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Designer Pascale Risbourg has carved out a niche for playful, contemporary wallpaper
In the late 1980s, Pascale Risbourg took part in an exhibition at the Fondation Cartier – then in Jouy-en-Josas, outside Paris. Synonymous with traditional toile de Jouy, or cotton cloth printed with pastoral scenes, typically in blue or red, the town has a museum dedicated to the genre, which Risbourg visited. “Seeing these designs of people hunting, fishing or on swings, I felt they lacked something,” she recalls. “Eroticism!”
A graduate of Paris fashion school Esmod, Risbourg had always been more interested in the research side, tipping over into other media – and a decade after the visit she developed her own decadent toile de Jouy wallpaper. “When you look at it from afar you think, ah, toile de Jouy, but up close you see these little erotic figures worked into the print and smile,” she says. “I feel that there’s often a lack of humour in the design world.”
It was moving to Brussels six years ago that prompted Risbourg to specialise in wallpaper, launching a brand inspired by great brands such as Pierre Frey. “I like to work on projects where I have to learn everything from scratch and I wanted to create a singular wallpaper collection where I could do vegetal designs, graphics and dreamier things. Wallpaper was a domain that let me pursue my eclectic interests.”
Apart from her impish toile de Jouy, which has since become a signature, Risbourg’s designs often reference geometric shapes and Art Deco, or feature lush scenes of nature running riot, from wild artichokes mingling with exotic birds to giant pineapples looming against jungle backdrops.
Demand for her work has risen as wallpaper has come back into vogue – due partly to technical developments such as better glue, and partly the zeitgeist. “People are starting to have fun with the walls of their homes,” she says. “It’s no longer like before when people set up home and kept the same decor forever. A wall is like a painting: every two or three years you change the mood. Wallpaper is a small thing that can have a big impact.”
Her brand’s main showcase is Ixelles boutique Patterns, run by her husband, Christian Giraudo, and stocking vintage and contemporary design, while select French sales points include Paris boutique Au fil des Couleurs. The majority of business comes via decorators and architects working on hotels and shops, or for private clients. “I want this to stay quite niche and rare,” says Risbourg. “Maybe it’s not good business, but an architect told me it makes him feel like he’s done his job because when he shows my work to clients they’ve never seen it before.”
In previous generations, wallpaper was printed with cylinders on a cheap and cheerful industrial level, but that technique has now become scarce. “The new way is digital printing on – in my case – a very high-quality, non-woven paper which is very matt and soft to the touch,” explains Risbourg. “My work is also luxury in the sense that all my orders are made to measure – I don’t have any stock.” Owing to her meticulous approach, Risbourg only produces two or three designs a year. She has been selected by Wallonie-Bruxelles Design Mode business development agency to represent the region at the Maison & Objet design fair in Paris in January.
With her toile de Jouy now 15 years old, the designer recently gave it a modern spin at Brussels fair Collectible, where visitors could use an animation app to bring the wallpaper’s characters to life. While toile de Jouy is an antique tradition, the restless Risbourg couldn’t be keener to embrace new technology. “Today I think we should use technological advances like the higher quality of printing and apps to add value to the wallpaper of tomorrow,” she says. “We still have a lot of work to do!”
This article first appeared in the Wab magazine, autumn 2019