If you come upon a traditional mas in Provence with three cypress trees, consider it a hopeful sign. According to lore, this trio was a symbol of hospitality. One enchanting example is Le Mas Méjean, a 250-year-old home in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, triangulated by the slender trees that Van Gogh had a penchant for.
Fashion and interior designer Agathe Lazaro grew up here, and the home’s soulful energy, fairy tale setting, and ability to gather French artists of the 1970s, was the foundation from which her career bloomed. Lazaro, who currently lives in Melbourne, still designs clothes, travel bags, and towels, and some of her pieces are carried in our marketplace.
We connected with Lazaro to talk about her early years in St. Rémy and her magical childhood home of Le Mas Méjean.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE GROWING UP IN LE MAS MÉJEAN?
Agathe Lazaro: “I had a fantastic childhood. This house is a second skin to me – I know who comes in, from which door, and whether they are returning with shopping bags or not. As soon as there’s a bit of Mistral wind, I know which direction it comes from, how strong it flows, or which shutter is banging. The house is absolutely embedded in me. I still listen to jazz on my dad’s old speaker looking out to the garden through the bay window that replaced the barn doors. I remember that on his 50th birthday he was gifted the billiard table that now holds a central role in the living room. The billiard games went deep into the night, well after the cicadidaes were asleep.”
So the creative mood has been [in St. Rémy] since Van Gogh really, and before. The light is special, so you always had artists. It was a small community, and in the ‘70s the gallery Noella Gest was the heartbeat of these mingling artists. I remember as a kid running around in the archive rooms during long lunches with wine and olives for hours. My childhood was like that: surrounded by artists in a pretty idealistic setting.”
WERE YOUR PARENTS ARTISTS?
AL: “My dad owned a factory named Herba-Blainco, at the terminus of the train station, where he used to manufacture and created new seeds for vegetables, fruits and flowers. He used to walk to the factory and on his way, every field was for testing his bulbs and seeds. He and my mum used to go to Chelsea Flower Show in London, and pick up stock of old rose varieties. And that’s where my mom made her nursery, within the two hectares of land where the mas is nested. Fifteen years after that, in ‘82, my parents discovered India.”
WHAT BROUGHT THEM THERE?
AL: “They went with a painter named Pierre Lesieur, and together they went everywhere in the country for several years. My mum had the soul of an artist and she fell in abyssal love with India; she chose to bring home the many treasures discovered during her trips, like the maharaja armchair in silver in the living room. Then she transformed her 300 sqm nursery into a shop, and swapped the flowers for antique glass, furniture and all kinds of things from India that she brought back in one container every year for 20-odd years.”
TELL US ABOUT YOUR PARENTS’ OTHER HOUSE, IN PONDICHERRY, WHICH IS ALSO A BOUTIQUE HOMES PROPERTY.
AL: “When my parents acquired the house on Evêché street, in 1994, they placed all their love for India into its restoration. From a dark four-room ground floor building they transformed it into an open space, two-floor house. An exceptional French Ebonist, dear friends of them, came to India to help them and actually never left Pondicherry. Together they restored the building, respecting traditional methods, like the “Madras Ceiling,” but also the staircase being a replica of a Chettinad palace, the traditional cement coloured floor polished with coconut fibres, and so on. All the rooms are large and generous, and filled with sunlight. They are decorated with treasures gathered from their many Indian wanderings, most that can’t be found anymore.”
WHERE HAS YOUR CAREER AS A FASHION AND INTERIOR DESIGNER TAKEN YOU?
AL: “Right after business school graduation, I found myself importing from Madras and wholesaling antique-style furniture to interiors boutiques all over the South of France. But the world was too vast, and India was calling. So at 24, I packed up and left, thanks to a Nice customer who commissioned me a container of furniture and objects from India. After a couple of years I was manufacturing and designing collections for international buyers. In ’02, I opened a shop in Delhi with a few designers from France and 40 tailors. I did a world tour with our first collection of clothes, going to Paris, Hong Kong, and LA.
“My surrogate godmother was the head chief of French Vogue in the 1980s and she said, “Make what you want, don’t hold back.” That first collection, Paillette Géante, was a happy success, but I didn’t know if I wanted to stay in fashion. I wanted to dress women like me, where the clothes fitted in the expression of their style, not the other way around. Then I met my husband in Jaipur, and my world turned upside down, the choice was clear.”
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH THE HOME SINCE IT BECAME YOURS?
AL: “My parents are gone now, and I have tweaked a few things, but most of it is exactly what my parents did. I created and added the cushions, curtains, bedcovers, and repainted most of the rooms, like the large mauve bedroom. That one was a challenge, as I had to explain to the painter over the phone what colour I had in mind, and luckily, he translated it perfectly.”
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE ROOM?
AL: “If related to childhood memories, then my favourite room was the TV, mainly for its sofa, where as a kid I used to fake being asleep, and wait to be dragged out on my dad’s shoulder and to my bed. I remember watching westerns on Friday nights; my dad and I loved the westerns. We were both horse riders.”
DO YOU NOTICE A TREND IN WHO COMES TO VISIT LE MAS MÉJEAN?
AL: “I know the visitors who really fall in love with the mas are the one sensitive to its poesy, the sounds of the roubine, the majestic ancient plane tree, the many spots to linger and enjoy the garden. Of course, some of them have been actors, restaurateurs, musicians, and photographers, but they mainly are lovers of a certain bohemian style and are not interested in bland, creamy, grey, metal ‘contemporary’ sterile commodity.”
WHAT IS THE NEXT JOURNEY FOR YOU?
AL: “My family came to Australia for school and the youngest one is 11, so once he’s through, then we’ll go back to Le Mas Méjean, probably try to live in France and see what happens. I would love to create a beautiful park and restore the greenhouses, the former nursery, and the ponds. My husband Desmond is a contemporary artist and a talented teacher; we dream sometimes of offering workshops around his knowledge of traditional miniature paintings, and the making of natural pigments. So it could be the focus of the next life cycle, returning… who knows?”
To stay at Le Mas Méjean, click here.