With its versatility lending itself to a variety of techniques, the humble piece of paper is the most widely-used material in arts and crafts, the possibility of creation with it seemingly infinite. Cardmaking, origami, sculptures, scrapbooking, even clothing… talented papercrafters are breaking boundaries and taking the ubiquitous craft to a whole new level.
Angela Sara West chats with Parisian papercraft perfectionist, Mathilde Nivet, about her designs for luxury brands, including Chanel, Louboutin and Bulgari and her stunning installation, The English Garden, recently on display in London’s prestigious Burlington Arcade.
Paris-based paper artist, set designer, illustrator and art director, Mathilde Nivet, cuts no corners with her wonderful work. Her show-stopping creations have graced the windows of luxury fashion houses, including Louis Vuitton and Guerlain, numerous campaigns, and the pages of high-end publications, including Vogue, Le Monde and Vanity Fair.
After graduating from Paris’s École Duperré, Mathilde began working and creating with her passion – paper. Her unique style and skill rewarded her with early success. “I started playing with paper 15 years ago while I was doing my textile degree. I chose to work with old letter envelopes and everything started from there.”
From intricate origami jewellery and delicate floral arrangements, to fairy-tale paper castles and entire lantern-lit miniature cities, her varied, exquisite paper designs demonstrate the creative possibilities and detailed aesthetic the medium offers. “What I love most is ‘thinking with my hands’, finding new ideas during the process by creating. Also, for me, paper seems to have no limits… I always find new things with this material. Paper is synonymous with beauty and freedom… Paper is the best!”
Mathilde’s elaborate constructions and illustrations take visual merchandising to a whole new level. Her incredible pop-up technique combines folding, découpage and montage to create three-dimensional architecture, often on a very large-scale. Her stunning style has been described as ‘dreamy, romantic and intoxicating’. Mathilde, herself, describes it as ‘delicate, feminine and sensitive’, and it’s not hard to see why prestigious names, such as Hermès and Bulgari, are adorning their windows with her exceptional creations.
In 2017, Mathilde suspended more than 300 paper birds over the entire length of London’s prestigious Burlington Arcade in the heart of affluent Mayfair. Last summer, the Burlington Arcade was delighted to present her stunning installation, The English Garden, composed of thousands of beautiful flowers and leaves.
“England is famous for its charming gardens,” Mathilde explains. “This was something that struck me the most the first time I came to UK, and the magnificent London parks still continue to inspire me today. With this art installation, I wanted to pay tribute to the beauty of the English garden.”
Entirely made of paper, the drawing, assembling and installing of the two installations required hundreds of hours of work. To create her inspired designs, Nivet starts with a sheet of paper and turns it into the unending sculptural shapes and patterns that form her poetic work. The delicate results require an intense process of drawing, cutting and gluing before they are meticulously assembled and arranged.
“I chose flowers which I believe symbolise the essence of English gardens. In these two installations, you could find hydrangeas, anemones, wisteria, yarrow, dogwood, iris, clematis, morning-glory and, of course, beautiful roses. Nature, and flowers especially, have always been a key source of inspiration for my work and have been present in my art from the beginning. There are strong connections between my paper art and the floral world as they are both ephemeral, graceful and fragile. In addition, there is perfect harmony between my creations and the craftsmanship that is synonymous with The Burlington Arcade.”
“It was a fun project to do, because with big projects such as this, I hire a team of five or six freelancers and it’s always a great time working together. It was a bit like working in a flower shop, so kind of a dream!”
Inspired by nature, Japan and contemporary art, she’s also hugely influenced by other papercrafters. “I love the work of my friend, Benja Harney (Paperform). I’m also impressed by the artist Fideli Sundqvist and the Japanese brand, Terada Mokei. On Instagram, I’m amazed by the sculptures of “woodlucker”.”
Mathilde’s two go-to trade fairs are FIAC in Paris and the Art Biennale in Venice. The secret to her phenomenal success? “A lot of work! A different use of colour, a more personal way of treating the representation of elements, by being more sensitive and delicate maybe. Also, as I started before most of the paper artists, I’m maybe more experienced!”
There have been a fair few impressive highlights during her career in papercraft. “My first window display in 2008 (for the Post Museum’s shop in Paris), my first work for a luxury brand (Bulgari in 2011), my first collaboration with Hermès in 2011, my first magazine editorial in 2012 (for Madame Figaro), and when I was commissioned to conceive and produce a set for each of the 36 window displays for Chanel Jewellery in 2013.
How does it feel to see her stunning creations displayed in such prestigious venues? “I feel so proud (as does my mum)! It’s also a big opportunity to work with these brands because their people are so interesting and educated, and they have the budget for really good projects. I also feel proud to be a part of this very long tradition of French craft excellence.”
What’s currently on her cutting mat? “My favourite tools are scissors, more than cutters or a scalpel. My favourite paper is classic Bristol 180gr. I love all the techniques! My favourite things to make are flowers, any kind of flowers or trees. My favourite project, therefore, is The English Garden, but also some pictures I made for Louboutin and the Birds projects I made for Le Bon Marché and the Burlington Arcade.”
What can we expect next with Mathilde Nivet’s magnificent projects? “Several installations and window displays in Paris, but I’m not allowed to say more!”