A creative connection between France and New Orleans is growing and glowing on Tchoupitoulas Street. SWADOH, a design studio founded by Valerie Legras, launched in late 2020 and features a collection of hand crafted lighting fixtures from the finest French artisans. The first showroom opened in the Warehouse District and is home to table lamps, sconces, floor lamps, and larger scale suspension fixtures, all distinct and inherently delicate in nature.
Legras, also an interior designer, is a native of Epernay, France and has called New Orleans home for over a decade. Her love of light and the Japanese approach to lighting (much more fine than the Western style of lighting) led her to exquisite European artisans including Céline Wright. SWADOH launched with the celebrated Parisian designer and will serve as the designer's exclusive partner for the North American market. Her work as well as the work of other established and emerging French designers will be on full display at the showroom.
"An anagram of 'shadow', SWADOH is driven to shine a light on creators with a refreshingly original point of view in their interpretation of materials, textures, and both traditional and contemporary techniques."
The current collection favors the use of materials like Japanese Washi paper, handwoven textiles, ceramics, and more, and each piece remains a completely unique model. Below, Legras discusses the brand, her love of lighting, and why New Orleans.
Why did you decide to focus on lighting?
Lighting has always been integral to my quality of life and also to my design work. On a personal level, I believe that lighting has a very important impact on how we enjoy our lives and the spaces we inhabit. As an interior designer, I’ve also appreciated lighting’s ability to define and sculpt architectural elements. I read an essay when I was studying in Paris that has had a lasting impact on me called "In Praise of Shadows" by Japanese writer Junichiro Tanizaki. I was intrigued by how the Japanese approach to lighting is much more subtle compared to the Western approach, which can feel more dominating. Japanese culture relies on the nuance of shade and shadow while Western culture, especially during the '90s, produced lighting with increased brightness. My focus at SWADOH is to bring attention to this softer and more delicate side of lighting. My hope is to bring attention to how the extremely talented artisans and creators we collaborate with use their high level of craftsmanship to manipulate different textures and materials to create completely unique light fixtures not yet seen in the American market.
What was the deciding factor in opening your showroom and offering New Orleans access to these artisans?
Opening a showroom in New Orleans means that our talented creators have access to sharing their amazing work beyond their own borders. It allows SWADOH to become a sort of an ambassador of artisans between France and the US. Life brought me from France to New Orleans over a decade ago, and I feel I have a mission to share the connections between Louisiana and France and to continue supporting the creative ties between New Orleans and Paris that makes these two cities so special in their creative output. I’ve been fortunate to meet and collaborate with incredible artisans throughout France and I felt strongly that there was an audience for their work in the states. In my time being a part of the New Orleans design community, I’ve encountered the same level of appreciation for exceptional craftsmanship and an inspired use of materials.
As an interior designer, I am also grateful to connect with a very strong creative community in New Orleans. I rely on talented local artisans to bring to life my interior and product design work. We designers are nothing without the makers! As a tribute to their talent and work, I created a podcast called Textures to spotlight their work. It is important to understand the value, passion, skills, time behind each piece or design. Creativity is not an island and I wanted to share their unique creative trajectories. We are currently recording season #3.
Do you have plans to add more artisans to your showroom?
Yes, we are currently in the process of adding some exciting new talents, set to launch in the Fall our our website and in our showroom. We also develop collaborative work between local artisans and French creators. It is important for us to continue to foster this creative collaboration.
As for our current roster of creators, we’re so thankful to work with a small group of amazingly talented French creators. it is not by chance that the first creator to join SWADOH is Céline Wright who is based in Paris. In line with our passion for a more nuanced, yet no less statement making approach to lighting, Céline's work is exclusively created with Japanese washi paper. The quality of light, combined with her poetic approach and organic inspiration is simply unseen. Each of her lights is like a poem. Emilie Griere from Mu, also based in Paris, invented an unexpected material, Soft Stone, mixing silica and oxygen. Her creation has just been added to the collection and is very exciting in terms of its unique look, feel, and versatility. We’re also working with Morgane Baroghel Crucq of Aix-en-Provence, who is currently finalizing several creations showcasing her exceptional handwoven art. Morgane Baroghel Crucq is a textile designer with a deliberate and poetic approach in her experimentation.
What are some of your favorite things about New Orleans?
This might not be original to say, but I love New Orleans for the same reason many people from all around the world love this city: the joy, diversity, art scene, food, music, architecture, and Southern Hospitality; it’s truly unlike anywhere else! The Big Easy is the best place to live. Coming from France what I enjoy most is sipping a drink under a porch surrounded by a ravishing botanical landscape. That definitely feels very special to me and I feel extremely lucky to call New Orleans home.
SWADOH New Orleans Showroom is located at 1101 Tchoupitoulas Street.