Low-key sophistication defines the work of design duo Festen—and nowhere more so than in the minimalist, old-world space they call home. Alexandra Marshall reports.

Photographed by Jonas Unger.

A lovely caption.

When Le Pigalle opened in 2015, around the corner from my old apartment in Montmartre, it instantly became my hangout. Many urban hotels aim for cult status with locals. This one delivered precisely because it didn’t—and still doesn’t—feel like a hotel. The lobby, with its terrazzo floor, functions more like a giant café, with sober red velvet banquettes, bentwood chairs, and really good espresso and natural wine. Near the front door, bathed in daylight (when there is any in Paris), is an oversized deep-brown marble table surrounded by mismatched vintage chairs that say, I’m good for meetings if you must. Or for cruising the branding consultants and graphic designers squeaking past in interesting sneakers if you like. “We wanted people to come in and say, ‘Wait, there are rooms upstairs?’ ” says Hugo Sauzay, 34, one half of Festen, the interior design team that gave Le Pigalle the feeling that it had always been there, even when the marble bar was still brand-new. Some of the hotel’s creative team said, “ ‘No, the bar should be shiny’,” Sauzay recalls, “but Valéry Grégo, the owner, got what we were doing and said, ‘Let it stain.’ It gives it a history.”

Sauzay’s partner is Charlotte de Tonnac, also 34, whom he met at Paris’s École Camondo design school. There they ignored each other for four years only to couple up in the fifth, though they had slightly parallel lives, as they explain at their Marais office, just a few minutes’ walk from their shared apartment. Both were scouted to work as models as teenagers and used the money to pay for school, though de Tonnac, who grew up living all over France thanks to her father, a commercial director of a company that made car motors, grew disenchanted with the profession sooner than Sauzay. “I think I liked chocolates too much,” she says, laughing. But mostly she was bored. Not so for Sauzay, who had gotten on a plane only once before he started figuring in photo shoots and who still occasionally steps in front of the camera. “Suddenly I’d be in Japan or New York the next day, and I became curious and learned to adapt to new situations quickly and instinctively,” he says. “I developed an eye for things, like the Anglo-Saxon way of doing really shiny paint, or how Japanese lacquer mixes with light.” Working as a fit model for Miuccia Prada, Sauzay paid attention to how collections got off the ground and continued to develop his eye for detail. He admits this can get a bit obsessive: Watching movies at home has become an exercise in generosity for de Tonnac. “We have watched There Will Be Blood so many times,” she says with a smile. “Every three seconds I pause it and take a screenshot,” Sauzay admits. Another favorite is Steven Soderbergh’s series with Clive Owen, The Knick, set in Victorian New York, with its magnificent butt-joint tiles and opium dens. But Sauzay admits it can be anything: a Ben Stiller comedy, something with Bill Murray, pre-Wes Anderson. “I can watch a whole movie and never pay attention to the actors,” he says.

Knowing when to let a landmark building, or existing treasures, speak as loudly as your own work is a skill not many designers have mastered, especially young ones, and especially in our thirsty Instagram age, where every faucet is brass and every print tells a story and every paint color is boldly arresting, usually all at once. “We live in l’air du temps, but you have to keep your distance,” de Tonnac says. “We do mood boards for projects, and we have to be careful with Pinterest and Instagram. You see the same aesthetic all the time. We want a place to hang on 10 to 15 years at least.” Sauzay adds, “We’re afraid of the fashion effect on spaces. It can be two or three years before something we design sees the light.” It might look great at first, but if it’s too influenced by the color of the moment, “it’s already a has-been when it opens.”

“They have a culture of interior design that’s really French,” says Franck Durand, the art director spearheading a new five-star hotel near the Palais Royal, Château Voltaire, where Festen is doing the interiors. “They can handle classics with a lot of detachment.” The hotel’s walls will be lime plaster, complemented by ivory-painted wainscoting and recuperated old Burgundy stone tiles on the floors. Rather than varnish the oak furniture that will appear throughout, they’ll wax it, lending a subtle sheen to the natural grain and, like Le Pigalle’s marble, allowing traces of use as the years wear on. “We don’t want everything to be custom and perfect—it’s too cold,” Sauzay says.


A caption, excuse me.

Learning how to accommodate historic spaces elegantly is one hallmark of the best of old-country design—Jacques Grange and Axel Vervoordt come immediately to mind, two masters of restrained eclecticism who, it turns out, are North Stars to Festen. “We love to add our one little thing, even though we know a building will one day become something else,” says de Tonnac.


Festen’s small office—a kitchen, the pair’s workspace with a vast oak table, and a larger back room to house their team of up to 10—shares a similar aesthetic with Sauzay and de Tonnac’s nearby apartment, with its eggshell walls, soft modern furniture, and natural tones. “I need visual calm to work,” says Sauzay. “When there’s too much chaos, my eyes sort of chase everything around.” There’s a certain restraint in the duo’s personal style as well. They both gravitate to a bit of vintage—she in jewelry, he in Levi’s—and J.M. Weston shoes. De Tonnac is a fan of the minimalist suiting of Pallas, the bespoke atelier in Paris. In objects, though, she’s more of a collector of books, tchotchkes, and art than her partner. Did it pose problems when they first started working out of their shared apartment? Or again, during the first confinement period in Paris, in early spring of 2020, when the lockdown was really severe and they had to leave their office empty for two months? “Sometimes!” Sauzay says.


“We put a big table in the living room,” says de Tonnac, who has always liked working at home for the inspiration of “being surrounded by the things that you love.” As the pair travels more for work, they keep the accumulation of objects restricted to things that don’t so much just spark joy as memories. “It’s good to have a few really gorgeous objects that remind you of something,” says de Tonnac. “During the first confinement, I dreamed of going to the seaside, so I bought a tiny little painting of the sea,” like an escape inside a frame. “In Sri Lanka we visited the house of the architect Geoffrey Bawa, and I brought back a brick,” says Sauzay. “Literally a single brick. It’s not like my Proust madeleine, but every time I see it, it takes me back to this guy and how he thinks.”

For anyone facing the challenge of transforming their own home into an office, matching big tables are a Festen trick. (The large oak table that dominates the workspace is actually two pushed together to form one.) “It can be a giant desk during the day,” Sauzay advises, “and a giant dining-room table at night. You can load one of the two tables up with books and work things, and then pull them apart to have breakfast with your kids, so you’re not mixing.” “But sometimes,” de Tonnac says, laughing, “there’s just books everywhere and it’s a bit of a bazaar, and you just have to live with it.”

The project that most dramatically changed things for Festen came about in 2017, with Les Roches Rouges, a seaside hotel of high modernism in Saint-Raphaël. “Today, the Côte d’Azur is almost sordid,” says Sauzay. “It has a lot of big yachts. We looked back to the 1950s, when it was really chic, and we asked ourselves, What would we want?” Sunshine. So they enlarged the windows to let the view speak for itself. Because the wintertime waves can come up to the windows, they put in concrete floors. Wood, a favorite element of Festen’s, predominates, as do lovely marble and glazed ceramic tile. For a five-star hotel in a region glutted with over-the-top glitz, Les Roches Rouges broke with the obvious luxury codes, like “five pillows on the bed,” says Sauzay, “or strawberries in the winter.”

Precisely because the Riviera is a complicated place to do low-key chic, Les Roches Rouges became a destination, and its success pushed Sauzay and de Tonnac into another sphere. Where once they did kitchens and apartments, now it’s private homes, like a farm in the Canary Islands and a London town house. The hotels have gotten higher profile too, like the renovation of a 14-room property, Splendido Mare, for Belmond in Portofino; its terra-cotta tile- and wood-veneer samples are all laid out at the office (the hotel is due to open in April). Valéry Grégo, of Le Pigalle and Les Roches Rouges, has also hired Festen for his latest hotel project in Nice, which will be in a 16th-century convent. “The building is a classified historic monument, and they asked us to drill down to uncover the first wall colors,” Sauzay says. They discovered sienna yellow, rust red, deep dark green, and black, which they’ll carry through into rooms they’ve furnished with heavy wooden headboards, nodding back to the sober original furniture. (Gently. While the idea is not to lose sight of the building’s original function, one doesn’t want to actually feel like one is sleeping in a nunnery.) But their approach, even as the sites grow more glamorous, remains essentially humble. “We can really have fun now, working with artisans in the old way, and with more and more talented people,” says de Tonnac. Wood joinery, painting that reveals a bit of brushstroke, things that whisper rather than yell.

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by Daniël Geldenhuys

Photographed by Alexa Singer

Anthony Smith loves a good corner. The streetwear designer’s Woodstock house is on a corner, a flight of stairs leading to the front door bisects the roads at 45 degrees. 2Bop is well known as one of the holy trinity of Cape Town streetwear brands that thrived in the now-closed cult-followed Corner Store. We meet for chai lattes at the coffee place on the corner of Salisbury and Fairview – his suggestion. 

 

The house, like Anthony, is unique and unassuming. Nothing screams fashion designer: the most obvious clue that this is his home would be the Polaroids framed by the stairwell. The arcade games depicted in the Polaroids lived in corner stores under apartheid South Africa, portals through sanctions into the digital fantasies of 80s game masters oceans away. Access was priced at twenty cents, colloquially a 2Bop. “You need to have a concept that that’s gonna keep you inspired, that really resonates with you,” says Anthony of the arcade game aesthetic defining 2Bop’s DNA.

“I like to give my audience the benefit of the doubt. I think they can handle it.”

Pressed to name an all-time favourite game, Anthony chooses Street Fighter 2. “I’ve referenced it like a million times in my work. There’s a nostalgic element to it but it’s also just pure design genius. I could geek out for ages.” Perhaps accidentally, his elaboration on the game’s evolution sounds like a metaphor for the erratic journey that is running a local fashion brand. “You could never really master it,” he says. “You could always improve. There were serendipitous things that happened in the game’s development: a programming glitch where you could do one punch and it would go straight into another. People started mastering these things and it became a part of the strategy.” 

 

Of course, running a South African label means you need to do a lot more than have a strong concept that fuels your creative direction. The business savvy necessary to support creative outputs - an entrepreneurial role young designers are forced to adopt - has been a part 

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Model Juliana Coetzer wears pieces from 2Bob's Blue Sky collection.

of Anthony’s story since he did “the sensible thing” and enrolled in UCT’s BComm degree after high school. Half way through second year “I basically smoked myself into obviation.” The situation spiralled: Anthony put his course on hold, moving home to Port Elisabeth to recalibrate. When he returned to UCT it was to study Film and Media, levelling up with an Honours in English Literature, his thesis on the commodification of hip hop culture. 

2Bop was born in 2004 as a side hustle. Four years later, Anthony partnered with graphic designer Bradley Abrahams to work on the brand full time. In 2011 they opened Smith & Abrahams, “a modern take on the classic mens’ outfitters,” in Woodstock. Sneakers, streetwear and magazines were sold in the front, and 2Bop was manufactured in the back. “I think it was a bit ahead of its time,” says Anthony, though even then reporters lauded the space for its ‘cult following.’ That following multiplied in 2016 when Anthony and Bradly parted ways and the space became Corner Store: a home for 2Bop, Sol-Sol, and Young and Lazy. All three brands were (at least partly) produced and sold on the premises, and for a time it was also home to a design agency - easily Cape Town’s coolest creative space. 

 

Corner Store closed in 2018, not necessarily for lack of business, but more the challenges in finding common ground between three businesses at very different stages of their evolution (Sol-Sol, for example, is 10 years younger than 2Bop). Does Anthony miss having a physical home to sell his product? “To be honest, no,” he laughs. “A lot more work goes into managing a retail space for relatively small returns.” Selling online, he admits, isn’t as easy as it may seem, explaining that a lack of physical presence can be detrimental to moving product. Still, just shy of a month after our meeting, the AW19 Blue Sky collection is almost completely sold out on 2Bop’s online pre-orders. 


Freed from the admin that is boutique retail, Anthony enrolled in Threads, a fashion business accelerator course/competition hybrid by Standard Bank. 14 weeks of coursework compiled by an Italian university spanned traditional lectures and field trips across the country to fabric manufacturers and retailer head quarters. “It was kinda like a mini MBA,” says Anthony, confirming that he’d finally reached a place in his life where he could thoroughly appreciate a business course. And though he’s definitely too humble to mention it, he walked away 

with first prize, which included funding to participate at a trade show in Paris, a popup at Patta in Amsterdam, and a fancy Benz to drive for a year. 

 

“There needs to be an incubation program for young entrepreneurs,” Anthony muses. “I get approached about once a week by a young entrepreneur who needs guidance - I don’t have the time or resources. There are a few corporates that are planning to initiate incubation programs - I’ve written proposals for how they could operate based on what I’ve seen and what people ask me.” The ideal program would need to involve the perfect mix of education and funding: “A lot of people come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Being able to develop their first range in a risk-free way would be ideal. Maybe the first range is 100% financed, the second 50%… there’s all sorts of models you could use.”

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Model Juliana Coetzer wears pieces from 2Bob's Blue Sky collection.

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A key ingredient in 2Bop’s success may well be that its creator has never been seduced by the fashion industry’s false promises of glamour and status. “I never thought of it as going into fashion,” Anthony says of starting the label. “To this day I don’t see it that way - I see it as a medium to express design ideas. I tend to take my inspiration from other media like art or music. I’m not saying other fashion designers don’t do that, but I’m just sort of oblivious to what’s happening in that fashion world – I almost don’t consider it. I think for me it just feels more honest, not being aware of what other people are doing. I feel you can get influenced like really easily, even subliminally – it can be kind of dangerous that way. Things are just more honest if you look elsewhere.”

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