In December there are signs up around Apt, advertising it as the ‘Ville de Lumieres’ (town of lights) and it is always well deserving of the title, thanks to Blachere Illumination, the company based in the town, which makes incredible Christmas lights for many of the big cities in France, and across the world; this year lighting the trees along the Champs-Elysees in Paris, as well as others much further afield. As a result, during the festive season, Apt glitters and sparkles with a beautiful array of decorations, which brighten the darkest of months and bring a smile to so many faces.
But Blachere is not the only company with a connection to lights in the town, and this week we finally went to explore the workshops of the other.
When we first bought the house, nearly 7 years ago, one of our neighbours told us about the incredible chandeliers that are made and restored at Mathieu Lustrerie, a family business that operates from an old Ochre factory in the small village of Gargas, just outside Apt. She suggested that we should visit to see them, if we had the chance, especially over Christmas, when the chandeliers would be illuminated, telling us we wouldn’t be disappointed, and that in fact we would be amazed at the sight
Well the years have rolled by, and apart from driving or cycling past a few times, we haven’t really thought any more about it. That was until this year, when we spotted an advert for an exhibition, celebrating 60 years of Porsche 911 cars, to be held in the workshops, under the sparkling crystal of their chandeliers.
Now, we’re not petrol-heads, and if I’m honest, I’ve never really felt the need for speed. You can probably guess this by the fact that we pootle around in Fifi, with her 435cc engine hardly capable of being described as having a throaty roar, and her power output being more akin to that of a two-legged donkey than anything resembling a horse. That said the draw of being able to see inside the workshops and marvel at the lighting displays (with the cars) was too much to resist, so we pottered out to go and see the spectacle for ourselves.
Mathieu Lustrerie was originally founded in Marseille in 1948 and over the years this small family business has established itself as a world leader in the design, creation and restoration of chandeliers, working on priceless antique pieces from Versailles, as well as The Louvre and The Opera Garnier, among others. It is also at the forefront of designing and creating stylish modern pieces that are as much exquisite sculptures, as they are lights.
Regis Mathieu took control of the company, at just 19 years of age, taking over the helm from his mother, who had managed the business after his father’s untimely death in 1982, and it’s easy to see his passion for the business, that in 1997 was awarded the prestigious EPV label, classified as an Enterprise de Patrimoine Vivant,
The works of art created or restored by this small business, which moved to its restored workshops in Gargas in 2001, are not only found in some of the most well-known historic monuments in France, but also light some of France’s most famous fashion houses too, including Hermes, Chanel and Cartier, so it’s a real privilege to have it on our doorstep.
They have recently expanded their workshops on the village site, carefully continuing the style of the original buildings, which sit so perfectly in the landscape, a reminder of the Ochre trade that was so important to this little corner of Provence. To mark the opening of the new buildings, the whole site has been closed to host this incredible exhibition, inspired by Regis Mathieu, who had previously exhibited his collection of cars with a selection of his lighting creations in 2018, at the Cite De L’Automobile in Mulhouse
To begin with, I couldn’t really imagine where the cars would be, as the idea of 40 classic Porsches on display in a workshop, conjured up images of cars crammed into a small space, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. The new workshops are vast, in fact so vast that there is a wide ramp running around the inside of the walls, allowing the cars to be driven from the lower to the higher buildings, and this ramp was being used to increase the display space available.
It is an incredible space, with huge workbenches in the centre of the lower floor, some of which looked as if the artisans who had been working on the chandeliers above them, had just stepped away for the evening. As a lover of a good workshop, it was great to see this aspect of the business still on display, rather than simply being packed away out of sight.
The exhibition was spread across the whole site, with the cars sitting below exquisite lighting, with explanations about both elements on the floor in front of each car.
I was simply mesmerised by the chandeliers, from the traditional, tiered lights adorned with crystal ‘pampilles’…
To sculptural, modern pieces, with beautiful blocks of rock crystal, set in geometric bronze frames…
As well as, spectacular quirky antique pieces, from the Mathieu Museum collection, including a selection of crystal ships, floating elegantly above the cars…
And, what was my favourite, a beautiful Italian Art Nouveau piece, created for Liberty in the early 1900s, which cast an incredible, organic shadow across the bonnet of a particularly beautiful blue Porsche…
I could easily just focus on the chandeliers, as for me they were the real show-stoppers, but the cars deserve a mention too.
The collection was quite astounding, bringing together cars from across the last 60 years, from the sublime styling of the vintage cars…
To the dramatic lines of the modern racers…
And the classic, iconic paintwork of Martini Racing too….
With forty classic Porsches on display, there was plenty to look at and admire and it was a fascinating way to pass the evening. It was also great to see it so well supported, so well in fact, that I think we’ll head back again, before the exhibition closes on 22nd January 2023, just to get a better look
The exhibition is free to enter and open every evening between 5pm & 9pm until then at the workshops of The Mathieu Lustrerie, on the road towards the Mines de Bruoux.
If you are in the area, it is certainly worth a visit.