Hubert Burda Media

Valerie Mille’s paper couture

The artist’s first exhibition is a theatrical installation of the Twelve Dancing Princesses.

This gallery isn’t on any must-visit list. Ask anyone in Paris, one of the foremost art capitals of the world, about Mille et Une, and you’ll most certainly draw a blank. That ought not to be the case. But one senses that its founder and resident artist Valerie Mille relishes in the anonymity. If you actually do get to visit, it becomes clear that what matters most to Mille, what feeds her need to create, is being mistress of a venue which she can transform at will; Not the public spectacle of strangers traipsing through with phone cameras at the ready as if at the Modus or Louvre.

Housed in an upscale apartment building facing Parc Monceau, Mille et Une doesn’t even have signage, just a simple “Mille” on the entrance buzzer. If you’re visiting, it means you know Mille or her current collaborator Claire Guiral (aka Miss Clara) personally. Or in our case, Mille’s husband Richard of the watch fame.

The ongoing exhibit, devoted to paper art, is Mille’s very first and it takes inspiration from The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Though Mille describes the story as a quintessential French fairy tale — of a king whose daughters escape locked doors to go out dancing every night — variants of the tale have been told for generations as far as Russia and Scotland. It is with these headstrong princesses in mind that Mille and Guiral have spent an entire year bent over a work table, laboriously fashioning a miniature wardrobe of Marie Antoinette-worthy frocks out of paper.

Within the dimly-lit gallery staged as an aristocratic home with dripping chandeliers, thick golden drapes, wall mouldings and herringbone floors, the collection of 35 intricate gowns, purses, shoes and jewellery await their princesses on a wrought iron rack. As theatrical as a modern runway presentation, the collection is further presented under stage lighting as a JS Bach partita for violin fills the aural void.

The storytelling is flawless; and the walk-through installation is as beautifully dark and capricious as a Tim Burton box office hit. “We’re putting together a fairy tale,” states Mille, herself fittingly dressed in a floor-sweeping black gown.

Gracious and not yet comfortable with the limelight, Mille attributes the idea of crafting paper couture to Guiral, a Bordeaux-based artist known for her whimsical paper dolls and sculptures. “I met her and loved what she was doing. So I came to her and said let’s present a carousel,” says Mille. And though their main medium is paper, Mille and Guiral show themselves as able couturiers, no less in ingenuity than the Rose Bertins or Jeanne Lanvins of the day.

Mille et Une is a by-invitation-only gallery