First thing observed when entering Samuel Gassmann’s apartment in Paris is its scale. He and his wife Donatienne eat, live, sleep and work in their 45 m² home, which is quite big for Paris’ standards. “We love this place, but it’s getting too small, especially with the baby”, which brings us to the second observation: Love. Their home is filled with it. You have to love what you do and be passionate about it when your whole life is dedicated to the creation of something as small and extraordinary as cufflinks. For three years the duo has been working on the expansion of their accessory label.
Nowadays their planning got a bit more complicated after Donatienne gave birth to their first child, referred by Samuel as their Bébé d’amour. “I started working at the age of 30. Before that, I was taking care of my father during the daytime and at night, I was out drinking and dancing. But since Donatienne and the baby came into my life, everything has changed.”
Congratulations on the baby! Your home is where the magic happens: living and working.
SAMUEL: Absolutely. It’s our home and atelier.
DONATIENNE: We adore this apartment, but we have to move out pretty soon. It’s getting too small.
SAMUEL: After my father had passed away, I moved to this studio. I love living and working here together with Donatienne.
DONATIENNE: Three years ago I worked at the boutique of the French perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, the place where we met.
SAMUEL: I didn’t buy anything in the shop. I wasn’t interested in perfume. I only had eyes for her.
DONATIENNE: [laughing] One year later, I quit my job and decided to help Samuel with his label.
SAMUEL: Last year was amazing. We got married, and we now have a baby boy.
You do everything together, but I’m curious to know: how does one end up making something as niche as cufflinks?
SAMUEL: After studying Art History at La Sorbonne, I began working as a curator for numerous contemporary art exhibitions and a freelance journalist for Arte’s Metropolis magazine. For a documentary project, I started thinking about the smallest masculine element I could find, which is a button and began researching its origin. I couldn’t find any information on the subject, so I said to myself, “I want to produce a button, just to be able to understand it.” During this period, I also developed an interest in the pre-French Revolution laws that told people how to dress up during different times of the day and occasions, from the morning to the evening, during sports events or for formal occasions such as visits to the court. This gave me the idea to explain the meaning of buttons by using a particular set of rules. When someone told me my buttons looked like cufflinks, I started my line of cufflinks, becoming artisan and designer by accident.
DONATIENNE: Behind every collection, there’s a story. But there’s no story on cufflinks. Every fashion brand does them and every time they end up being objects without meaning. By creating new stories, Samuel can give them meaning.
So there’s a story behind every pair of cufflinks you design? That’s where your background as a journalist and a curator comes in handy.
SAMUEL: I do not see any real difference between my job as an artisan today and my previous jobs. My way of working did not change at all: before I create, I still sit down and carry out my research, finding the meaning of a collection, in the same way, I would have started working on the background information for a documentary. I’m an artisan who loves storytelling. When looking at men’s attire, there’s a story behind every garment. Jeans is sportswear, so I have created matching cufflinks to go with the casual look. You wouldn’t wear sapphire cufflinks with jeans, now would you? It just wouldn’t make any sense. It’s all about finding the perfect cufflinks that give meaning to the rest of your wardrobe. I’m not obsessed by it; I just want to understand the shape, the materials and the lines to be able to take it further concerning colour, etc. My job is about defining and redefining the meaning of cufflinks and to create stories around them. I came up with rules based on observations that I like to use and re-use in every collection, making every button look different.
How important is it for the wearer to follow your specific set of rules?
SAMUEL: It isn’t. It’s cool to follow my rules, but to be frank: I don’t care. I want my designs to be rational and coherent. The materials used to refer to a specific moment of the day, and the colour relates to a particular mood. It’s about going back to the origin of things. When a designer creates a collection, everything is thought of, except when it comes to cufflinks. They are considered by-products, mere accessories. No brand create their cufflinks, they source it out. Same goes for ties, 99% of which are boring. In France, you have two companies that produce ties for Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Lanvin, etc. It’s absurd and super interesting, this whole format process in fashion. Nowadays the fashion industry works in a very industrial way.
We don’t need cufflinks; they are entirely unnecessary. They are luxurious and, therefore, brilliant!
If fashion is characterized by industrialisation, why did you choose an artisan approach? How do you beat your competitors?
SAMUEL: Well, since I’m the only artisan, there’s no competition when it comes to cufflinks. [laughing] In a sense my label is comparable to big brands because we work with the same suppliers and we strive for the same high quality and precious materials. I don’t like to say it, but we are more upscale and luxurious than the big brands, for we work in very small and limited quantities.
Have you ever considered working for a big company?
SAMUEL: I tried it a few times. I already came up with a morning shirt suited for cufflinks for the Japanese label Arts & Science. It took me 1,5 years to develop it because I really wanted it to be perfect.
DONATIENNE: We have a couple of Japanese friends who told us they love Samuels cufflinks as a gift on the chimney, for they don’t have the proper shirt to wear it with.
SAMUEL: Most shirts are designed to be closed with a tie, but nobody wears a tie no more, not even Obama, the most important man in the world. So all shirts with collars look terrible when worn without a tie. After I created the morning shirt, I have created four more, one for the day, the evening, the sport and apparel or pomp and circumstances or ceremony. I’m going to present them at the upcoming Paris Fashion Week.
The perfect cufflinks go with the perfect collared shirt, only to be worn at a specific time a day. It sounds bizarre but also intriguing. The label ‘Created by an artisan in Paris’ make your objects even more desirable.
SAMUEL: Buyers and clients love to hear that they are made in France. The reason for this is purely pragmatic. When you’re a small company, it’s easier to get things done next door than to take it abroad. This way I can control the process and double- check it. My buttons are made by the best artisans who work for Chanel and so on, fabricated with the best materials. And as I said before, our cufflinks are so high class; you can’t go any higher. The absurd thing is, people won’t even notice you are wearing them. I even had to create the perfect shirt to wear them with. We need to eat, to drink and to live. But we don’t need cufflinks; they are entirely unnecessary. They are luxurious and, therefore, brilliant!