duendepr.com news April Vase : the story

April Vase : the story

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If you like short stories, the April Vase can be summed up in a few words: designed by Sigolène Prébois and Catherine Lévy in 1991, the distinct April Vase comprises 21 tubes and is inspired by Japanese ikebana. Its shape is adaptable and enables each flower to be isolated and therefore glorified. The metallic rings slot together providing infinite flexibility for composing your arrangement. You can add or take away segments. It was an immediate success in France, the United States and Japan before joining the permanent collection of the Centre Pompidou in 1997. The April Vase remains one of the era’s most enduring icons. The story does however merit closer inspection…

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-       ‘Catherine, I’ve found a school without lessons, timetables or grades.’

-       ‘I’m coming!’

In 1984, Catherine Lévy took classical singing lessons, Sigolène Prébois wanted to become a designer and Ensci – Les Ateliers opened with an iconoclastic director, Patrick Bouchain. The two friends chose it for its curriculum that evolved on a day-to-day basis. French industrialists like Thomson who regularly visited to propose briefs to unsure students supported the school called for by President Mitterrand. Under the watchful eye of a director who asked them to do absolutely the opposite of what they were advised. The experience lasted 6 months before Patrick Bouchain’s resignation resulted in a holiday period that was key to Sigolène and Catherine. They used the workshops and their free time to design a collection of jewellery in colourful latex while waiting for the new director, 100% handcrafted. The latex was poured into plaster moulds. It was a great success. These two exuberant girls, along with their friend Reno Supiot, called themselves Braguettes Magiques to launch the collection.

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With the confidence of youth, they featured on all television channels seen as an antidote to the recession and resulting doom and gloom. The astounding Jean-Paul Gaultier made no mistake: he asked them to create latex finery for the show that he produced with the choreographer Régine Chopinot. Léa, a friend from Ensci, and Jacques Guillemet who founded the brand Pylônes immediately after this smash hit, launched Braguettes Magiques. A big success that taught the future Tsé & Tsé a fundamental lesson: whenever they do what they want, it works.

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They graduated in 89, rented a Parisian studio on rue du Vertbois and began to experiment. They created and designed of course, but they also explored the Temple area looking for materials and objects for reinvention: a batch of 200 test tubes was turned into the first collection of April Vases. ‘When we finished the prototype, it was immediately evident that we had something. We danced for joy. Catherine took it everywhere with her, including to restaurants, in a basket with water and flowers!’ This succession of tubes is incomprehensible to the general public if it is not filled with flowers. Design shops were rare at the time. A few baroque galleries, the windows of major museums… But the king of style and trends was a florist. Christian Tortu got it and immediately fell for them, ‘He bought up all the stock without hesitation. 50 vases. And started to put them in his shops to present his flowers.’

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This was the beginning of the success story and the problems that went hand in hand with it: the industrial production of a hit. The Internet did not exist. Manufacturers were found via Kompass, the bible of suppliers, sold at a premium and therefore ‘borrowed’ from a friend. A shoe buckle manufacturer produced the metal pieces. A man who did not directly make them, but outsourced them produced the tubes. He proposed extraordinary meeting places to deliver the goods at motorway rest areas so that Tsé & Tsé did not find out the real manufacturer.

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Oh yes, where did the name Tsé & Tsé come from? The word sounds like a real 50/50 partnership, between two young women. Madame Tsé and Madame Tsé design. Catherine had a family connection that got the vase to Maxfield, the luxury concept boutique in Los Angeles that set a benchmark. There was a horribly uneasy and apprehensive meeting with Tommy Perse during fashion week in his Parisian hotel. The Californian sovereign agreed to take 12 to please Aunt Natacha who provided all the fabric for French prêt-à-porter in that period. The following week, he ordered 24 of them, then 48 and then 96. The ball started rolling. In New York, the vase perfectly matched the typical sash windows. Anyone with taste in Soho had to have an April Vase in their window. In Tokyo, Fumie Shimoji opened a shop selling ‘objects’ and produced books about Tsé & Tsé, that brought them pop star recognition. The two designers were stopped in the streets of Tokyo for their autographs.

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And Paris ? Sigolène and Catherine dreamt of a shop bringing together all that they loved: the lightness of Noguchi lamps, the industrial beauty of Roger Tallon staircases, Charlotte Perriand armchairs. This gem existed but it was run by the irritable old Mr Sentou, who only spoke to DPLG architects, trapped customers in the shop and did not want to hear about anything other than what he already knew.


This was until the young Pierre Romanet took over the reins of the brand. After negotiation, this furniture and wood expert accepted a preliminary glass vase. It sparked a revolution. He sold it. Took a second one and sold that too. And so on, until one day in ‘93 when he proposed an exhibition to Tsé & Tsé. The April Vase took over the window displays along with the first Skeletal Garlands, the aptly named Windfall Hanging Vase and Floating Buoys, small rings of blown glass where flowers are laid. The success was such that the window display remained for years. In the mind of a Parisian, a Tsé & Tsé ‘objet’ is a must, like the irregular Famished crockery china.


After this commercial success came institutional success, joining the Centre Pompidou collection in ‘97. Tsé & Tsé set up their workshop in a slightly dilapidated industrial building near the Bastille. A Wikipedia page was then created. They are now celebrating the 25th anniversary of cheerful and fiercely independent creation.

Photos credit Vase d’Avril Tribute :

1/ Astier de Villatte Untitled

2/ Eric Benqué « miroir, miroir, »

3/ Elizabeth Garouste « Bon anniversaire »

4/  Zoé Rumeau Untitled

Vase d’Avril 25 th anniversary at Merci

from may 2 to 6

Vase d’Avril tribute by Manish Arora, Astier de Villatte, Alexandre Bailhache, Sam Baron, Eric Benqué, Laurence Brabant, Benjamin Charavner, Marie Christophe, Philippe Decouflé & Alice Roland, Florence Doléac, Elizabeth Garouste, Sébastien Gaudard, Christian Ghion, Iegor Gran & Emma Siniavski, Marion Graux, Henriëtte H Jansen, Kiko Herrero & Serge Ramon, Grégoire Kalt, Shinsuke Kawahara, Ali Kazma, Emmelene Landon, Nathalie Lété, Jose Lévy, Le Tone, Katia et Tatiana Levha, Macon & Lesquoy, India Mahdavi, Frédérique Morrel, Aurore de la Morinerie, Valérie Mrejen, Kevin Pourtout, Fabrice Praeger, Zoé Rumeau, Agathe Saint Girons, Hirohito Saito & Clément Calaciura, Gabrielle Soyer, Reno Supiot, Godefroy de Virieu & Stefania di Petrillo et Lamia Ziade