Luminous and genius… Serge Mouille

Iconic design, following the foot step of Calder

La lampe “Cocotte” by Serge Mouille

serge-mouille-lampe cocotte

In 1937 at age 15, Serge Mouille began studying with famous silversmith designer Gabriel Lacroix. Getting his silversmith diploma 4 years later, he worked for different companies and started his own metal workshop and became assistant to Mr. Lacroix. His talents had grown to the point that he created in 1952 a revolutionary stainless steel automobile body, the Zebra. This car was more of a challenge than anything else, and never was intended for production.

That same year, he became director of the silversmith department at the School of Applied Arts in Paris. Soon after, he was commissioned by Jacques Adnet, known for his stylish designs for Hermes, to research and develop lighting designs in reaction to the too complicated Italian designs that flooded the 1950’s market. 1953 saw the birth of his first model, which became his most iconic design, the standing lamp with 3 arms, all ending with the aluminum “nipple” shaped shades. The “nipple,” which maximized the bulbs reflective qualities, hid the wiring deep into the rear portion of the lamp’s head, and allowed the bulb to reflect off of the entire interior of the sensuously shaped head. This concept was often copied in mass-market designs of the late 1950s. Mouille made each of his lamps by hand, and never used machine technology to maximize production numbers. The innate appeal of Mouille lamps was that they were borne of his training in silversmithing and he always considered them art.

Mouille lamps were shown in the Steph Simon Gallery in Paris, from 1956 on, alongside the works of Charlotte Perriand, Isamu Noguchi, and Jean Prouvé, where the French avant-garde looked for inspiration. This collaboration with Steph Simon forced him to solve lighting problems which led to some new models, most of them being favored by modernist architects and collectors around the world. The countless special orders included the lighting design for a lounge of the cruise liner “France”, salon lighting for Christian Dior in Paris, Esso headquarters in La Défense (close to Paris), the embassy hall of the Republic of Central Africa and the Bizerte Cathedral in Tunisia. Actor Henry Fonda was so taken by Mouille’s designs that he camped out on the steps of his work shop until Mouille would take a meeting with him (Mouille was far too busy to make a special lamp for even a Hollywood star) yet Fonda refused to leave and somehow convinced Mr. Mouille to produce him a lamp.

In 1962, Mouille created a new and final line of lamps, called “colonnes” (columns), and kept producing them for the following two years. An attempt to sell them through Knoll International did not meet with success because of the opposition of Florence Knoll. However orders for Mouille lighting continued to increase. Mouille who never stopped teaching and who only produced lighting by hand, could hardly keep up with production. Either he had to industrialize his lamp production, or he had to stop teaching. In 1964, Mouille ceased production of his designs and settled into the life of an educator at the School of Applied Arts. He died in 1988.

No one really knows the entire production of Serge Mouille, but it is very limited, and unique models are sold at six figure prices. Unfortunately, more intentionally aged copies than originals are now circulating around the world.

Serge Mouille received many awards in his career, among them the Charles Plumet Prize (1955), the honor diploma of the International exhibition of Brussels (1958), a gold medal from the Encouragement of National industry (1962), Special Medal of Paris for the Handmade Art Profession. During his intensive researches at the School of Applied Art, and while he was teaching, he never stopped creating monumental sculptures, miniature jewelry, and rare pieces of furniture. Almost instantly recognized as one of the most talented designers of the mid-century, he was constantly asked to exhibit his work, especially after he stopped producing. His family continues to keep his spirit alive in France and around the globe with the newly made edition, made with the same tools Serge Mouille used and created.

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