PARIS — French chic isn’t just about fashion. It’s about furniture, too.
With “Le Chic! Arts Decoratifs et Mobilier de 1930 à 1960,” one of France’s less well-known public institutions, Le Mobilier National, a national repository for French decorative art objects, is showcasing interior décor’s answer to power dressing.
Designed to embody the essence of French decorative style, the exhibition features nearly 200 never-before displayed examples of furniture, lighting, tapestries and textiles. It is being presented through Jan. 29 on two floors at La Manufacture des Gobelins, the renowned tapestry factory in the 13th Arrondissement that now is managed by Mobilier National.
But the show also is part of a broader initiative to emphasize the Mobilier National’s dual role as a national guardian of savoir-faire, representing dozens of specialized crafts, and as an official curator of French contemporary design since the institution was established, under Louis XIV, nearly 360 years ago.
The Mobilier National is a kind of state-sponsored Rent the Runway, its reserves of 130,000 pieces used to furnish locations from the Élysée Palace, the home of the French president, to embassies around the world.
During a preview, Gérard Remy, the exhibition’s co-curator and an inspector of collections at the Mobilier National, said that the institution is often misunderstood, even by the French.
“The Mobilier National lives in the shadow of other decorative arts museums, but it’s not a museum,” he said. “Most people know its collections from the 18th and 19th centuries, the Empire period and the Gobelins tapestries, but its collections are much larger than that. We work as a creative hub for designers and artisans, with an eye to future antiques.” For example, during the years covered in the exhibition, the Mobilier National commissioned pieces that then were produced in-house.
For the exhibition, selecting just 185 objects — what Mr. Remy called “the quintessence of chic” — took almost a year.
“With furniture, it’s not just about how you style it,” he said. “It’s important for representation, knowing what one wants to say and what one wants to present to the public, but you also have to live with it.
“There are little details that make it possible to be elegant, practical, and make an interior completely modern while also corresponding to what is expected of a personality or someone important,” he added. “That is French chic.”
Staged by the French designer and decorator Vincent Darré, the show unfolds chronologically, starting with a series of Art Deco works including a 1933 kidney-shaped desk in amboyna burl with ivory pulls by Georges de Bardyère, and pieces designed for the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris, such as a one-of-a-kind illuminated console in wrought iron, copper, brass and frosted glass by Marcel Bergue.
Period rooms include a reimagined dining room in the former royal hunting lodge at Marly, used by French presidents as a retreat, as it would have been in President Charles de Gaulle’s day. And the show culminates in the 1960s with the advent of industrial design, and the spare, sculptural furniture that Mr. Remy described as “nomadic” for its adaptability.
Mr. Darré, a former fashion designer, said he wanted to “wake up” the Mobilier National by using the exhibition to highlight the artistic connections between furniture and fashion.
“In fashion, art, and décor, French chic is audacity,” he said. “It means not being afraid of good taste or bad taste, it means freedom.”