French branding studio Be-Poles uses tactile, trend-eschewing collateral to breathe life into high-profile projects like Eleven Madison Park, The Surf Club in Miami, and the new NoMad L.A.
By Mikki Brammer
May 02, 2018
Antoine Ricardou and Clémentine Larroumet of Studio Be-Poles are masters of the side hustle. Take the firm’s self-published art book series Portraits des Villes, for which it enlists a different photographer to capture the mood of each city. Or L’Article, its collection of household accoutrements, ranging from matchboxes to paper bags and hand soap. But their raison d’être is what they call “narrative design”—finding the story of a brand or place and bringing it to life through tactile, trend-eschewing collateral.
The Paris-based firm, founded by Ricardou and Larroumet, opened its Manhattan office in 2012. Its first stateside hotel branding project was for Sydell Group’s NoMad in New York, complementing Jacques Garcia’s Parisian-inspired interiors. The spare yet elegant logo design—a circular typographic play—lent itself well to the hotel’s trappings, from coffee sleeves and luggage tags to laundry bags and writing utensils. For the NoMad Cookbook, a collaboration with chef David Humm and Will Guidara, the studio’s contributions included whimsical watercolor images of cocktails.
Over a half decade later, Studio Be-Poles has revisited its NoMad design—most recently for the property’s second outpost, in Los Angeles. “NoMad New York was developed as a one-off, so there was no vision to replicate the concept elsewhere,” says Rafael Weil, managing director of the Be-Poles Manhattan office. “But after six years, it has become a cultural thing. So we had to work out how that could also live in L.A.”
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Central to the firm’s original vision was the hotel’s art program—born accidentally, when Ricardou suggested to Sydell Group founder Andrew Zobler that the images from the Portraits des Villes series be used to evoke a travel story on the walls of the property. Directed by Virginie Boulenger, art selection has since become a Studio Be-Poles signature, executed at hotels such as Le Pigalle in Paris and Les Roches Rouges on the Côte d’Azur.
The vibe at NoMad Los Angeles is what Weil dubs “north of Italy meets California bohemian,” informed both by the Southern California milieu and the building’s architecture—a turn-of-the-century edifice, formerly the Bank of Italy. Beyond the usual stationery and door hangers, the practice was tasked with designing the terrazzo in the lobby entryway to mirror the opulent Italianate ceiling.
For the hotel’s art, they commissioned artists, illustrators, and photographers from Europe and L.A. Inspired by Zobler’s love of NoMad New York’s cupola, Boulenger sent French illustrator Charles Villeneuve to the north of Italy to sketch cupolas, while photographer Tom Blachford’s work captures L.A.’s neighborhoods through a film-noir eye.
While the Paris office has collaborated with the likes of Colette, Merci, and Louis Vuitton, the New York satellite has quietly cultivated its own portfolio, creating branding narratives for the restaurant Eleven Madison Park and the MADE Hotel, both in Manhattan, and The Surf Club in Miami. In fact, they joke that the notepad they designed for The Surf Club—with its beveled corners, gold foiling and thick, luxurious paper stock—could be “the most expensive notepad in history.”
Embracing the tangible elements of design is their nod to Europe’s long typographic legacy. “There’s always an interesting way to reference the past while still making it new and timeless,” partner and art director Reynald Philippe says. “We consider our job like that of an architect—we build a foundation for the future. We’re not doing a logo for three years; we’re doing it for thirty years.”