France-Amérique: You designed Version française to be a “news show for French-style chic.” What does that mean?
Katherina Marx: This show explores the full richness and diversity of the French creative scene, including gastronomy, design, architecture, fashion, and artisanry. Each episode is divided into several sections. “Point de vue” is about my favorite things at the moment; “Le geste” focuses on artisanal products; and “Tous au musée” takes a closer look at a specific institution, such as billionaire François Pinault’s Bourse de Commerce in Paris, La Piscine in Roubaix, or the Château des Milandes in Dordogne, where Josephine Baker once lived. There are far more museums in France than you might think! Each episode is also organized around an in-depth profile on a special guest and my interview with them. We want to give just as much attention to haute couture as street art! I do not want to produce a show that deals exclusively with the premium market. I believe that culture and art have nothing to do with luxury. The urban collages by Fred le Chevalier are just as interesting as the furniture by designer Hervé Van der Straeten, who only works in the high-end sector. The Claudine collar, embroidery, ceramics, and even pastries all have their place on this show.
For a long time, you started each episode by saying that foreigners are the best suited to speak about France. Why is that?
Simply put, because the French are masters of “French bashing” and struggle to recognize everything their country has to offer in terms of scenes, talents, and creativity. Thanks to their points of view and perspective, foreigners are perhaps best-placed to realize how exceptional France really is. I am German and have lived in Paris for some 30 years. I consider myself to be a Parisiennne, which does not mean “born in Paris,” but rather that I love and know the French capital in my own way. I do wonder if I have become too close to have an objective critical opinion, but I still marvel at the city’s light and beauty on a daily basis. And I know what I am talking about, as we frequently film outside all year round.
Why did you choose Paris as the setting for your most of your stories and interviews?
Paris enjoys an international reputation and acts as a magnet! We filmed a few special episodes in London, in New York City, and in the mountains, and our journalists sometimes cover topics elsewhere in France. We recently featured a “lifestyle stroll” through Toulon and a visit to the Majestic hotel in Cannes. But everything centered around design is based in Paris. That being said, with the pandemic, lots of designers – both young and not so young – left the capital to live in the countryside. These artists and artisans still go to Paris for commissions and to meet with gallery owners, but they also draw creative inspiration from their new surroundings and from nature. We decided to follow this trend, which meant traveling to where today’s designers are.
You are always on the lookout for “the artisans forming France’s beating heart” and “places that contribute to the country’s prestige.” How do you choose them?
The special guest has to be passionate about what they do and have a sufficiently developed creative world for us to devote a segment to them. For example, we have interviews with leading names such as architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte and interior designer Jacques Grange. These creatives have an established talent but are constantly questioning themselves and looking to develop their work. We also focus on up-and-coming figures such as Nathanaël Désormeaux and Damien Carrette. In our most recent episodes, we met young designer Jean-Simon Roch, winner of the 2016 Prix Emile Hermès for his range of simple but zany games. We also interviewed Philippe Perissé, a fashion designer inspired by the heroines of the 1920s and 1930s, and Julia Sedefdjian the youngest Michelin-starred chef in France. I love the show’s variety!
You recently completed the ninth season of Version française. How has the cultural world that you follow changed over time?
I’m seeing more and more young people going into manual trades, the arts, and craft sectors. They are deciding not to spend their lives in front of a computer, and want to do something with their hands. In return, these young people bring their own unique way of doing things to the world of heritage, along with a fresh vision, new technologies, and new materials. They are renewing the old ways of doing things, and I think that’s brilliant. In Normandy, Pauline Esparon makes incredible sculptures using raw, unspun linen, and her bench seat L’Ecoucheur has been accepted into the French government’s Mobilier National artisanry department. And that is just one example! There is also cabinetmaker Anna Le Corno and sculptor Lauren Collin, who works with paper. Paris is also changing, and so are the people. I now use a bicycle to get around, and I am discovering a side of the city that I never saw when I took public transportation. I am constantly finding new, fascinating, surprising places. These include the Musée de l’Histoire de la Médecine, housed in the former School of Medicine, an apartment once owned by architect Auguste Perret in the 16th arrondissement, and painter Amédée Ozenfant’s house in the 14th arrondissement. This latter building, designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, is magnificent.
What message are you trying to communicate with this show?
Version française is a staunchly optimistic and positive show. We offer an upbeat, exciting vision at a time when most media do not – this is a stance we have chosen. We attract a vast audience comprised of professionals in the sectors we cover, such as architects and designers, who are looking to stay abreast of new trends in France. Lots of expats also watch the show to reconnect with part of their culture. I try to appeal to anyone curious. French chic is often seen as nonchalant and unconscious. A pinch of extravagance in an otherwise formatted environment. But it is also something rather clichéd and highly fantasized. We provide a different perspective by showing everything novel and unique that France has to offer.
In fact, how do you explain the aura that French art and artisanry enjoys internationally?
Despite everything going on in the world at the moment, France has managed to keep its traditions alive. These include sharing meals together around a table, or eating things that have been produced fairly. There is also a huge range of cultural activities open to all. Many countries are not so lucky in this regard. Look at mosaicists, look at young craftsmen making chandeliers – they work in the pursuit of excellence, exceptional detail, and precision. France deserves this reputation and I don’t think that it is going to lose it anytime soon. What’s more, the government encourages the transmission of skills and the training of new craftspeople. It is part of the national culture.