Brigitte arrived in Jaipur in 1980 on a scholarship to study Indian miniature painting. Whilst looking for hand-made paper she visited the small village of Sanganer just on the outskirts of Jaipur and here, discovered the traditional textile art of hand-block printing. Her fascination with the craft and passion to revive the art form led her to start her own studio.
Today her fabrics are regarded as being amongst the finest hand-block prints in the world and are sought after by discerning collectors. They are displayed in some of the world’s best museums and galleries. Brigitte designs the textile stories herself, and her team then carve the blocks and use these to print on South Indian cotton, producing less than 40ms each day. Separate blocks are used for each colour and are placed by hand, with some of the more intricate designs requiring the intricate layering of as many as ten blocks. Brigitte’s attention to detail results in an extraordinary high quality, so much so, that her textiles have come to be regarded as the antiques of tomorrow.
I met with Brigitte, over a decade ago, when working on the first edition of Love Jaipur. I arrived at her haveli, which nestles behind big stonewalls covered in bougainvillea and was shown to her study where we had a lovely and lengthy conversation over many cups of tea. We then took a stroll through her gorgeous garden to the workshop to see the exquisite designs take shape with each thud made by the master printer expertly placing the block on the printing table. I was deeply moved by the visit and was delighted that she agreed to be included in the book. Over the years and my many, many visits to Jaipur I am lucky to have acquire some of her work but more importantly to get to know her.
Our conversation took place leading up to Diwali, in late October during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
What were you just thinking of?
I was thinking about the busy day ahead and my immediate plan to clean my stove. My house is set around a courtyard and open to the outside, so a good fire is important to stay warm. I am happy that we will go back to using this old Irish stove, burning wood we collect in the garden. Diwali is normally a sudden switch in season, from the post monsoon warmth to winter chill. Over the last few weeks, the mornings and the evenings have become cooler and it is time to have the fire working now.
What are you doing for the rest of today?
I will work with my small team. In March we had to lock down because of the pandemic and completely stopped all production for close to three months. I was alone here at the haveli for two and a half months with no permanent staff. I was fortunate that my brother came to join us from South India for a bit. Together we worked hard to keep the garden watered through the very hot summer.
In June I began working again with a very, very small team including my master printer and his two sons. Today we remain a small team, and overall, the company is less than half the size we were before the pandemic. It has been very challenging being a small company and not being able to have any customers visit us. We have had to move our sales online and have improved our website and also are selling via WhatsApp. I am lucky to have such a loyal clientele, in Europe and also in Asia and importantly also in India.
How "real" does the threat of the virus feel? Do you know any one personally who has contracted the virus?
My mother, who is in her 90s, contracted the virus in Paris. She and I spoke every day during her confinement and luckily, she recovered. Here in Jaipur, for so long it felt like hearsay, with no one close to me getting Covid. The cases I heard of were quite distant, however, I made sure we were very careful and when we started production again. We were careful to wear masks, sanitise and take temperatures daily.
At the time of posting this newsletter, one of Brigitte’s team had tested positive, so the studio had gone into quarantine.
If your own health and that of your family/friends is ok; then what is the greatest impact on your life (and on your work) of the pandemic?
The greatest impact has been on my work. The reduction of our team and the increased demand to be careful and follow the safety protocols, as well as trying to keep up with the changing directives of the Government. Our move to online sales has also been significant.
What are you looking forward to post pandemic?
Freedom to move. My daughter and I usually would return to France for Christmas to spend time with family and friends. As of now, I hope that we can do this next May.
Has there been anything positive from the pandemic?
Yes, a lot! We have all had time to increase our awareness of many things about how the world works. I feel this time of ‘slow motion” has been beneficial and for some people has reduced the pressure. I feel it has been an opportunity to revaluate priorities, to focus on the people you love, to take time for yourself and to enjoy nature. I am so lucky to have a beautiful garden and to be able to grow my own vegetables.
Is there an innovation (service, product, science, media) that you have been impressed with? Have you made any changes or thought of any that you will implement going forward?
We had launched our website two years ago, but during the pandemic it provided the opportunity for me to focus on it. Previously I was not that interested. However, this time has enabled is to put our house in order, we have looked through our storage and uncovered some sleeping beauties. It has been a good time to clean and sort and get organised.
I feel now is the time to go with the flow, not for any major moves. We are fortunate that we have been able to continue to supply our export partners and that we have a faithful clientele who order directly with us.
What does your personal future of travel look like? When and where will you go first? What are you dreaming of?
I have not been tempted to travel within India at the moment, the travel protocol for flying looks difficult. Also, my daughter has been studying online so we have not had an opportunity to move very far from home. We did travel by car and spend a few days with friends who live near the Sariska Tiger Reserve, here in Rajasthan, which was lovely.
This year I celebrated my 40th anniversary of being in India and I was joined by friends here at the haveli to celebrate. We are fortunate to live in this haveli surrounded by the garden, so it was very nice to be able to welcome friends here.
What are you finding inspiring now?
I love, love, love my garden. It really brings me a lot of happiness. I am also a keen reader, a true bookworm so I have read a lot. I also have joined my daughter watching films and discovering Netflix.
What has made you laugh out loud most recently?
I am a light spirited person naturally, however, I have not found much to laugh about. The global political scene is quite worrying, and my brother who is an avid environmentalist, has also made me concerned for the environment. I think Covid has created the time and also a requirement for us all to increase our awareness. I do look for the positive in situations and feel that people are becoming more knowledgeable and more vocal about change.
Given we are about to celebrate the festival of lights, what has brought light into your life in the last 12 months?
My daughter, Lilah, who is now sixteen and is a complete delight. She is the most charming human being: thinking, aware and supportive and has not complained once throughout all this Covid upheaval. She is also creative and has been singing, reading and is also focused on writing and is the youngest member of a very interesting writing group based in Kolkata, where they meet online regularly.
Brigitte’s studio is located at Narad Ka Bagh in Amber. Visits can be arranged by prior appointment. Open daily between 10am and 1pm. Ph: (0141) 253 0229, Anju Mob: 94140 52639. Online shopping via the website is also possible, and Brigitte ships both within India, and internationally. I highly recommend the book about Brigitte ‘Printress of the Mughal Garden’ edited by Bishwadeep Moitra and published by Mapin in 2018.