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Interview with Alexia Delrieu Who Publishes with Sophie de Menthon: Le Luxe

Alexia Delrieu, daughter of René and Sophie de Menthon, a multifaceted artist, is also a bookseller on the banks of the Seine

Alexia Delrieu is our guest of the day. This woman of many facets has had a rich and varied career: politics, journalism, sculpture, and finally a bookseller on the quays of the Tournelle in Paris, a place steeped in history. A prolific author for children, Alexia has written and co-written notably 15 books published by Gallimard Jeunesse. Her latest opus, Le Luxe (The Luxury in French), is at the center of our interview. We will explore Alexia’s universe, a woman who never ceases to reinvent herself.

Pierre-Antoine Tsady: To start, could you introduce our readers to your journey, from politics to sculpture, through journalism and writing?

Alexia Delrieu: I come from a family very involved in French civic and political life. My great-grandmother was, after the liberation, the first woman elected mayor of France, my grandfather Pierre de Menthon, ambassador, was mayor of his village in the Jura, then my father. My other grandfather, Jean Turpin, was president of the mayors of Vendée, I myself ran in the last municipal elections on an electoral list in Paris… After my studies, an internship led to a job in this field – at the Presidency of the Republic – I jumped in and loved discovering, so young, the backstage and the workings of the world. But my passion, since I was little, has always been writing, reading, and the arts. I have always written, published, and sculpted alongside my various jobs, then sculpture took up more and more space in my life until it became my main activity.

P.-A.T.: You are involved in the organization of the Botanical Legends exhibition at the Château de Menthon-Saint-Bernard. Can you tell us more about this cultural event?

A.D.: The biennial Botanical Legends takes place at the millennial Château de Menthon-Saint-Bernard on the shores of Lake Annecy. It was created in 2021 by my artist cousin, Raphaële de Broissia, who invited me to exhibit there, then I got involved as co-curator of the exhibition alongside her for the second edition. We are preparing the third. It’s an incredible experience and challenge, each time we invite about 14 contemporary artists, painters, photographers, ceramists, plastic artists, glassmakers to appropriate the interior spaces of the castle and the domain that surrounds it. The theme is inspired by a magnificent 19th-century regional herbarium found in the castle’s library. The artists propose their interpretation, work on the meanings it can have and the issues it can hide. Most of them create pieces especially for this magical place that inspired Walt Disney in Sleeping Beauty. This year we had the honor of receiving the artist Sheila Hicks.

'Towards unknown territories', a work by the American artist Sheila Hicks, on the occasion of the Botanical Legends exhibition at Menthon-Saint-Bernard castle (photo Itaka Martigoni)
‘Towards unknown territories’, a work by the American artist Sheila Hicks, on the occasion of the Botanical Legends exhibition at Menthon-Saint-Bernard castle (photo Itaka Martigoni)

P.-A.T.: Our readers can also discover your sculptures on Instagram. What are your inspirations and favorite sculptors?

A.D.: My inspirations are multiple, I believe they come a lot from my readings, the little things of everyday life and of course nature… a pebble picked up on the beach, a leaf falling from a tree… then, it’s the unconscious that speaks! To borrow the expression of the German poet Hölderlin, I try to “inhabit the world poetically” and sculpture is my medium. I sculpt in clay, wood, and stone imaginary animals in the style of illuminators or cathedral sculptors of the Middle Ages.

Alexia Delrieu is in the process of installing one of her sculptures in the castle's basin at the Botanical Legends Biennale
Alexia Delrieu is in the process of installing one of her sculptures in the castle’s basin at the Botanical Legends Biennale

P.-A.T.: Regarding your work as a writer, why do you only publish for children at the moment?

A.D.: I started by writing stories for my children, then they grew up. I could have tried to follow them into adolescence… but I don’t have a “novelistic” mind, I much prefer to read novels and let myself be carried away! On the other hand, I love creating documentary books for children, but also for adults. I have just released and published a book about my grandfather, ambassador in Chile during the coup d’État, I am preparing one about booksellers through the postcard that will be released in 2024. I like the search for images, testimonies, the construction of a book, like a puzzle that is put in place. If I had to “write”, it would be, I think, poetry, closer to painting or sculpture. It will come!

P.-A.T.: Can you introduce us to this book about your grandfather, Les carnets de Françoise?

A.D.: Chile 1973, the French ambassador to Chile, Pierre de Menthon and his wife Françoise, welcome more than 600 refugees fleeing the repressive regime of General Pinochet at the embassy. Hunted, tortured, opponents of the regime, often very young, find asylum at the residence before obtaining the precious safe-conducts that will allow them exile in France. These notebooks are the day-to-day account, by Françoise de Menthon, of this incredible human adventure. I edited these notebooks by accompanying them with numerous unpublished documents, archives, personal photos of the couple and texts, notably those of Pierre de Menthon from his book Je témoigne published by Éditions du Cerf in 1980. Jean Fauchier Delavigne and Inès de Broissia, grandchildren of Pierre and Françoise, have also drawn from it a magnificent play that they perform all over France.

Alexia Delrieu in Santiago, Chile, with the team from the French bookstore Le Comptoir for her book 'The Notebooks of Françoise, 1973-1974, one hundred and eleven days at the French embassy in Chile', Edition La Boîte 29, 2023
Alexia Delrieu in Santiago, Chile, with the team from the French bookstore Le Comptoir for her book ‘The Notebooks of Françoise, 1973-1974, one hundred and eleven days at the French embassy in Chile’, Edition La Boîte 29, 2023

[Also discover the website of the Le Comptoir Bookstore, ed.]

P.-A.T.: What led you to the profession of bookseller? What types of books are most successful with your customers?

A.D.: It was curiosity that led me to this profession, I lived not far from these booksellers that I loved to frequent… I found out how to become a bookseller and then I gave it a shot, somewhat defiantly. There was such a long waiting list that I had even forgotten that I had applied, then they changed the allocation method and here I am, more than 10 years later! I sell children’s literature and classic general literature, also original old magazines like Le Petit Journal, the Journal des voyages, La Semaine de Suzette… What sells best on the quays, regardless of the clientele, is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Stranger by Albert Camus, Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline and of course Harry Potter!

Alexia Delrieu, bookseller on the banks of the Seine, 29 Quai de la Tournelle
Alexia Delrieu, bookseller on the banks of the Seine, 29 Quai de la Tournelle

P.-A.T.: What does it inspire you to work on the banks of the Seine?

A.D.: Yet another way to “poetically inhabit the world” and freely! I am extremely lucky to have a location between Notre-Dame and the sculpture of Sainte Geneviève by Paul Landowski, facing the Île Saint-Louis. I think this part of Paris is one of the most beautiful places in the world. So first of all, I have an aesthetic pleasure in working outside, enjoying the changing light and the wonderful skies above the Seine, then a timeless pleasure, being just a link in this eternal Paris praised by writers and poets. Moreover, the freedom and encounters that this profession provides, sometimes so difficult, are immense and priceless.

P.-A.T.: Can you share a memorable anecdote from your work in this profession?

A.D. : Nothing comes to mind, but my neighbors, some of whom have been on the quays for over 40 years, are inexhaustible! In fact, the most beautiful and enriching encounters I have had in this profession are the other booksellers!

P.-A.T.: With the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, the booksellers will have to leave the banks of the Seine. Do you have a message to pass on in favor of the profession? Are you worried about the future of the profession, in an increasingly digital society?

A.D.: I know, it’s a cliché, but the booksellers are indeed the cultural soul of Paris. We need them more than ever, especially in this increasingly consumerist and digital society. They make knowledge, culture, beauty accessible to all and at a low cost, without the intimidating side of a bookstore. I prefer the old magazines retracing the sporting exploits of champions to the synthetic red mascot made in China for the Games. Sport and culture are much more linked than we think. Since antiquity, the body and sport have inspired writers and artists… from Roman mosaics to the footballers of Nicolas de Staël, to the texts of José-Maria de Heredia, Apollinaire or even Jack London… My message to my colleagues is the following: hold on!

P.-A.T.: Can you introduce our readers to your latest book Le Luxe, which you co-wrote with your mother, Sophie de Menthon?

A.D.: There is a quote from Jean Giono that I have posted above my desk that says: “We cannot live in a world where we believe that the exquisite elegance of the guinea fowl’s plumage is useless”. I wanted to tell children that beauty, luxury is what embellishes life. Beware, not material and bling-bling luxury, the luxury of detail, of the little things of everyday life and each of us, whatever our means, can find it in our life: a beautiful moment with family, a rare pleasure… Luxury is not necessarily linked to brands and consumption… As we wrote at the end of the book, for my mother, Sophie de Menthon and me, our greatest luxury is to write these books together, mother and daughter.

Cover and press release of the book Luxury, by Sophie de Menthon and Alexia Delrieu
Cover and press release of the book Luxury, by Sophie de Menthon and Alexia Delrieu

P.-A.T.: In your opinion, why is it important to preserve luxury and particularly French luxury?

A.D. : French luxury has a history, a refinement and a quality that are unmatched! The big brands are increasingly valuing the crafts, the arts and crafts, the craftsmanship. And it is these great fashion and luxury houses that allow wonderful and unique craftsmen to keep and pass on their know-how. It is therefore our duty to support them and be proud of them.

P.-A.T.: Finally, can you share your creative projects for 2024?

A.D. : Regarding sculpture, 2024 being the “white” year of the Botanical Legends biennial, it’s a breather that will allow me to finish a series of ceramics that is close to my heart, entitled Métamorphoses. I transform porcelain or earthenware objects from the last century, somewhat outdated objects, sometimes chipped, that sleep in cupboards or are looking for a new family at flea markets. I bring them back to life by transforming them, incorporating them into new sculptures. I hope to announce an exhibition date soon.

Otherwise, I have a piece at the Louvre Lens until February 26 as part of the exhibition Le jeu en vaut la chandelle, from the Small Form Ceramic Prize of the Douai Art School, and an exhibition with two ceramists, a Polish and a German in the south of Germany in April.

For writing, we are going to release in the summer with Sophie de Menthon in our collection Today’s world explained to children at Gallimard Jeunesse two new titles: La chasse and La culture.

I am also preparing a book with my neighbor and friend bookseller Albert Abid Le Paris des bouqinistes, a history of the booksellers through postcards full of quotes and anecdotes. It will be released before the Olympic Games.