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Find out whO hidES
under your wool blankets
Following on from the interview with our founder Charlotte Huyghues Despointes, now it’s time to lift the veil – or the shawl – on her partner and co-founder François-Xavier Watine.
FRANÇOIS-XAVIER, WHO ARE YOU, AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
I am a photographer, the founder of a creative agency, and the co-founder of La Maison de la Maille. I live in Paris and I also work for other small promising brands in the luxury and top-of-the-range sectors like Dior, Baccarat and Moleskine, among others.
I first came into contact with photography when I was barely 10 years old. I was in a public garden when I found a camera abandoned under a bench. My mother took it to the police but they told us to keep it, it became my first camera.
After other equally exciting discoveries, a period spent overseas and a few lovely years with Numberly, a digital marketing agency, I set up on my own. I initially didn’t even dare to dream of making photography my profession, but neither had I imagined being able to live one day from blankets and fresh water [editor's note: translation from a pun that also barely makes sense in French], being surrounded with loving alpacas. Everything happened naturally.
HOW DID IT COME ABOUT THAT YOU FOUNDED LA MAISON DE LA MAILLE ?
Charlotte had already been a longstanding friend when she called me one day to tell me about her wish to create a brand of wool blankets. At that point, she wanted me to help her with everything related to the photography side, but also for marketing advice. I told her that I would be too expensive for her (laughs), so I would help her for free, as a friend. One thing led to another, and the idea of me founding this ethical and ecological luxury brand with her became an obvious choice, even though I began the conversation by asking her to remind me what a throw was. We all have our blind spots. (If you too are wondering what a throw is, read this article on the history of the wool throw). Nowadays I can’t do without our blankets, both in summer and winter. They have a cocooning effect on me which is like a meditation session.
The most surprising thing is that I have recently discovered that I had this in my genes. A few weeks ago I came across a photo of my great-great-grandfather and learned that he was the founder of a spinning mill called Filatures Boutemy. The company was created in 1860 and employed as many as 2000 people, before shutting up shop in 1934, as a result of the First World War and the 1929 crash. Despite this, during its history the company left its mark on the history of spinning, and was awarded numerous prizes for its know-how, including a gold medal awarded at the prestigious Paris Universal Exhibition of 1878. It was a close call for us to work together to produce our beautiful woolen blankets, just 100 years.
ARE YOU HAPPY?
I am happy and proud of what we have created with La Maison de la Maille. Myself, Charlotte and the whole team share the same values, both from an ethical standpoint and on the essential contributions required to establish a luxury brand, and our uncompromising attachment to respect for nature and the quality of the product.
Since the brand was founded, our philosophy has been to create the finest wool blankets in the world, with absolute respect for the planet and the animals, while also promoting local know-how. Our mission is to keep you warm without warming the planet. This seems self-evident now, but ecology was not so fashionable when we started out. Our philosophy has not budged an inch and has never been dictated by communication concerns. We are a very long way from the green-washing that certain brands are involved in. The early years were difficult, because producing in France, in a responsible manner, without compromising on quality in any way, even with very small margins, obviously supposes a cost, sometimes difficult to get accepted when faced with less scrupulous competition. Nowadays consumers understand where the price difference comes from and, above all, they see the difference in quality. We are clearly not into the €2 synthetic throw produced who knows where. This can also be seen in our repurchase rate, which is huge. Our customers often find out about us when they want to buy a beautiful throw as a gift and then want to buy a throw for themselves, or vice versa. Some customers tell us that they have one of our throws to use at home, and another for travelling. Other customers want a La Maison de la Maille throw for every room in the house, from the lounge to the bedroom.
Rather than turning up the heating and warming up the planet a little more, or slowly wasting all your savings with increasing energy costs, it is a justifiable investment – not to mention, of course, one which provides pleasure.
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE AT LA MAISON DE LA MAILLE ?
I have multiple roles. Taking photos is one of them, of course, but I also handle marketing, social media and looking out for new opportunities… In short, everything that goes hand in hand with our development and the building of the brand image. I have also donned the investor’s cap, and occasionally that of an alpaca shearer. I have a photo to prove it. OK, I have to admit that it was just a half-shearing, and I’m not sure that either the shearer or the alpaca will let me try again next year. Anyway, my time is fully occupied with photography, the agency and La Maison de la Maille, so I can probably leave this new vocation to one side for the time being. We have some really excellent products (Editor’s note: alpaca wool blankets, recycled wool blankets, merino wool blankets, merino wool shawls), but we still have a lot of work to do on the brand reputation. Still relatively few people know about us, and it’s frustrating to know that we could provide an excellent solution for many more people who feel the cold and don’t want to skimp on quality. Speaking about this, if you know any journalists, it would mean the world to me if you tell them to talk about us (you can tell them to contact me here).
LA MAISON DE LA MAILLE, MORE THAN JUST A JOB?
Of course. La Maison de la Maille is a moment to experience tenderness and authenticity. Perhaps also because it is a creation that revolves around well-being, for both humans and animals, and that makes everything more affectionate and appealing. The meetings and friendships we have created with the alpaca breeders, Axelle from Alpagas du Clos Tranquille and Christel from Alpagas de KerLa, go way beyond a simple professional relationship. They are already our extended family. We share the same goals, the same values and the same love and respect for the animals. There’s no doubt that these encounters are some of the most precious things in this adventure. Not to mention the fact that Charlotte thinks I will probably end up settling in the middle of a field of alpacas.
DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER PROJECTS IN PARTICULAR?
My favorite project at the moment is the "Plaid Merveilleux", the Marvelous Throw. This collection is literally marvelous. Every Plaid Merveilleux is the annual wool production of a specific alpaca, which you choose from a photo, with its description, its character, its parents, and so on. When you buy a Plaid Merveilleux (the "Marvelous Throw" in French), you are creating a unique link between the animal and you, and you become a kind of adoptive parent, guardian angel, godfather/godmother, sugar-daddy, call it what you will, of an alpaca, the majority of which are every bit as good as vicuna wool in terms of their delicacy and their quality. People who buy Marvelous Throws can ask us for news about their alpaca, receive photos, and even – when I am there, because they still don’t have their own smartphone – video calls with their alpaca. They can also reserve throws for subsequent years from the same alpaca, on a Vintage basis. It’s our Haute-Couture collection of blankets, with items that are the height of luxury and absolutely unique.
And if you can’t decide between two alpacas, I am always here to offer advice.
Discover more products:
Charlotte Huyghues Despointes, an innovator on so many fronts
If you don’t know her yet, you are really missing out. Hardworking, funny, committed, sparkling, passionate -Charlotte had the exceedingly brave and brilliant idea to create La Maison de la Maille nearly five years ago to produce 100% Made in France throws. Now La Maison de la Maille has established itself as a renowned high-end brand appreciated by luxury boutiques and major hotels. Always seeking to do more and better, Charlotte is 100% committed to a range of other missions including making French entrepreneurship sexy and promoting the Made in France label. We went to meet her.
Le Plaid Merveilleux, the novelty you've been waiting for
Because La Maison de la Maille never stops wanting to go further in exceptional creation, the brand is launching on Sunday July 4 its novelty: the Marvelous Throw. Even more luxurious than the previous products, it stands out as the essential luxury and ecological decoration. Wonderful and much more.