Portrait by Mostafa Ahmed.
Louis Barthélemy is a multidisciplinary artist and designer based between Marrakech, Cairo and Paris. At the core of his practice is a deep commitment to the preservation and revival of traditional crafts that are threatened by globalization. Barthélemy not only collaborates with artisans around the world but helps to make their work known, safeguard their livelihoods, and pass on their precious expertise.
It was as a French teenager growing up in London that he first began to travel through worlds and cultures. Barthélemy could not get over the intricate workmanship of the samurai armour on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and became obsessed with the British Museum’s Egyptian collection, dragging his parents along weekend after weekend to stare in wonder at the Rosetta Stone.
While enrolled in the fashion design course at Central Saint Martins, Barthélemy began to work with Dior as a scarf designer. For four years he juggled Paris with London, office work with study time, finally graduating in 2012 with a collection in which he imagined 19th-century femme fatale Countess Castiglione waking up in the 1970s to become the toast of the Palace, a pioneering decadent Parisian nightclub.
Although he continued to design prints and scarves for Salvatore Ferragamo and Gucci after John Galliano’s departure from Dior, Barthélemy became increasingly disillusioned with the fashion industry. After a health scare which reset his priorities and provoked a hunger for authentic, human experiences, he established himself in Marrakech, a city whose gentle energy he admires, and began to travel the world in earnest.
A love affair that took the young artist and designer to Cairo in 2017 soon ended, but not so Barthélemy’s fascination with Egyptian culture and crafts, which would lead to collaborations with traditional artisans in Cairo, the Nile Delta and the remote Berber oasis town of Siwa. Further creative partnerships followed with craftspeople working in a variety of mediums in Morocco, Lebanon and Syria.
“I am attracted to regions of the world where people know that their lives hang by a very slender thread”, Barthélemy declares. “Everything worthwhile follows from this: trust in fate, belief in friendship, an instinct for kindness and the appreciation of beauty. I try to embed this lesson in everything I make”.
Portrait by Yann Deret.
Video by Laura Taccari for Harpers Bazzar Italia, July 2021