ESSENTIAL SURREY & SW LONDON
Sophie Farrah finds a legendary perfume name sniffing kitchen success
Facile pun it may be, but Marie Guerlain has rather a lot on her plate. For as if the roles of artist, philanthropist, health coach and mother were not sufficient to keep life on the boil, the local resident has recently designed and launched her own range of luxury cookware.
“Right now it’s just me in the business, so I’m juggling a lot,” she explains from her parked car, slipping seamlessly into yet another part – that of energetic interviewee – while waiting to collect her children from school. “You just have to be super organized. I have different diaries for everyone!”
If the name Guerlain rings a bell, it is probably on account of the luxury French perfume and cosmetics brand – one of the oldest in the world – founded by Marie’s great-great-great-grandfather in Paris back in 1828. The family sold the company in 1994 to luxury goods conglomerate Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), but Marie is still fiercely protective of the name.
“Selling the brand hasn’t made it any less ours,” she insists. “It will always be part of my life and who we are as a family. The people who built it are my direct ancestors, and you can’t really remove yourself from that. Creativity and skills are passed down through the generations.”
Born in Paris, Marie has lived in London for most of her life. She trained as an artist at Chelsea College of Arts, as well as at Parsons School of Design in New York, and enjoyed a career as a painter before becoming a mother at the age of 31. She now lives near Richmond Park with her husband and three young children, and her new business venture seems the natural yield of a life fertilised by luxury, style and a characteristically French love of food.
“Once I had the children, I stopped going to the studio as much and my creativity was getting slightly stifled. I was cooking a lot though and I noticed a gap in the market for beautiful cookware; aesthetic pieces that you could bring to the table and that were also healthy to use.”
The idea for Ondine (Marie’s middle name) was conceived. Five years in gestation, the result is truly impressive: each of the seven pieces, which range from small saucepans to larger pots and a skillet, are handmade by expert craftsmen in Italy, where they also receive a distinctive high gloss finish. The handles are individually cast from brass, the ornate logo handcrafted into the base and lid, the pans constructed from the highest grade non-toxic 316Ti titanium stainless steel – a sure defence against any harmful chemicals that might leach into the food during cooking.
“The stainless steel is so good that you don’t need much oil,” explains Marie. “It’s also non-corrosive and incredibly durable – I mean, they use it to build spacecraft!
“Essentially this is an heirloom to pass on to your children and grandchildren. That’s what people used to do back in the day and it’s a really lovely thing. Nowadays everything is so disposable – you buy something cheap and cheerful and it lasts for five minutes.”
Cheap and cheerful Ondine is not. Each elegantly sculptured piece comes with a lifetime guarantee and a considerable price tag: a 14cm saucepan will set you back £355; a 24cm roasting pan £795; the entire seven-piece range an eye-watering £4,000.
“People don’t think twice about forking out £800 for an iPhone, but they hesitate before spending the same amount on cookware. This range lasts longer than a lifetime and is made from the very best materials, so of course it’s expensive!”
Complementary to Marie’s love of cookware is her passion for healthy eating. From early childhood she was frequently to be found in the kitchen with her mother, and by the age of 10 she was hosting little family soirees with lovingly prepared meals. Today she still loves to cook, but as a qualified health coach her dishes are somewhat more considered.
“I’ve been passionate about health for years,” she says. “After looking into why particular foods made me feel a certain way, I cut them out and felt so much better for it. In fact, I became so knowledgeable about it all that friends and family would come to me for advice. So I thought: ‘Gosh Marie, you should just qualify!’ Now I can talk about food alongside the cookware.
“People are becoming more aware of what they eat, which is really positive, as there are too many chemicals and so much rubbish in our food that we’re making ourselves ill.”
Even so, Marie – who hopes eventually to create her own Ondine Foundation, donating some of her cookware sales profit to charity – is no fanatic: pleasure, as well as discipline, are important for this flexible foodie.
“I love food and, most of the time, I try to ensure that it’s as healthy as possible. But sometimes, of course, I go out with the children and we all have a burger or a pizza. Then, the rest of the week, you make up for it by eating plenty of vegetables and supplements, or whatever it is that rocks your boat. But I couldn’t just eat salad leaves for ever. Life’s too short – we have to enjoy ourselves!”
Sounds as if she’s making a pretty good stab at it.
For more information on Ondine and to buy online, visit:ondine.com