Interview with Atelier Choux’s co-founders, written by Georgie Abay in July 2020. See the article on The Grace Tales.
One year after Daniella Gelman met her now husband, she moved from New York to Paris to complete her MBA. The Franco-American couple had always dreamed of setting up a creative workshop (in fact, it was something they discussed on their second date), and when they later became parents, suddenly it felt like their dream could turn into a reality…
In 2016, luxury French baby brand Atelier Choux was created, inspired by the products they wanted to have for their son. “Like many first-time parents, we were very idealistic and wanted to design his nursery with our tastes in mind. We imagined a whimsical world inspired by the architecture we see on a daily basis in Paris – but adapted for kids,” she reflects.
Today we speak to them about what it’s like being a parent in Paris, and why French parenting has a reputation for being strict and discipline-oriented. And finally, how they came to work with renowned artist Mattias Adolfsson.
Your professional life had led you and your husband into “conventional” careers – when did the idea of an “atelier” begin?
Working in an “atelier” or creative workshop together was the topic that my now-husband and I instantly connected about on our second “date” in 2009, after meeting the evening before on the Lower East Side in New York. I was working in financial services but taking night classes at the School of Visual Arts in metalworking, focusing on large scale furniture. Nicolas was working as a consultant in Paris but was also enrolled in a continuing education class focused on woodworking. Exactly one year after we met, I moved to Paris to complete my MBA. We got married in 2012 while the “atelier” remained an “idealistic idea” until 2016!
Have you always had a creative and entrepreneurial side?
Absolutely. I grew up in the early 90s following all the creativity in the beauty sector – when brands like Urban Decay, Hard Candy and so many others were just launching. I kept clippings of all the magazine articles and still have them today – I was and still am a “magazine clipper” and hoarder of visual inspiration. I’m sure many feel the same way – but wish I had had the insight then to create Pinterest! Entrepreneurship has always been my passion – it’s amazing how early on in life one can feel these reflexes.
You began your business at the beginning of your leap into parenthood – what was it like doing both at once?
The idea stage felt very natural since the inspiration behind Atelier Choux came about when we began thinking about products we wanted for our son before he was born in 2014. Like many first time parents, we were very idealistic and wanted to design his nursery with our tastes in mind. We imagined a whimsical world inspired by the architecture we see on a daily basis in Paris – but adapted for kids.
On the practical side, the stress of our conventional careers at the time we become parents pushed us to determine if we would ever be able to support ourselves with our own creative activities. This part is the hardest part of juggle – and my feeling is it’s best done gradually. We did a lot of research from the idea stage before our son’s birth and only officially launched Atelier Choux in early 2016, about 9 months before the birth of our daughter.
You moved to Paris – a dream for so many – was it a dream? Can you share any of the challenges you faced relocating to a new city?
It was a dream in many ways but came with all the logistic challenges of immigrating to a foreign country. I am not a natural at new languages and it is still a challenge to deal with true administrative issues in French, although it does get easier over the years. Paris is a beautiful, romantic, touristy city but securing a visa, bank account, an apartment and navigating the healthcare system are all very un-romantic experiences! There are, of course, many daily pleasures that come with living in Paris – walking anywhere and taking in the incredible architecture and statues, Haussmannian apartments with high ceilings, fresh produce, charming shops and an amazing selection of activities for children – from intricate carousels everywhere to beautiful parks and museums. I don’t take any of that for granted.
What’s it like raising a child in Paris? How would you describe the French approach to parenting?
I believe French parenting has a reputation for being strict and discipline-oriented. Good manners, table etiquette and respect for elders are all important. I see this from my parents-in-law, sister-in-law and parents at school. I wish I knew the French approach better in practice as our household is a mix of parenting styles, with myself as a “softy” and my French husband as the one who “means-business”. We are all “night-owls” and “dreamers” which can make schedules and bed-times difficult. I cannot blame our children too much for rebelling against schedules and early mornings as they get it from us. I do think a tough, disciplined, French approach can be very beneficial. I’m hoping to try it on our third, due at the end of this summer.
How did you come to work with Mattias Adolfsson?
We were fans of Mattias’ work well before starting Atelier Choux and had several of his books. We had once gotten in contact with him about purchasing a print for our living room. When we were expecting our first child in 2014, I imagined one of Mattias’ prints (called Pedestrians*) on crib bedding. It’s hard for me to let go of my “visions” and kept insisting how nice it would look. The idea for a baby and children’s brand around Mattias’ work evolved after that. During that 18-month research phase at some point, we jumped on a plane and went to meet Mattias in Sweden. The whole experience was thrilling, I’ll never forget that feeling of possibility.
You buy all raw materials and make the finished products from A to Z – why was local manufacturing so important to you? And tell us about what you’ve achieved in terms of the production of your products? What prompted you to ensure the global organic textile standard (GOTS) and the oeko-tex standard 100 in your product?
We started manufacturing locally as a matter of necessity – no “large” factories would work with us in the beginning and we also wanted to work side by side with a team to ensure we could achieve the finished product we had in mind. A chemical-free, organic cotton base was essential, and luckily these days it is not terribly difficult to find partners who can provide this option. Product safety is paramount of course, and we use organic cotton whenever it is feasible.
We are now privileged to work with many small factories, from those who weave the fabric from raw cotton, a selection of printers and confectioners. We are really proud to support local factories and small sewing companies in France. The process is not always flawless and it is a challenge achieving perfection across many partners. It remains an artisanal process.
Your Atelier Choux boutique was a dream come true – can you tell us about the store?
The small space gave us an opportunity to create a dreamy space to welcome our customers and partners. This was the moment where we could finally put our physical “Atelier” dreams on paper, by designing ornate cabinets with animal carvings and with clever trompe-l’œil spaces, including two hidden doors and an expandable “comptoir” (counter) to maximize the tiny space. The carvings are supposed to reflect the space’s Renaissance influences, with a sense of humor. The pastel color palette, intricate carvings and colorful Murano chandelier have become part of our brand identity.
Talk us through your product offering?
Our range has grown since we launched our first carrés (swaddles) in early 2016. At that time we didn’t know anything about textile manufacturing and thought a 1 meter x 1 meter square of fabric (in organic cotton, complicated enough!) was an easy-enough canvass to showcase our prints. It took some time to get to where we are now in terms of print quality and softness, it was by no means an easy journey but working with local partners allowed us to learn and evolve quickly.
From our carrés we moved into bibs, bedding and wall decor, which established our point of view in the nursery and children’s interior space. Clothing was a natural extension and we now offer a selective range of seasonless, gender-neutral clothing in many of our prints.
We see Atelier Choux as a playful, lifestyle brand and have since launched temporary tattoos and wall art. The new product launch path is based on our personal whims and the products we want to use at home as our children grow. New products in process include beach and bath towels, along with twin bedding. We are aiming to get parents more interested in our products too, with whimsical prints that work for the living room along with ceramic tableware.
Finally, what’s it like being a parent in Paris right now – what has your COVID-19 experience been like?
COVID and the confinement experience has taught us so many things – about our priorities and of course all the little things in life to be grateful for. We were extremely fortunate not to know anyone with serious health complications, which of course changes everything.
Like for many parents, it was difficult to be confined with our two young children while managing home-school and our business, especially during my second-trimester which has been particularly tiring. We also had plans to open a second, lifestyle-oriented boutique but had to suddenly put that vision on hold.
Like many families, we really enjoyed the extra quality time we suddenly had together – baking with our children, gardening on the balcony, playing board games, etc. I believe this experience has somewhat “reset” our priorities, slowing us down a little and forcing us to be more present. Health and family are paramount, and COVID-19 has definitely reinforced that.