Cover The living room highlights a a handmade Braquenié carpet and vintage armchairs

In this exclusive interview, Countess Isabelle d'Ornano, founder of luxury label Sisley, shares with Anton San Diego a glimpse of the beautiful world she lives

While she was on a trip to an undisclosed location, Tatler caught up with Countess Isabelle d’Ornano who, together with her late husband, founded the US$750m skincare brand Sisley. The elegant and stylish maven talks about her signature style and her take on beauty, art and design. She also gives a glimpse of her personal life and the interiors and living spaces she has created, as seen in her book, What a Beautiful World! Throughout the colourful tome, readers are in for a delightful immersion in the “d’Ornano universe”.

Anton San Diego: How do you define your aesthetics or style?

Isabelle d’Ornano: I like beautiful places. There are also two (more) things I like: beauty and cosiness. Defining (aesthetics) depends on where you are decorating a house. Is it in the city or the country? I wouldn’t arrange a place in Paris like I would a home in Australia or by the seaside.

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ASD: Would you be able to define beauty? What is beautiful to you?

IO: It’s a difficult question because it’s so subjective. One person could find someone (simply) beautiful, and another could see that same someone ultimately (essentially), differently beautiful. It’s the same thing for art, too. Sometimes, you had an idea (or standard) of beauty. Now with contemporary art, it entirely depends on the person. Art now is more on the concept, so some people might understand the idea while others might not.

ASD: How do you choose objects to put in your space? What qualifies them to be in your room?

IO: I like mixture. I find that anything you want to live with is good to put in your home. There’s a particular atmosphere. I’ve always mixed things from different countries. I wouldn’t say I like monochromic, only modern or old, or only French furniture. I like originality. I like things that are original and mixed with fantasy. I like things which are a bit different.

ASD: Do you think that there are still originals?

IO: Yes. There are still some artists who have original pieces. Perhaps, the originality comes from the mixture; it comes from the unexpected. I put together two things which are not meant to be together. But there must be harmony, and all this must be in the balance of colour.

Beauty relates to life, and as I said in the book’s introduction, “Beauty is the sign that creation has a purpose”
Isabelle d'Ornano

ASD: Where do you usually shop or source? You travel a lot for sure.

IO: Yes, I used to travel a lot, but I travel less now. I have many things, so I’m not looking for (more things). I look for pieces of art like pictures, for instance. I collect some art and could always add an image I like. I also want to encourage young artists. I like to watch what they create.

ASD: How do you ensure a balance between luxury and cosiness in your home and the spaces you create, like the Sisley headquarters in Maison Sisley Spa?

IO: It comes from the decoration. It would help if you had a home where you could sit and a lamp next to the armchair where you like to read. Your decor should serve your lifestyle. You don’t have to live for the decoration; the decoration must live for you.

ASD: Do you have favourite artworks in your home?

IO: In the book I’ve just published, What a Beautiful World!, you don’t see much of the art on the walls; but I have a picture I love by Peter Doig. I also like the one by Anselm Kiefer. I also like things that are less valuable but are helpful. I don’t think I have many things I don’t like in my house.

As for creating the atmosphere at Maison, Sisley is a bit like my home, which means more straightforward. It shows that you can create the same atmosphere without spending more. It’s not always a question of money. Of course, to have a beautiful space is a question of money, but then what you do inside is not. That’s my big theory. It can be (that) you know you can have wicker chairs with beautiful cushions, and it could look better than an elaborate designer armchair.

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ASD: Have you always used colour in your homes?

IO: Yes, I have always liked colour, but it has evolved. I like mixing contemporary with, let’s say, antique. Now I would buy more contemporary (items) because it amuses me more and I also think it’s a way to help young artists.

ASD: What are the most inspiring cities for you and why?

IO: I’ve travelled a lot for business, but there are a lot of places in the world that I don’t know as yet. I’ve never been to Australia, for instance, but I would love (to go). I’ve been told that Perth is beautiful. I like New York because it is exciting and an excellent place for opportunities. For cosiness, I like London. For beauty, I like Rome and Venice and I like Vancouver. I like Rio. Spain has charming cities like Granada and Sevilla. It depends on the purpose: for travelling or for living in. Of course, Paris is the most beautiful city in the world. I was thinking the other day how truly blessed I am to live in this city.

ASD: How important is living in a beautiful world to you and your family? And how does this relate to the brand as well?

IO: We’ve been privileged not only to live in a beautiful world because of the beautiful places in our houses but also to have beauty in what we do in life. The fact that we like beautiful objects is also why we want to do beautiful, high-quality cosmetics.

ASD: Since when have you been doing embroidery, and what made you interested in this craft?

IO: I do petit point embroidery, and it’s a meditation. It's good for the mind. After the Second World War, people who escaped the camps had bad mental conditions.

Men and women back then used to make petit points because it’s very repetitive. (But) I invent my designs.

I’m incapable of drawing, but I can do things on canvas. I never watch television, a series or a film without embroidering. I’m (always) surprised at the outcome. I also often embroider words on the cushions; as I say in my book, they are a bit like postcards. I give a lot of them away. People love them.

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ASD: And how important is it to add elements of nature to your space, like plants and flowers?

IO: A beautiful plant in the house is like having a beautiful sculpture. Plants are essential in
the interiors. They add a lot, especially in the contemporary interiors that look pretty empty. Sisley is based exclusively on plants and plant extracts, so plants have become very important to us. Plants have everything human beings need. It’s all a question now of technology and endless discovery.

ASD: Can you take us through the evolution of why you wanted to write a book? And now that it’s finished, what are your thoughts on it?

IO: It’s good. It’s amusing that when one finishes a book, it’s like you had brought up a baby. It doesn’t need you anymore. There was someone who did beautiful books in France about decoration for two to three years and would ask me to do a book with her, and Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery signed the book with me. And as I said, she does beautiful books, and I was touched by the fact that she wanted to do a book with me so much; so I thought, I’ll do the book, but I didn’t want to put in prominent theories about decoration. I would say my book is more like poetry. It’s a sort of scrapbook about beauty. The next thing I’ll do, perhaps, is a cookbook.

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ASD: What would you want people to get from your book when they go through it and see your life and design?

IO: When you have a book about decoration, you always are looking for ideas. So, I think they might get some pictures from the book; but apart from that, I have put in something more—a bit of my vision of life. Beauty relates to life, and as I said in the book’s introduction, “Beauty is the sign that creation has a purpose”. The design could have been done precisely without beauty, but why is beauty added? And as human beings, we can add beauty to the world. It’s very mysterious and profound. Beauty comes out in everything: in people, in architecture, in objects, in flowers... This is what makes the world go round and continue.

Beauty comes out in everything: in people, in architecture, in objects, in flowers... This is what makes the world go round and continue
Isabelle d'Ornano
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