Alexis Mabille has had a busy summer. The French fashion designer was given a month and a half to transform Café Guitry, the bar-restaurant housed at the Edouard VII theater in Paris’ 9th arrondissement.
“I was here every day,” laughs Mabille, who is still tweaking light dimmers and furniture arrangements before the restaurant’s opening to the public on Sept. 25. “It was crazy.”
Bought by Moma Group in March 2018, the former Café Guitry, named after prolific French playwright Sacha Guitry, has been turned into Froufou, a cozy and richly decorated restaurant, complete with a speakeasy bar in its basement.
Mabille took inspiration from architect Carlo Mollino’s family home, a mishmash of fabrics and prints crossing styles and eras, to dream up the décor of the restaurant.
The designer amped up the existing details: He added mirrors to the doors surrounding the windowless room, embellished the central chandelier by adding six kilos of crystal, and rummaged through the theater’s attic, where he found the original wall lamps, dating back to the place’s creation at the beginning of the 20th century.
Modern touches come in the form of chiseled neon lamps at the back of the dining area and electric-blue dining tables, on which Colombian chef Juan Arbelaez will be serving his signature dishes to share, such as a whole monkfish or veal shank cooked with dried fruit.
“I thought a lot about the phrase, ‘to see and to be seen’,” explains Mabille, gesturing to the abundance of mirrors, including a stunning Art Deco centerpiece on the main wall. “I wanted the place to be like Maxim’s during the Belle Époque. It had nooks and alcoves from where you could see the whole party, but also hide a bit if you felt like it.”
The carpet is bespoke, created from a 1910 drawing unearthed by the designer, and features an oversize Bauhaus-style fern on a dark blue background. The large room is surrounded with thick, dark velvet curtains, a blue iteration of the traditional theater curtain.
It’s Mabille’s first restaurant project, after designing a pop-up bar for Cointreau in 2012 and a bathroom concept with Jacob Delafon in 2017. By delving into interior design, he follows the footsteps of fashion designers like Karl Lagerfeld, who imagined a suite at the Ritz Paris, and Christian Lacroix, who decorated hotels Bellechasse and Hôtel du Continent, both in Paris.
The fashion designer, who is a member of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode and has his atelier on rue Vivienne, in the 2nd arrondissement, has always been drawn to interior design. Growing up, he assisted decorator Patrice Nourissat, his great-uncle, on sets.
Downstairs, the bar has direct access to the theater, and will be open to the public in the evening after 11, once the play is over. Burlesque performances and special events will be scheduled on weekends.
“Usually, reception areas in theaters are quite cold and impersonal, so I wanted to give an impression of coziness, to make it feel like someone’s living room,” says Mabille.
The bar furniture is a joyful clash of prints and inspirations. A block of marble sits alongside a marquetry table, surrounded with sofas covered in foliage-printed fabric and leopard-print dévoré armchairs.
“The focus was really on textiles,” says Mabille, who stresses the fact that the project wasn’t just an addition to his couture house. “I was never going to use the same fabrics as my dresses or put bow ties everywhere,” he laughs, mentioning his signature quirk.
The only problem was working with the French textile regulation for public places. “Not all the fabrics I initially wanted were fireproof or wear-resistant. I had to keep in mind that Champagne was going to be spilled and people were going to climb all over the furniture.”
Despite confessing to being more of an opera fan, the designer is enthralled by the Paris theater scene. “There is so much going on,” he enthuses. He plans to see “Le Prénom,” Edouard VII’s current showing, which stars his friend Lilou Fogli.
Next on the cards are a couple of furniture design projects. “It’s an area I’m really interested in, but these projects take time. I still have a fashion house to run,” he says.