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Nicolas Lissajoux

(MA Constructed Textiles, 2008)

Nicolas Lissajoux (MA Constructed Textiles, 2008) is a designer turned baker. In 2020 he opened Maison Lissajoux in his hometown of Sarlat-la-Canéda. Maison Lissajoux is not just a simple bakery project but a lifetime dream, harnessed with a strong association of creativity, know-how and love for home. The entire concept keeps a very close relationship with the art and design world. The design of the building, a 200-year-old former bank, involved collaborations with fellow RCA alumni. It is also home to Daisy, Nicolas’s 100-year-old George Wood loom brought to London when he moved to study at the RCA – it’s the same loom he created his final project work on. In the future the space will also enable his fellow RCA alumni to weave on this extraordinary piece of machinery.

Having worked as a designer in famous fashion houses of the LVMH group he is now designing croissants and tackling the art of baking with different perspectives, using techniques he learnt during his time at the RCA.

You said you are forever grateful for the immense opportunities you had at the College. What would you say were the most important ones for you?

The biggest opportunities were not only the many wonderful facilities offered by the college and the amazing privilege to work facing the Albert memorial on one side and the Royal Albert Hall on the other side of the desk, but the endless possibilities to develop a very personal approach where independence and self-initiative are the main factors. The Royal College of Art opens a mine of possibilities, from rich collaborations with other talents in various departments to the most relevant lectures by the biggest names of the art and design world. 

You started working in fashion after you left the RCA. Was it what you expected it to be?

Indeed, fashion was the plan since I left the south of France for London. But I was lucky enough for the industry to come to me following a work in progress show at the Royal College after first noticing my work at a St Martins show a few years before. 

Working for the world famous fashion house of LVMH , what skills did you take from this?

Working for LVMH taught me about adaptability, compromises and teamwork. The training I had over the many years studying in London really prepared me for the “real world”. The Royal College is fantastic at imposing this rigorous pattern of work that students will encounter when projected in this tough industry.

People used to have one career for life. You’ve moved into something very different to what you initially started doing. What was the driving force behind this?

The driving force behind my career change has definitely something to do with who I am and my personal values. Fashion can sometimes be a savage world, with big egos and personalities and very little morals. Some people are made for that, some not. That was a world away from entrepreneurship which I’ve always thrived for. Trained as a hand-weaver for many years, I had to keep my hands dirty, constantly creating, working on different projects simultaneously. Developing a very singular relationship with Daisy, my dear old loom, working day and night, on my own, focused on the very meticulous art that is weaving is actually very addictive and therapeutic; it’s like working in a creative bubble where no mistake is allowed. Once you see how peaceful the whole process of setting up a loom and weaving is, it’s really hard to deal with people anymore! Baking was like evidence then. There’s a form of poetry in being at work, at the bakehouse, in the middle of the night, creating beautiful products when the world outside is fast asleep. The whole journey required a lot of sleepless nights and huge compromises since I had to enrol at the prestigious Christian Vabret School in order to graduate as a Master Baker, the compulsory step to open a bakery in France. Nearing 40 then, going back to the school benches has been pretty tough I have to say, but in the end it was all worth it!

Maison Lissajoux is much more than a simple bakery. Tell us about the concept behind it?

Maison Lissajoux is a place that inspires creativity. Here, you’ll find good books, good music, and plenty of unique and fine delicacies that make you forget about our tumultuous world.

Starting the building work in March 2020, when Covid hit us all, it has been an incredibly tough challenge but now I couldn’t be prouder of what I achieved. I managed to transform this 200-year-old bank into a beautiful, contemporary space that allows the customers to witness the whole baking process that takes place in front of them, behind a long glass wall throughout the shop. I really wanted to show people how noble and somehow magic baking was. It’s just pure theatre! It always reminds me of when I used to put my weave samples into the heat press of the textile department of the RCA. The end result depends on so many factors.

In order to run my dream business I have a team of eight people that excel in their respective field. Each of them is trained to deliver the highest standards with consistency in their daily production. At Maison Lissajoux, everything is homemade, on site, every single day, therefore having the right people around me to ensure the standards I initially targeted has been rather challenging, especially during the pandemic. But in the end, I managed to build this strong team of passionate people and we recently received the much coveted “Artisans Gourmands” label by the Dordogne Chamber of Commerce that guarantees the customer that our production is 100% homemade. This is an award that usually takes years to get so this has been a real honour and a definite morale booster at the end of the pandemic.

Maison Lissajoux - Boulangerie-Pâtisserie
Maison Lissajoux - Boulangerie-Pâtisserie

You say you now design croissants and cakes. Do you apply the same creative ideas as when designing a fashion item? 

Designing croissants, breads and cakes every day is somehow very similar to high-end fashion when the final product is put on display, at a particular price and must hit the wow factor but also sales performance targets. My customers are pretty savvy when it comes to quality ingredients and find comfort in my products. Then, I can’t disappoint. The final product must look great, staged in the best setting possible for the customer to leave the shop happy. 

When it comes to our products, it’s not all about taste, but also colours, compositions and textures. There are so many likenesses between weaving and designing croissants. Like weaving, the art of lamination is in a way some kind of micro architecture made of many layers that offer endless possibilities when it comes to the final design. Just like with the textile fibres, you can't even begin to experiment with the art of baking until you know the basics of the scientific properties of the ingredients and how they interact with each other under heat. I find there are many many similarities with my work process at college when studying the speed of shrinkage of different fibres at different temperatures using different weave structures. 

Instagram has seen the rise of beautiful bakeries and cakes featured across the globe. Do you think there is too much focus on the surroundings and not the product? Or do you think the place is also part of the experience?

In my opinion, the surroundings are indeed a big part of the experience, when all your senses are awake and you’re transported in a snug bubble where you can really enjoy a very special product. It’s all about little details, the right music for the time of the day and the mood of the season, perfect lighting, some comfortable seats, pretty crockery, the delicate smell of a candle, fresh flower bouquets, some good books here and there, just to make the customer feel at home. But above all, the jewel of the house is on the plate in front of the customer. For a small cake or a large brunch, the whole experience must be very sensoriel and nearing perfection as much as possible. My clientele is mainly made of savvy, very well travelled expats with high expectations and a sharp eye for quality and details, they have experienced many wonderful bakeries all over the world before moving to Sarlat. Becoming their new “HQ” keeps the challenge alive! Sarlat itself welcomes over 2 millions visitors a year but our top priority is to keep our standards at their highest for the locals first and make sure we deliver equally when travellers pass the door of the shop.

So yes, just like in fashion, the whole bakery experience requires hard work and discipline. It always reminds me of the pain of a missing thread when threading heddles on a loom. The smallest mistake will enormously impact  the whole experience, therefore it’s essential to keep the light on the product itself and with a well trained staff and a well designed venue the rest should follow!

Patisserie has always been a culinary art form. What are some of the hardest skills to master?

Personally, I find the irreversible chemistry of baking bread and croissants using sourdough somehow magic and thrilling and consequently a very interesting art form by itself whereas the meticulousness of baking cakes that only really implies a strong rectitude when it comes to meticulously follow step by step a precise recipe is more like fine engineering. 

Maison Lissajoux - Boulangerie-Pâtisserie
Maison Lissajoux - Boulangerie-Pâtisserie

When it comes to eating rather than making what is your favourite pastry?

I’m particularly proud of the Villanelle, one of the cakes of my collection (again, some will see an ode to fashion!), a fresh ginger financier biscuit, with some organic rose mascarpone chantilly and a rose-ginger swirl topping. It’s not for everyone but it’s my favourite. I love its subtle rose-ginger combination, complexe textures and its whole nostalgic aesthetics.

You hope to have some collaborations with fellow RCA alumni at Maison Lissajoux. Can you tell us about any future projects?

Indeed, I hope to have some interesting collaborations with fellow RCA alumni or students at Maison Lissajoux in the future. Especially with weavers since Daisy, my George Wood dobby loom is ready to work upstairs, in the boudoir that leads to the roof terrace. 

On that particular note, I only recently noticed that one of my most successful collaborations while studying at the Royal College of Art (I had to make a handbag with my weaves) was with Alison Dunlop, a super talented accessories student who ended up creating a wonderful cake business in the UK, A.R.D Bakery, designing some unbelievably cool pieces. 

Also, another talented fellow RCA alumni kindly helped me when furnishing the outdoor spaces of the shop, especially my rooftop. It’s Martino Gamper, product designer.

His colourful pieces give just the right hint of colour in specific spots of the venue, but also are incredibly practical and sturdy. Martino and his team have been a real joy to work with. 

Interview by: Lisa Pierre

Date:  May 2022

Tags: alumni_storiesgenerationrca 

"Designing croissants, breads and cakes every day is somehow very similar to high-end fashion when the final product is put on display, at a particular price and must hit the wow factor but also sales performance targets. My customers are pretty savvy when it comes to quality ingredients and find comfort in my products. Then, I can’t disappoint. The final product must look great, staged in the best setting possible for the customer to leave the shop happy." Nicolas Lissajoux
Nicolas Lissajoux
Nicolas Lissajoux