Last fall as I was writing about the history of the the luxury linen house D. Porthault, I became intrigued by the company’s incredibly chic and elegant owner, Joan Carl. In 2005, Francophiles Joan and her husband Bernard purchased D. Porthault with a vision to preserve the venerable 90 year-old French company. As a loyal client for over 30 years, Joan combined her her passion for Porthault with her background in fashion to expand Porthault’s global reach. In 2009, she was awarded one of France’s most prestigious honors, the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, in part for her work in restoring the house of D. Porthault. Today I am thrilled to welcome Joan to The Glam Pad for a Q&A!
Q: When did your love of D. Porthault begin, and what do you love most about the brand?
A: My love began as a young child when my mother first taught me that making my bed could be fun and a chance to mix and match the flowers on my sheets! (My mother was a gardener and she loved the prints of D. Porthault.)
Perhaps what I love most about Porthault is threefold: the color and whimsy of the prints – be they florals or not; the quality of the materials and workmanship; and now, knowing and working with the craftsmen and women who create the products – all by hand – in France. The artistry, workmanship and personal connection to Porthault touch me deeply and make me extraordinarily protective of the brand.
Q: What inspired you to purchase D. Porthault?
A: My introduction to and developing friendship with Marc Porthault (the son of founders Madeleine and Daniel) inspired me to purchase the company. Marc knew me first as a client and trusted that I would honor and grow the legacy of his parents’ business. For me, it was a natural fit.
Q: Please tell me about your love of all things French.
A: My love of France probably goes back to my childhood days when my father spoke of his travels to France and I began my instruction in the language, which I find beautiful. (I have been on the board of the Alliance Française de Washington for over 15 years.) My first trip to Paris was with my sister in 1966, and everything about the city captivated me – the lights, the architecture, the food, the fashion, the parks and the museums. For someone who is visual, a romantic and interested in history, the elegance, refinement and art de vivre of Paris was intoxicating.
Q: I understand you and your husband are restoring the Château de Champigny and its 200-acre walled grounds in Champigny-sur-Veude, in the Loire Valley. Please tell me more about the château and how the renovation is progressing.
A: Yes, a little history of a property I am passionate about –
The Château de Champigny rises from the site of a second century Gallo-Roman camp (the derivation of Champigny) and rests too on the foundation of a medieval castle built in the 13th century.
In 1508, Louis I and Louise de Boubon-Montpensier laid the first stone of their late Gothic, early Renaissance style château, joined by a royal chapel and a U-shaped building for the property’s concierge, guards and royal stables. (The spectacular stained glass windows of La Sainte-Chapelle de Champigny) are thought to have been created by the same atelier responsible for the windows of La Sainte-Chapelle on the Île de la Cité in Paris.)
In 1626, a wedding was arranged between Marie de Bourbon, the remaining heir of the Bourbon-Montpensier family, and Gaston d’Orleans, the son of Marie de Medici and King Henry IV of France, and the brother of King Louis XIII. Cardinal Richelieu officiated. One year later, Marie died at the Louvre, giving birth to her only child, Anne Marie Louis d’Orleans, Duchesse de Montpensier.
A power struggle caused Cardinal Richelieu to wrest the property in Champigny from baby Anne Marie’s hands, despite his being her godfather; Richelieu subsequently destroyed the Renaissance château, but the other buildings survived, and Anne Marie reclaimed her ancestral home after the Cardinal died. Instead of rebuilding the original château, however, Anne Marie renovated (re-purposed!) the royal property’s Renaissance stables, or ecurie, as one of her homes outside of Paris. This is where we live today. (Only tower remnants mark the outline of the former 16th century château.)
Anne Marie is celebrated in French history as La Grande Mademoiselle. (Her younger cousin would become King Louis XIV.) My daughters and I have enjoyed reading Anne Marie’s Mémoires – especially her personal reflection that “I am never bored by anything … I am very brave … I have great courage and ambition.”
In addition to King Charles IX, King Henry IV, King Louis XIII, King Louis XIV, Catherine and Marie de Medici and Cardinal Richelieu, visitors to the château and chapel over the years have included Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Dwight Eisenhower. At least two Popes have held Mass in the chapel, and the French expressionist painter Chaim Soutine found refuge in the château during WWII. When we are in Champigny, a sense of history is palpable.
Q: Your personal style is so incredibly chic. Where do you find your inspiration, and what are five timeless staples in your wardrobe that you could not live without?
A: Thank you! Perhaps my background in couture and my constant travel, with its need to edit (!) my selections and to be prepared for many varied events, has defined my look. I tend to start with clean, solid color palates – black, white or camel – both in pants and tops, and accessorize from there. Hermes scarves are my go-to accessory, and I often look at them to inspire my day’s wardrobe. I’ve also learned that dresses make me happy, so I always pack one or two when I travel, and rely on them to add a punch of color and pattern to my mix of solids. A basic blazer and a good coat that can go over it all are also essential! (Footnote: when I was the couture buyer for a store in Washington, D.C., I bought my first Chanel suit in Paris. I chose a bright pink suit. My boss wisely told me to buy black… it would serve many uses for many years and always look as elegant as the day I purchased it. I never forgot that lesson.)
Q: When you are not at D. Porthault, how do you enjoy spending your time?
A: Visiting with my family and friends, traveling, gardening and reading. I would like to start painting again, but I have not had the time. (Because I have always loved to draw, my family has given me colored pencils and books to work on when I travel.) My husband collects vintage cars, and we love to go on small car tours around the world. I am my husband’s co-pilot, and we have had many adventures on the back roads of Scotland, Italy and France!
Q: My friend Jessica Chaney tells me you are an avid and accomplished needlepointer. When did you begin to needlepoint, and do you have any favorite pieces?
A: I have always worked with textiles – having learned to sew, tailor, make buttonholes (!) and cross-stitch at an early age. But interestingly I did not learn to needlepoint until about 10 years ago when my daughter taught me on a flight from NY to CA. She had been taught by her grandmother (my mother!) and patiently took me through the steps. It has become one of my favorite pastimes when I fly or listen to the evening news – a restful and enjoyable opportunity to work with colors and designs.
One of my favorite needlepoint pieces is one I designed and gave to my son in honor of his winning an award for his book on Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo. Other pieces are those I designed for my grandson’s nursery, for my younger daughter who wanted to introduce brighter colors into her apartment, and for my husband and myself – reminding us of our several trips to Venice.
Q: I can hardly wait for Porthault’s new book to be released next fall. Can you tell me a little about what it will contain?
A: The book will be the first of its kind for D. Porthault. It will tell the story of Porthault’s history and illustrate its unique production – from its design atelier in Paris to its weaving, finishing and printing factories in Cambrai and Normandy; and it will showcase Porthault’s products in homes and gardens here and abroad. We have photographed linens in the dining room, bedroom, bath and nursery, as well as on the balcony, terrace, lawn and around the pool. We are thrilled that so many of our clients and designers were excited to be a part of this venture. It has been a joyful and wonderful collaboration among the D. Porthault team here and in France, the author Brian Coleman, the photographer Erik Kvalsvik and all of our loyal and enthusiastic clients.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: Of course I could go on (!), but perhaps at a later time. I am fascinated by art, history and textiles, I am motivated by design and color, and I am an avid researcher and restorer. This has all drawn me to D. Porthault and propelled me to preserve, grow and share the brand’s unique qualities with others.
Thank you so much Joan for letting us into your magical world! You are truly an inspiration! When she isn’t in France or the Hamptons, Joan and her husband reside in Washington, D.C. To learn more about D. Porthault‘s fine linens, please visit their website, and click here to read my post on the history of the company.