Updated: Apr 19, 2021
Jean-Michel Frank lived fast and died young. He was a self-trained interior designer based in Paris and Argentina from 1932 to 1941 whose work is characterized by its elegance, and sensuality. He combined unusual materials such as straw, eggshell, shagreen, parchment and mica, to create unique, modern interiors. Despite his elegant streamlined designs, he is often excluded from the modernism club, for being too deco. As in Art Deco.
Jean Michel-Frank's brief life was marred by tragedy. He was born in 1895 to a wealthy, Jewish family who had immigrated to France from Germany. During WWI, his family was placed under house arrest due to their German citizenship. As a result of their financial ruin, his father committed suicide in 1915. That same year both his older brothers were drafted and killed in WWI. After his father’s death his mother was institutionalized and died seven years later.
His luck turned around when he inherited a significant amount of money in 1920, enabling him to travel and meet Eugenia Errazuriz, the woman who introduced him to the world of interior design. His elegant, understated interiors with their unusual materials made him an instant design superstar. In 1930 he partnered with the decorator Chanaux to form the company Frank and Chanaux. It was extremely successful with projects for the most stylish Parisians such as the Guerlain family, the Rothschild and Rockefeller families and Elsa Schiaparelli. Sadly his good luck ran out in with the arrival of WWII. He and Chanaux were forced to close their company in1939. He fled to Argentina, where he worked on one of his most important interior design projects for the Born family. The family loved his work so much that the apartment interior remained unaltered in 2019.
Considering his tragic childhood it is not surprising that Jean-Michel Frank struggled with depression and drug addiction his entire, adult life. He committed suicide in 1941. After his untimely death, his work fell into obscurity. In the late eighties designer Andree Puttman re-discovered his furniture designs and promoted his work for her company Ecart. Thanks in no small part to her vision, Jean- Michel Frank became fashionable again.
In 2011, Hermes re-released furniture originally designed by Jean-Michel Frank for the company in 1924. In 2019 pieces from the Born family collection were auctioned at Christies for 1.6 million Euros. Re-issues of Jean Michel-Frank designs are still available today through Ecart International. Thirsty For More? Get the recipe for a Whiskey Sour here
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