The In-Demand Calligrapher Invites NOWNESS to the Crème of Paris Fashion Week
Leading fashion calligrapher Nicolas Ouchenir gracefully addresses invitations to this season’s most desirable shows and parties in photographer Thibault Montamat’s revealing portraits. For almost a decade the penman has been deploying his chirographic talents to transform the humble invite, envelope or name tag into a work of art for the likes of Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Dior. “Seeing your name calligraphed on an invitation makes you feel desired,” explains the 33-year-old Parisian. “And that’s what everyone secretly wants.” Born and raised in Belleville, where he first started scribbling graffiti on the Metro, Ouchenir is the only calligrapher in town to create bespoke alphabets for each client. “Calligraphy might be an age-old trade but it follows current trends,” he says. “From Gareth Pugh’s violent lettering to Kanye West’s signature-like alphabet, it’s a craft both timeless and ephemeral.” At his atelier on rue St-Honoré, the dashing scrivener opened up to NOWNESS about the intricacies of his scripts and using blood as ink.
How did you get into calligraphy?
I never officially learned it. I’d always had good handwriting and began by writing invitations for art gallery openings. When they were beautifully handwritten, more people showed up. It makes them feel special, truly desired. One thing led to another and I did more and more commissions for private dinners thrown by French aristocrats, for luxury brands… it’s a small world, and there are less and less of us around.
What are you currently working on?
A gazillion fashion show invitations: Sonia Rykiel, Rick Owens, Gareth Pugh, you name it. I’m also in charge of invitations to most of the parties being thrown; there is one organized by Carine Roitfeld and an upcoming dinner by Madame Pinault at the Hotel Jacquemart André.
How do you establish the right script for a client?
I can create an entirely new alphabet, but I usually present my portfolio of existing ones invented by myself. The client might then ask for something in between, the curve of one and the choppiness of another. Hermès picked different elements and requested something “elegant, but not over the top.” Rick Owens only wants stick-like handwriting, which is very tricky, as you have to separate every single stroke, while Miucca Prada wants something young with a college-like, back-to-school atmosphere.
What kind of tools do you use?
Absolutely anything that might create an interesting effect, a single piece of hair, or my fingers. For Dior Homme, I used wooden sticks I carve myself. Once, for a private party, I even used blood instead of ink. Don’t worry, it was cow’s blood. I recently invented a rose-based ink for Lancôme since their logo is a rose.
You write all day. Do you have special treatments for your hands?
My hands are in such pain by the end of the day that I find myself massaging myself in my sleep. I frequently see hand masseuses, and my hands are insured! They’re my most valuable property.