NICOLAS OUCHENIR IS THE UNASSUMING MAN BEHIND THE INK THAT BRINGS THE FASHION WORLD TOGETHER WITH HIS BEAUTIFUL HANDWRITING CELEBRATED ACROSS THE INDUSTRY. IT IS OUCHENIR’S PENMANSHIP AND KIND HEART THAT HAVE EARNED HIM HIS STATUS AS PARIS’ MOST SOUGHT AFTER CALLIGRAPHY. FOR OVER A DECADE, HE HAS BEEN CONCEPTUALIZING LOGOS, DEVELOPING BESPOKE FONTS AND ADDRESSING INVITATIONS FOR SOME OF FASHION’S BIGGEST NAMES.
words by YASMIN ZEINAB photographed by FREDERICO MARTINS
Tucked away off Rue Saint Honoré Ouchenir’s atelier is one of organized chaos, around his desk sit piles of paper and pens scattered among rows of inkpots. Amid his many tools is a small collection of pens that hold sentimental value to the artist. As he begins to explain their significance, he stops to shows us his weary hands that are ink stained after hours of writing, yet there is still a huge smile across his face. It is easy to see that Ouchenir is a man of passion as he ecstatically floats around the room showing us his latest projects.
As we talk Ouchenir is multitasking, meticulously writing one invitation after another while we chat away about his love affair with calligraphy and everything in between.
“The way you write, it is the first personality you have in your life, it is your own production,”
says Ouchenir. Yet he cannot remember when he first put pen to paper, as calligraphy has been part of his life from an early age. But it was not until he started working at Jean-Gabrielle Mitterland’s gallery that his skill truly materialised. It was there that he drew his early inspiration and first used his handwriting to communicate with the gallery’s guests. “Working in the gallery was a very important time for me, being surrounded by contemporary art I could travel and experience different worlds with out moving,” he recalls.
Since his time there, Ouchenir has become Paris’ highly prized calligrapher working with an impressive list of clients including everyone from Prada to Dom Pérignon. His work is forever in demand in an increasingly digital age where personalization has become key in luxury. It is his ability to create highly customised fonts that sets him apart from others in his trade, with no limit to what can be designed. Despite his success Ouchenir remains extremely humble and respectful of his profession’s tradition. “Calligraphy is the science of making beautiful letters and traditionally a calligrapher is a public writer so I need to respect that, “ he asserts.
True to his word Ouchenir can often be found at events with his ink bar sharing his handwriting with the wider public. While we talk, he jumps up from his desk and shows us customised cards he wrote on the spot for attendees of a Hermès event. To his right sit a seemingly endless stack of invitations that took the penmen three days to complete. When asked about how he cares for his hands after writing for hours a day, “massages” he is quick to reply but then later admits, “I make love and that is it, it fixes everything.”
In a world overrun by technology, Ouchenir believes calligraphy will always have its place.
“It is necessary and it is forever, you are going to write, your sons are going to write, writing is never going to die, ”
he affirms. For Ouchenir calligraphy is alike to a second language used to express oneself in life’s most important moments. “When you want to say something important and you are not in front of the person you want to communicate with, you have to take your pen and your blank piece of paper and write, write down your feelings.” The art of calligraphy is always playing two roles explains Ouchenir, “it can be about creating collective memories with my clients, using the art to create brand recognition but also an exclusive and deeply personal experience for more private affairs.” His private commissions are without constraints with everything from love letters, gravestone inscriptions and tattoo designs asked of Ouchenir.
It is clear that he has an endless appetite for bizarre requests, revealing his strangest commission to date involved swapping his conventional ink for animal blood. When asked about what he writes in his personal time, he laughs, “I have no more personal time,” he divulges. As we part ways Ouchenir playfully rattles of the list of projects he must complete before tomorrow. One has to wonder where he finds the time to sleep.