If you’ve received an invitation to a party or runway show during the couture collections this week, chances are it was addressed by Nicolas Ouchenir, the fashion industry’s go-to calligrapher. Only 31, Ouchenir handwrites notes for numerous clients including Miu Miu, Azzaro, Sonia Rykiel and François Pinault. For Chanel’s fine jewelry presentation on Sunday, he says, “they wanted very small, very low [type,]” while Roger Vivier requested a font that was “very Faubourg Saint-Honoré, very luxurious” for its event.
But luxury brands aren’t Ouchenir’s only source of income. Frequently he’s asked to transcribe love letters — some Russian clients even provided him with gold-laced ink for the job. This is all to say that Ouchenir spends nine hours a day with pen to paper. “After big jobs,” he says, “I’ll often find myself writing my checks using calligraphy.”
This story first appeared in the July 9, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: How did you get into calligraphy?
Nicolas Ouchenir: I got a job in Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand’s gallery [handling clients]. I started out by trying to copy artists’ signatures, such as Andy Warhol. [Public relations whiz] Pia de Brantes saw my writing and invited me to set up in her office in exchange for handling all of the house’s calligraphy.
WWD: How does your work compare with others?
N.O.: Most calligraphers only propose two or three types of classic character, namely British, which is very flowery; French, the most simple style and Gothic.…I propose tons of styles and like to play around themes proposed by brands.
WWD: How do people react when you tell them what you do?
N.O.: They’re really surprised that it still exists. They think it’s a job that existed centuries ago. Nobody writes letters anymore, that’s why I get a lot of personal demands.
WWD: Has the economic crisis affected business ?
N.O.: I’ve noticed a lot of negotiating. Sometimes I’ll offer just the envelopes, or sometimes brands want only VIPs names to be written in calligraphy, which is not a good idea as other guests might spot that their invitation has been printed.
WWD: When are you busiest?
N.O.: In the two weeks leading up to fashion week. I tend to get to the office at 6 a.m. and leave at 4 or 5 in the morning. Also, it’s not because it’s fashion week that a wedding won’t pop up.
WWD: Have you had any disasters?
N.O.: We’ve put invitations in the wrong envelopes before. I once wrote out hundreds of invites for a lawyer’s firm in Turkey. The woman who traveled with them had a leak in her suitcase and they were all ruined.
WWD: Have you had any unusual requests?N.O.: Sometimes I get requests from people who want me to write with blood.WWD: So did you? N.O.: Yes, but I don’t think it was human.
WWD: Are your wrists covered in case of injury?
N.O.: Yes, I’ve taken out a big insurance [policy].