The fashion designer Paul Poiret – who liberated women from their corsets at the turn-of-the-century, draping them instead in yards of fabric and kimono-style jackets – commissioned Robert Mallet-Stevens in 1920 to build a Modernist Art Deco villa, his first large project, Château de Mézy. “It was all-white, pure, majestic and a little provocative, just like a lily” wrote Poiret. Building began in 1922 but came to a halt in 1923 when Poiret experienced lack of funds. Sadly, Poiret would never see the realization of his dream villa materialize when he was forced to file bankruptcy in 1926 amidst his failing fashion house. It sat abandoned for several years until actress Elvire Popesco purchased the carcass in 1934. But it wasn’t until after the war that architect Paul Boyer was called upon to complete the villa according to Mallet-Stevens’ vision. The only embellishments made to his original design were references to the ubiquitous cruise liner, an emblem of its era. The actress lived at the villa until 1985, where after it sat abandoned until it was purchased in 1999 by a patron of modern art, who later sold it in 2006. The last owner undertook a meticulous restoration of the villa according to Mallet-Stevens original plans.
“Smooth surfaces, straight edges, sharp curves, polished materials, right angles, clarity and order. This is my logical, geometric house of the future” said Robert Mallet-Stevens. Poiret commented that “All the materials were brought to the work site and the house grew out of the ground like a living plant under the tender care of its prestigious architect, Mallet-Stevens.”
One of two lounges is designed at a right angle and boasts a 23 ft. high ceiling and floor-to-ceiling picture windows set in black metal frames; glass doors lead out on to outdoor terraces that run along one side of the villa, opening up to an expansive natural habitat; the sculpted, curving staircase is elegantly monastic in its simplicity; Streamline Moderne railings are outlined against a porthole window; another lounge features expanses of glass, very modern indeed for a home of 1922.
The design of the villa was devised around a central patio and grew organically from that idea. Rows of olive trees inspired by the Cubist gardens at Villa Noailles in Hyères were planted by the last owner. A viewing platform affords a panoramic view of the Seine valley.
Château de Mézy – 0r Villa Poiret – is as relevant today as ever, with its crisp, elegant lines and reductive sculptural forms. It is but one of three residential commissions in private hands still standing. In my post Monsieur Moderne we visited Villa Noailles designed around 1923. The third, Villa Cavrois, was commissioned in 1931, which we will visit in my next post.
Photos courtesy of Patrice Besse, Parisian real estate.