future.
Where was the beginning?
There was a studio for rent in Catherine's yard, not very big and abandoned, and her parents agreed to pay the modest rent. Repainted, cleaned, and even without heating and without toilets, it was a brilliant place of promise, where they settled with three or four school friends, to face together the great vertigo of the future.
After a few months of somewhat uncertain cohabitation, Catherine and Sigolène saw them leave without regrets. They had made and redone their book, and had shown it to all the agencies that their work might have interested, but no one really followed up, despite the enthusiasm that their (fictional) projects aroused.
The time of the Magic Fly had already passed (no doubt, this idea had been a little overexploited, too quickly, by the Pylons, which gave them a taste for independence, and the desire to anchor their objects in the long term) .
They found odd jobs decorating windows and doing DIY, which were delegated to them. Even if, deep down, they knew very well that they wouldn't get very far like that, they were busy and earned a little bit of money. They had succeeded in obtaining, by producing their Magic Fly prototypes, the status of artists which allowed them to issue invoices.
After a few months, Ensci invited them to take part in a competition open to old and new students. We had to design a trophy for a cosmetics magazine that awarded prizes to the best beauty products. More than ever, the workshop took on the appearance of a laboratory: around a batch of small blistered test tubes found on sale at a glassmaker, they poured resin, immersed fresh flowers and pigments in it, tried all sorts of inclusions and laminations. . They produced three models, and one of the three, miraculously, won the competition, endowed with a prize of two thousand francs.
It remained to produce themselves, and to deliver in due time for the award ceremony, the three hundred copies of their trophy to the magazine. This was clearly specified in their contract, but in very fine print. In their joy at being invited to compete, they hadn't really read it.
From a laboratory, the workshop was transformed into a factory. All sticky with epoxy resin, breathing deeply its scent, they prayed that the weather variations would not compromise the mysterious process of polymerization on which their honor depended. Luckily, the School let them use their sanders and everyone gave them support and advice. The bet was held: the award ceremony took place, preceded by their going on stage, to receive a giant check (in size, not in zeros). Alas, their joy was short-lived: as the trophies were handed out to the winners, some fell apart... Perhaps the glue was too cool, or the weather too wet for it to take. ?
They didn't think too much about it, because a happy combination of circumstances (partly due to their notoriety of Magic Fly) sent them to Tokyo, to decorate a Christmas tree there. It was from this trip that they presented themselves under the name of Tsé & Tsé associés.
On their return, and despite the final small downside, this trophy affair decided them, not without some apprehension, to no longer accept work for others and to concentrate their efforts on their own creations.
The adventure of the Magic Fly jewels also had something to do with it: in both cases, they had worked without being influenced by teachers or clients, without trying to please anyone except themselves, and they had won. They therefore had to immediately give up on making money, remain deaf to reason, in short, and overcome their shyness in the face of the blank page.
Fortunately, they had a lead: all the things they loved. The light garlands dressed in small red peppers seen in the Mexican district of Los Angeles, or the flowers, graceful and a little wild, which they admired in the window of the revolutionary florist Christian Tortu. Or even the stamped ones, an incredible inventory of stamped brass motifs, found in the Temple district, dedicated to costume jewelery and where their workshop was located. There was also cotton velvet in acid colors that they had discovered at a discount store, passing by the infinite varieties of pistils for artificial flowers, meticulously classified by variety in the maze of drawers of an old workshop in Strasbourg Saint Denis. . Etc…
Encouraged by the example of friends who had craftsmen in the neighborhood make small quantities of charming costume jewelry that was hard to come by, they resolved to take the same path for their objects, deciding to put aside, momentarily at least, the idea that they were supposed to work for the industry. They bought small tomatoes and other plastic dinosaurs and strung them on the bulbs of electric garlands, fashioned pockets (for jacket pockets) in the shape of birds, their crests stitched with pistils of flowers, in their expensive velvet, welded on self-formed hairpins stamped in the shape of stars and fish, and then took them to the gilder. They familiarized themselves with invoices, suppliers, and cost prices. Of course, they didn't get paid, and didn't count their working hours, but they marveled at their productions.
They also turned around their little swollen test tubes, glued them together to form, for example, an organ-vase which fell apart as soon as water was put in it. One day, they had the idea of articulating them together, with rings welded to rods as if by a system of hinges. Then they cut into washers a brass tube the diameter of their test tubes, and had them welded to rods which they had cut. Twenty metal elements filled with twenty-one test tubes, repeated, seemed to them to form the right length.
Then, water and flowers, and it was Avril's vase, small, wobbly, but how marvelous.
They had ten copies made and feverishly organized their first sale. In reality, it was a bit of an end-of-year fair: it was July, it was hot, and they weren't sure who to invite other than their friends and family, but they were burning to show and sell their treasures: the vase, but also the garlands that made such a pretty light, the hairpins and all their "creations".
On the day of the sale, their first customer was a graceful dove who entered through the window of the workshop and spent the whole day frolicking in the dishes of cakes they had prepared for their customers, before leaving. go in the evening. In addition to his, there were many visits. You could buy the small April vase, but also order (if you paid half in advance) the larger model of which they had made a model in plastic and cardboard domed in silver.
It was a sufficiently encouraging success for them to put the Avril vase into production in September, of which they ordered fifty copies: a thousand glass tubes (made especially for them, to their dimensions) and a thousand pieces of metal, quantities almost industrial and a fairly reasonable cost price. We also had to think of a box, a text and explanation drawings. As soon as they received their prototype (after a few months of harassing their suppliers who weren't very interested in this story), they mustered up their courage and got an appointment with their favorite florist, Christian Tortu. They went there trembling, carrying their vase full of water and flowers in a mushroom basket by metro. He immediately liked this item and he ordered all their stock. They made the delivery and the next day spent long minutes in front of his shop, contemplating their flower vase by the man they admired so much, who, in addition, had placed in his window a small slate on which he specified that it was a creation of Tsé & Tsé associated.
It was the middle of December 1990.
Christian Tortu, contrary to what they had hoped, did not call them immediately to tell them that he had sold all the vases. With the few copies they had left, they organized their first Christmas sale, which lasted three days. Sent by post, their invitations, small green leaves found in the artificial flower workshop, aroused curiosity. The very clean workshop, arranged as a shop, lit, seemed to them magical.
On display, next to Avril's vase full of daffodils, were gold and silver hairpins, waterproof pocket vases, bird pouches, plastic tomato, dinosaur and onion garlands, and an openwork and polished nickel silver pocket mirror, presented with great care. They followed their rare customers step by step, and explained to them how all their inventions worked. On the evening of the third day, they had collected 13,000 francs, and could order goods again from their suppliers, whose invoices they always paid on delivery, before having sold anything: it was one of their principles. , because, at least, even if no one ever bought anything from them again, they were sure of being able to honor their debts. Fortunately, they did not come to that.
In January 1991, on the advice of their accountant, they began to pay themselves 300 francs a month, a new triumph. And sail the ship...
It wasn't always easy, but they were starting to believe it.
Moreover, if one got discouraged, the other put her back on her feet, because they never got depressed at the same time: that's the advantage of being two. Anyway, they had no other desire than to meet each morning at 8.45 am at the local café, and to struggle all day to bring new objects into existence and sell them.
Passing each other the same pencil in turn, chatting, they scribbled in a large notebook whatever came into their heads. Often, by misinterpreting the sketch of one, the other found a good idea. Bounce after bounce, the drawings flowed, and the project took shape. Then they searched their big bible for suppliers, the Kompass, who could make it. Internet did not exist. They faxed requests for quotes that began with: “Designers from our state…”. As they had no business name, they signed with their two names, and it was quite rare that they were answered. They called back, harassed the switchboard operators, until they got something other than the eternal "This is not part of our fabrications". That, they already knew, since they had imagined a new object; but how, precisely, to make it fit within the framework of manufacturing?
They were less convincing when it came to selling, but it was nevertheless necessary to canvass shops. If Christian Tortu, in his momentum, had bought all their stock from them, there remained an exception. Some, quite simply, did not like their work and let it be known more or less kindly (without managing to make them doubt). Elsewhere, they were given a very small order, derisory, ridiculous, even after having shown boundless enthusiasm. Above all, there were few places that suited their objects: they were not comfortable in design galleries, too trendy, too precious.
They had long since spotted the Sentou Gallery, a bastion of architects and designers from the 1970s, which presented with meritorious consistency elements of wooden furniture, resembling the ideals of a return to the earth and macrobiotic life.
However, there were also paper lamps by Isamu Noguchi, the cast aluminum staircase by Roger Tallon, and furniture by Charlotte Perriand: these three designers had been prestigious references for them since their childhood, and they dreamed to see their objects rub shoulders in the same place.
So they did their best to make an appointment with the young M. Romanet who, they had been told, was replacing the irascible M. Sentou, known for his difficult temper. Finally, they went to find it, carrying as usual the April vase filled with flowers, but no other of their creations, deemed unworthy of inclusion in this temple of design.
Pierre Romanet was very friendly and showed interest in their vase, while remaining rather perplexed, because he found such an object out of place in the gallery whose spirit he wanted to preserve. After considering for a moment to have a copy of the wooden vase made to facilitate its integration, he decided to take the risk and installed it as is on a shelf.
The next day, he called them to order another one, because he had sold it. They ran up, and they picked up the thread of the conversation they had started the day before. A Scheherazade story ensued: every day, for several months, he sold a vase, and they came back to deliver one to him. Each time, they discussed for at least an hour, their respective studies, the future of design, their admiration for Noguchi. They liked each other very much.
They returned home full of enthusiasm and developed, in about a year, the Sloth Vase, the Floating Flowers, and the Skeleton Garland. At their Christmas sales, these objects were appreciated, but they still dared not show them outside. Avril's vase, meanwhile, was beginning a brilliant career in America, in a cutting-edge fashion store in Los Angeles, Maxfield, frequented by stars. Christian Tortu had made him known in New York, where he naturally took his place in front of the sash windows. Thus, every evening, they prowled the Sentier to recover the cardboard boxes thrown away by the processors. They selected the cleanest and used them for their expeditions.
One winter day in 1993, a fax came out of their telephone machine.
Pierre Romanet offered them to hold an exhibition in the annex of the gallery, which served as a showcase for Noguchi lamps. They thought the addressee was mistaken: he only knew of their work the vase of Avril. But the fax was indeed addressed to Tsé & Tsé associés. He went to their workshop and instantly adopted all of their objects. The date of the opening was set for April 1: time was running out to produce press kits, decide on the invitation, and finalize the products, packaging and presentation.
Spurred on like never before, they developed an educational scenography, large blackboards on which the objects were stapled. The Avril vase, for example, was dissected there, in detached pieces on one side, and fully assembled on the other. Squat cutlery framed a fictitious plate and glass, sketched in chalk. Pierre had a small basin built so that the Floating Flowers' buoys could navigate freely among the goldfish. Remembering that they had considered, at the beginning, to sell the vase of Avril by the meter, they had narrow shelves installed along the entire length of the window and unrolled lengths of articulated tubes. The filling was perilous, but the display window streaked with flowers was breathtaking. On the other side they had hung a cluster of Sloth vases, filled with flowering pear branches and pink-speckled fritillaries. They saw for the first time their objects presented with such profusion, and they themselves were dazzled by it. The driver of bus 76 passing in the street must have been too, since he slowed down in front of the gallery to admire the spectacle and share it with his passengers.
On the evening of the opening, they went from shadow to light. Even if their notoriety was very small, the bean they had planted had germinated, the shoot was solid and vigorous: Tsé & Tsé associated existed. The Sentou gallery never really dismantled the exhibition: the objects remained there, and multiplied.