Words Whitney Bryan
Interview Charles Anastase
Translation from French by Jean-Marc Masala
Photography Cecile Bortoletti
All ceramics Nathalie Lété and Angele Fougeirol
All Artwork Nathalie Lété

Nathalie Lété seems to have the makings of what can only be described as a fairy tale hero (a beloved one at that). Born in 1964 under what some would call a lucky star, Lété seemed to be imbued with an endless amount of inspiration, an almost mystical knack for being in the right place at the right time, and even a plucky, yet equally enthusiastic assistant in her daughter Angéle. The key difference…? Whereas the story happily ends for the hero on that last, forgotten page, Nathalie’s is only just beginning.

Starting her career at the age of twenty FIVE; then going it alone at APPLIED ART SCHOOL DUPERRE,and the Beaux-Arts school in Paris, Nathalie has a singular artistic vision across all mediums, that can only be described as a kaleidoscopic balm for the soul. It’s this same vividness that drew interviewee, Charles Anastase into Létés’ rapturous orbit. A self-made designer and artist in his own right, and an equal fancy for the kitsch and meaningful, it’s easy to see how Anastase came to be in Nathalie’s tangerine dream.

Especially the Ingénue, both artists sit down to discuss: inspiration, creativity, and extraordinary interior design.

Charles Anastase: So, tell me where you are from.

Nathalie Lété: My father was an East-Asian man from Cambodgia, and my mother while raised in Bavaria, actually has Sudeten origins (the former Czech Republic)

Charles Anastase: Why did they come to France?

Nathalie Lété: My father studied mathematics in France and my mother was here as an au pair. She was 22 and my father was 32. My mother got pregnant by chance, so they decided to stay together.

Charles Anastase: You united them, that’s great! And is there any inspiration from your parents in your illustrations?

Nathalie Lété: Yes, very much. I was mainly raised up by my mother, who told me German fairy tales, like the Grimm Brothers. Recently a German man ordered a wallpaper from me for his hotel in the Black Forest; he told me.
“It’s amazing, I did not know you were German, but I can see in your drawings that your characters really look like those from our tales.”

Charles Anastase: That’s interesting. I thought of Hansel and Gretel when I arrived at your house today. I imagined that the inside of their gingerbread house looked exactly like yours.

Nathalie Lété: I do have strong Germanic sense of culture.

Charles Anastase: When I looked at your work, I saw some Slav inspiration too, but I wasn’t sure.

Nathalie Lété: I don’t know, yes…there probably is a Slav aesthetic in my mural frescoes. For example, I was inspired by some flowers from Poland once. There’s a small village in Poland, Zalipie where women paint their houses. I’ve never been there, but it really impressed me visually. The Charleston House from the Bloomsbury group also had a strong impression on me. Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf ‘s sister), and Duncan Grant turned their farmhouse into a living work of art. It was one of the first ‘painted’ houses that inspired me when I was 20. I always wanted to own a place like that, and to work with multiple arts and crafts such as they had in their home.

Charles Anastase: As you’ve just done these walls, do you have other painted houses?

Nathalie Lété: No, there’s only this house. It’s my own little personal project, I bought it with this project in mind.

Charles Anastase: So, did you do mural paintings before?

Nathalie Lété: No, it’s only been here.

Charles Anastase: And you did it all during lockdown!?

Nathalie Lété: Yes, most of it

Charles Anastase: Wow! That’s mind blowing. It feels like this house has always been yours?

Nathalie Lété: You need quite a lot of energy to paint walls. If you want a good result, you have to do it as a whole. I mean—I started with only painting bits of walls, small surfaces during weekends, but it really demands your full attention, so I spent two months on it. In the evenings when I was done painting my husband would tell me.
“Maybe you should carry on here, this bit could be further explored…” I was motivated because he was with me, the first lockdown was like a second honeymoon. We were happy, I was decorating our house. I’m still working on the walls now, but it was easier when the energy was dedicated to a set moment in time, lockdown was like being in a bunker and not knowing when it would end. We spent two months during the first confinement here. Angèle, our daughter who works with me, spent her lockdown in our house and in a studio near Paris, so she could still work, which was great for her, and us.

Charles Anastase: Angèle makes ceramics, doesn’t she?

Nathalie Lété: Yes, she does, amongst other things. We measure each space, and add things in, we ‘fill the house up’ in a way. We started with some corners of the house first but decided as we went on that it was more interesting to do the whole thing.

Charles Anastase: I’ve never seen such door frames before, they’re amazing!

Nathalie Lété: Yes, you can find them in Art Nouveau houses. When you go to Belgium and see the architecture of Hector Guimard, or even on the entry halls of Parisian buildings, you realise that architecture was conceived as a whole, the floors, the frames… It’s the same kind of idea here; this is a house that we’re ‘building’ from A to Z. We also made these tiles here…

Charles Anastase: Oh, I wanted to ask you about those!

Nathalie Lété: Yes, the Cement tiles showcase my designs.

Charles Anastase: M/M Paris would be amazed to see these!

Nathalie Lété: We made these cement tiles with Emery & Cie, they’re produced in Morocco.

Charles Anastase: You’re very talented! The mirror effect on the tiling is amazing. And on these doorframes, the ‘naïve’ spirit is incredible! Who would think of making door frames in ceramics?

Nathalie Lété: I think more and more people are going to be interested in this process.

Charles Anastase: Have you been asked to decorate houses?

Nathalie Lété: I would love to decorate some rooms of a hotel, but not private houses.

Charles Anastase: I looked at your work and wondered,
“How can she paint that much? It’s such Herculean work.” Are you a fast painter?

Nathalie Lété: I naively paint. What I do is very free…I don’t prepare, I don’t do mock-ups; I improvise, and if I don’t like the result, I cover it with something else. When I do cover though, I leave some transparency—I don’t like to reject what I’ve painted before. I try not to stress about it though covering a wall can bring a great deal of stress. Especially if the wall is pristine. When I was in Tanger, I took a stroll in the medina, it is so beautiful; all the walls are painted. Apparently, teenagers there paint the walls to make a bit of money, they ask the inhabitants to give them some money to buy paint, with it they drew flowerpots, boats… it’s incredible. Total freedom. That gave me the idea to do the same, not to ask myself too many questions and to paint as I want, like you would ask young children to paint on walls at school, it is beautiful.

Charles Anastase: He is a painter, isn’t he?

Nathalie Lété: Yes, he had a vast atelier in New York, which he’s been visiting for 10 years. He almost spent half his time there. Sometimes I’d go with him, but I was looking for a more personal space too. He kind of imposed his way of life on me without asking, so I decided to do my thing too. My dream was my own little house filled with art.

Charles Anastase: What is the space you have the outskirts of Paris then?

Nathalie Lété: Ivry is where our children grew up and where we both have an atelier. When I go back to Ivry every Monday, I go there to work. I don’t see anyone there…I work a lot; it is almost like going to a factory. It’s very different there, I bring objects there that I photograph, it is more mellow, It is like a breath of fresh air for my mind, and I need that.

Charles Anastase: However, you paint all your walls here, so work is never ending!

Nathalie Lété: Yes, I paint bit by bit, I make ceramics with Angèle, whom I give work to do every week. I also give her some sketches for directions, so she can work on those things during the week too.

Charles Anastase: Have magazines already photographed this place?

Nathalie Lété: A few have, yes. The World of Interiors came, Le Monde too.

Charles Anastase: Have you collaborated a lot with Gucci?

Nathalie Lété: We did one extensive collaboration. It was a children’s collection, around 100 pieces. I remember ordering all my artist samples in babies size to put under a glass case one day, as they were adorable. There were also a few adult pieces, but mostly children’s wear—the latter fit us, so Angèle and I wore them.

Charles Anastase: Did you also collaborate on some home collection pieces for Gucci?

Nathalie Lété: Yes, there is a cushion, a blanket.

Charles Anastase: I recall receiving the Gucci kids catalogue with your illustrations featured in it and being very impressed, so I thought you had collaborated a lot.

Nathalie Lété: There were indeed a lot of products, but we only collaborated once.

Charles Anastase: How did the collaboration start? Did you meet with Alessandro Michele?

Nathalie Lété: No, I’ve never met him. They contacted me in 2017, I remember as it was my birthday and they introduced themselves – as if I didn’t know the famous brand, it was very sweet. They told me what type of drawings they were after, so I sent them around 100 drawings, and then I did not hear from them until I received the finished pieces. It was like Christmas when I opened the boxes and discovered all the pieces for the first time.

Charles Anastase: Wow! I thought that you had met Alessandro and his flamboyant hair…

Nathalie Lété: I would have loved to!

Charles Anastase: Your work is very famous, you have a lot of followers; then I asked myself if people actually knew you, as a person…

Nathalie Lété: It’s true, I do not see anybody really…I only have a few friends; I feel quite wild and shy.

Charles Anastase: That’s what I figured. I know you work a lot, believe me. I know what you do takes so much time and thought that you might not even be aware of your fame.

Nathalie Lété: Well, I know people know me, I get contacted a lot.

Charles Anastase: Yes, but I originally thought you were a public person who goes to fashion shows etc…

Nathalie Lété: No, I’m not ‘famous’ like that. I am known in a popular way, by the people who see my work, but not at all as a VIP.

Charles Anastase: When did your career actually start?

Nathalie Lété: It started when I was 20. For 10 years, I worked with my then boyfriend, MATHIAS under the name,MATHIAS ET NATHALIE. It worked well from the start, we were in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, near Arles, where we hosted our first exhibitions, and quickly encountered the fashion world, we were working from the Hotel de Nord Pinus in Arles, we stayed there for two months, creating our pieces in our room and taking them down to the lobby where they were displayed and purchased. Christian Lacroix was opening at the same time in a beauty little boutique in the hotel.

Charles Anastase: You were crafting them in the hotel room?

Nathalie Lété: Yes, our room was like an atelier. It was fun! Mathias and I worked together for 10 years, and then I fell in love with my husband at the Beaux-Arts school and started my career again, solo this time. It was difficult, Mathias and I shared an identity, which was very German expressionist. Though it was more Mathias’ identity than mine. We used to spend a lot of time in cinemas, where we were inspired by silent movies and expressionist references.

Charles Anastase: Did Mathias carry on by himself?

Nathalie Lété: Yes, he makes very expressionist comic books! As I said, I started again on my own, gave birth to my children; began drawing toys, antique toys, that became the heroes of my stories. Christian Lacroix once gave me some very good advice.
“You should work under your own name and make your own pieces.” Back in the day, collaborations as we know them now did not exist really. Because my art was too personal,
It was tricky, I did not really find any work. I started publishing my own postcards, items of stationery, very simple things. I was making t-shirts, and all sorts of things I could make by myself. Then I made rugs; this is when things started to look up, I could not only be ‘just an artist’, but I also had to open my own company, as you are allowed to sell up to eight products only as an artist, if you want to produce more you need to open a business. With my own company, I was showing my work on trade-shows, and people were suddenly interested in using my work for their own brands.

Charles Anastase: I did not know it worked that way; I am learning something!

Nathalie Lété: You indeed have to make your own things to draw attention. Sometimes people ask me advice on how I do it, and I explain that it’s a life’s work. One has to invest on oneself to create desirability and get others to notice you. Then, the concept of collaboration slowly emerges, but not too many brands were making ‘artistic’ things for children at that time, so I created a niche for my work without really knowing it, people were buying my t-shirts or my knitted toys. Then, little by little, more and more opportunities arose for kids’ stuff. When I started collaborations in 2010, there was not much happening…now collabs are everywhere! The craft and the job evolves, slowly but surely.

Charles Anastase: Very true. And thanks to internet, your work is now widely seen, it’s incredible!

Nathalie Lété: Internet enables one not to be alone in one’s little shop. And today, I know that remodelling this house, for instance, will give birth to so many other things.

Charles Anastase: You mentioned that your collaborations started around 2010.

Nathalie Lété: Yes, more or less, A few years earlier I think with the stationary brand La Marelle.

Charles Anastase: So, this rug, for instance, is it sold somewhere, or did you just have it produced for you?

Nathalie Lété: I had them made upon order. I used to show them at trade-shows and had them made. To make something like this, you have to carry the rug on your back while making it, I had to stop as it was too heavy for me. But those Nathalie Lété rugs don’t exist anymore. Well, actually, if you are looking for a Nathalie Lété rug, you can find a few at Po! Paris.

Charles Anastase: What about department stores, like Liberty in London, is there a Nathalie Lété corner with all your objects?

Nathalie Lété: No, it does not exist anywhere. Just in Japan, you can find Le Monde de Nathalie in Tokyo, where they sell my products. It was opened by HP France a few years ago.

Charles Anastase: Why don’t you do it? It would be great.

Nathalie Lété: Well, I really don’t want to deal with that side of things.

Charles Anastase: Were you not offered to work under a licensing agreement?

Nathalie Lété: I have licenses in many countries around the world, like this table which is produced by the French brand Bazartherapy.

Charles Anastase: Wow, this sweatshirt is great. The print looks like you have actually painted on the fabric. I really feel like buying your products. So, I can buy tables from Bazartherapy. what else can I buy?

Nathalie Lété: If you Google Nathalie Lété, you will find many things. Like wallpapers.

Charles Anastase: Your wallpapers are extraordinary. How many licenses do you have which produce your products?

Nathalie Lété: I work with around 20 different companies in total.

Charles Anastase: But not through collaborations, right?

Nathalie Lété: Well, there are, on one hand, there’s brands that launch a new collection every six months and distribute them to other stores all over the world. They are located in France, England, Australia, Japan, China, the US. Then we have some brands like Anthropologie which produce products with my designs and sell them in their own stores. Yes, like this series of mugs that is launching at the moment.

Charles Anastase: Is the credit ANTHROPOLOGIE x Nathalie Lété?

Nathalie Lété: No. For many years, the products just bore the name Nathalie Lété, which led customers to think I was producing the objects. I then asked Anthropologie to get remove my name from the products, as I was constantly contacted by people who wanted to buy these from me. So now they write, ‘Nathalie Lété for Anthropologie, I simply sell the usage rights of my drawings to them.

Charles Anastase: So, what other collaborations are there? I know of the Gucci one, of course.

Nathalie Lété: H&M did a big collab with me, on an entire children’s collection, Spring 2019.

Charles Anastase: And what is the brand of the jacket you are wearing?

Nathalie Lété: Oh, my friend Babette who has the brand Wowo, made this prototype for me, Angele is also wearing one.
we decided to create these kimono jackets together, they are reversible. I gave her my printed fabrics which I produce myself and she made them. It is a capsule collection that people can order directly from here.
I also just did a collaboration with my friends, the brand Polder, In the same way we did a blouse and a sweatshirt together. I love to collaborate on one very small capsule collection with my friends.

Charles Anastase: I’m asking all these questions as it’s hard sometimes when you search online to understand what is a collab and what is under your own name….

Nathalie Lété: When you mix two worlds together, or my world with one « savoir faire » …
I don’t produce many products myself… mainly the silk scarves in fact.

Charles Anastase: Don’t you want to become the new Laura Ashley?

Nathalie Lété: Not really…. But if I did, I would have to find an investor! No one’s ever offered this option to me. I could do many things with my drawings, but you know, this is something for our children, our grandchildren to do with my drawing archive.

Charles Anastase: It all seems very new when I talk to you, you started doing collaborations in 2006. I really had the feeling you had been in the game for longer.

Nathalie Lété: Well, it is more than 10 years ago now…

Charles Anastase: 10 years is nothing…You must be so excited to do what you do, as it is all developing at the moment.

Nathalie Lété: To tell you the truth, I’m almost at the end of the excitement phase. I’ve done so much: so many categories of products, from paper napkins to luxury ready-to-wear… I’ve also collaborated with Monoprix (a famous chain of French high-end supermarkets) several times…

Charles Anastase: And what about the lovely dress you are wearing?

Nathalie Lété: It is from a Chinese brand called Unlogical Poem. The theme of that collection was Circus.

Charles Anastase: You didn’t design this dress?

Nathalie Lété: No but I sent them some vintage images of circus clothing as inspirations, ballon sleeves, ruffles, collars ideas.

Charles Anastase: And you also mentioned stationery…

Nathalie Lété: Indeed, I work with Chronicle Books on a very small line. A pencil case, a set of cards in shapes of animals, and two notebooks. That’s it. I also make glass Christmas ornaments, another field I am interested in.

Charles Anastase: Oh wow, beautiful indeed. A bit like those at Astier de Villatte.

Nathalie Lété: I make those with the American company Glitterville.

Charles Anastase: And can we expect more collaborations to soon?

Nathalie Lété: yes, Anthropologie is launching a whole collection throughout the year, as well some incredible embroidered bags with Olympia Le Tan.

Charles Anastase: I am looking at the decoration of the garden, it’s unbelievable!

Nathalie Lété: Yes, Angèle makes the ceramics with her Father, they have this project to cover the whole of the little garden house. She is talented, isn’t she? She hasn’t started to paint yet, but she should, she’d be great! She made a lovely book when she was a child. Well, we edited a book with her drawings. We’re doing something special with each of our kids. With Angèle, it was this book about portraits of people seen by a nine-year old. She got good press, she was even featured in Vogue! Our son Oskar made a drawing of a boxer, with huge boxing gloves, and I used it to create a rug. Our children both have a memory of their youth, and are now both creative young people.

Charles Anastase: It’s great you’re a family of creatives. You understand each other.

Nathalie Lété: Yes, we all get on very well.

Charles Anastase: Your husband is so sweet and funny!

Nathalie Lété: Yes, he works quite a lot with our son Oskar, they are very close and have quite the same sensibility about art.

Charles Anastase: My last question is quite important. Having done all that you have done, are you not stressed by your online presence? What I mean is, people of my age, and younger who are in the creative industry are so scared of our image, or lack thereof. You, on the contrary, seem very comfortable with your achievements and image.

Nathalie Lété: Well, it all happened slowly, step by step.

Charles Anastase: I’m sorry, let me rephrase this. Some people are very famous and successful in their work but have very few followers. I have the feeling that your work, on the contrary, travels very well, it is passed on and widely seen. On Pinterest, there are so many of your drawings.

Nathalie Lété: I guess people like my work and share it because they see themselves in it. My work conveys childhood—some adults may not be comfortable with their childhood, but at least we all remember it. My work is happy and makes others feel happy, I guess.

Charles Anastase: I find it quite inspiring that your fame did not change who you are and came quite naturally. You don’t seem to take things too seriously.

Nathalie Lété: Indeed. In the past I was a bit afraid to say no, so I used to say yes to every project. Now, I tend to only go for what I really want. When I don’t like something, I voice my opinion, or even if I have worked on the project already quite a bit, I just don’t sign the contract. I withdraw myself from it. I let it go. Which often leads to the other party trying everything to make the project happen, so I sort of ‘win’ in the end. I manage to make only products that I like.

Charles Anastase: I see. And are there things that you have never done that you would like to do? Like designing a car, or something like that…

Nathalie Lété: I would love to work with a ski brand like Moncler. And I would also love to work with mosaics company Bitoss. I would love if an interior designer asked me to do some drawings for a swimming pool, and also work on tableware and overall decoration for a restaurant or a hotel.

Charles Anastase: If Astier de Villatte opened a restaurant, you could do it together!

Nathalie Lété: Yes, that kind of thing. I really want to work in a team now, but a team of like-minded people.

Charles Anastase: You’d paint the swimming pool yourself?

Nathalie Lété: No, but with a house like Bitossi, you ask them to get your drawing pixelized so then you can cover the whole surface of the pool with mosaics. I would love to do that. Like in Ancient Rome! It would be a huge, crazy project, but I believe a luxury hotel could be interested. Ha ha! I love to dream!

Charles Anastase: I am looking at the decoration of the garden, it’s unbelievable!

Nathalie Lété: Yes, Angèle makes the ceramics and I paint them. She is talented, isn’t she? She hasn’t started to paint yet, but she should, she’d be great! She made a lovely book when she was a child. Well, we edited a book with her drawings. We’re doing something special with each of our kids. With Angèle, it was this book about portraits of people seen by a nine-year old. She got good press, she was even featured in Vogue! Our son Oscar made a drawing of a boxer, with huge boxing gloves, and I used it to create a rug.

Charles Anastase: It’s great you’re a family of creatives. You understand each other.

Nathalie Lété: Yes, we all get on very well.

Charles Anastase: Your husband is so sweet and funny!

Nathalie Lété: Yes, he works quite a lot with our son, they are very close.

Charles Anastase: My last question is quite important. Having done all that you have done, are you not stressed by your online presence? What I mean is, people of my age, and younger who are in the creative industry are so scared of our image, or lack thereof. You, on the contrary, seem very comfortable with your achievements and image.

Nathalie Lété: Well, it all happened slowly, step by step.

Charles Anastase: I’m sorry, let me rephrase this. Some people are very famous and successful in their work but have very few followers. I have the feeling that your work, on the contrary, travels very well, it is passed on and widely seen. On Pinterest, there are so many of your drawings.

Nathalie Lété: I guess people like my work and share it because they see themselves in it. My work conveys childhood—some adults may not be comfortable with their childhood, but at least we all remember it. My work is happy and makes others feel happy, I guess.

Charles Anastase: I find it quite inspiring that your fame did not change who you are and came quite naturally. You don’t seem to take things too seriously.

Nathalie Lété: Indeed. In the past I was a bit afraid to say no, so I used to say yes to every project. Now, I tend to only go for what I really want. When I don’t like something, I voice my opinion, or even if I have worked on the project already quite a bit, I just don’t sign the contract. I withdraw myself from it. I let it go. Which often leads to the other party trying everything to make the project happen, so I sort of ‘win’ in the end. I manage to make only products that I like.

Charles Anastase: I see. And are there things that you have never done that you would like to do? Like designing a car, or something like that…

Nathalie Lété: I would love to work with a ski brand like Moncler. And I would also love to work with mosaics company Bitossi—I tried to contact the latter, but they did not reply. I would love if an interior designer asked me to do some drawings for a swimming pool, and also work on tableware and overall decoration for a restaurant.

Charles Anastase: If Astier de Villatte opened a restaurant, you could do it together!

Nathalie Lété: Yes, that kind of thing. I really want to work in a team now, but a team of like-minded people.

Charles Anastase: You’d paint the swimming pool yourself?

Nathalie Lété: No, but with a house like Bitossi, you ask them to get your drawing pixelized so then you can cover the whole surface of the pool with mosaics. I would love to do that. Like in Ancient Rome! It would be a huge, crazy project, but I believe a luxury hotel could be interested.

With thanks to Thomas Fougeirol