Whether it is an intimate dinner or a corporate reception for a large group of guests, a tasteful and refined table setting is a privileged vehicle for messages and is considered a valuable communication tool
The heirs of a courtesan tradition, particularly French, the table as we know it today incorporates codes and customs that are interlinked with the culture of hosting. Behind a set table and the setting in which it occupies the spotlight are tastes and trends, signs of social movement, relationships of power and artistic expressions. Along with gastronomy, the art of the table convenes a series of fields, many of them traditional, which are the expression of beauty and of flourishing creation.
Porcelain services, glasses, table linen and floral arrangements adorn the banquet, make it conducive for socialising and contribute to a whole that reflects the image of the host. JFC – Heritage Designers, the duo of experts in the art of table decorating, formed by Jean-François Le Dû and Carlos Pimenta Machado, travels the world to respond to the calls of an exclusive clientele, in order to organise receptions conceived according to the past guidelines of French tradition. The client places an order and JFC fulfils the request, guided by the highest standards of elegance and creativity.
Looking back, Jean François Le Dû always remembers being interested in the table. After completing his training in hospitality, the Breton travelled to Paris in the 1970s, where he established himself alongside Pierre Cardin when he became responsible for a particular area in the corporate world of the renowned designer: banquets manager at the Hôtel de Clermont-Tonnerre. There, the concept of hosting shifted from the private sphere to the public, with companies beginning to take advantage of the personalisation of their communication events.
It was also around this time that florists such as Christian Tortu came on to the scene, overturning the tradition of monotony that reigned and achieving international prestige. In those days, the norm didn’t go beyond “a white buffet [served on a white table cloth] and a traditional Medici vase with a floral arrangement of the same colour in the middle…”
Among the clientele were some of the biggest names in haute couture, such as Claude Montana, Christian Lacroix, Scherrer and Emanuel Ungaro, along with the big auction houses like Sotheby’s, which called for a change of image through the most sociable address par excellence: the dinner table.
Extremely demanding when choosing iconic locations, such as palaces, castles or museums, rival hosts rejoiced in historical settings as the backdrop for personalised receptions. Indeed, the art of hosting in different places became an interesting communication tool. “The table tells a story,” says Jean-François Le Dû, “your personal story or that of your company. It’s a convivial place and where, sometimes, the host reveals his power”.
The trend developed, and today it has become essential to convert a social commitment that was once invariably regarded as a “tedious” engagement into a special occasion, one that stays in your memory and establishes a continuity of the hosts’ identity – a group, a company, an entity or a brand in the public sphere, or a family, a couple and so forth in the private domain.
Le Dû gained international fame, perfecting an art de rigueur in true French style. “The table has its own architecture and harmony lies in meticulousness. It’s perhaps a little strict, but rigor can be tempered with the introduction of accessories.” He can often be found before guests arrive, measuring the distance between the fork and the napkin plate with his thumb (a kind of standard measure), or even with a ruler so that the intervals respect exact measurements (5, 10 or 15 centimetres), in search of the formal perfection of a table laid in European style.
Be it the tradition refined by the French or the English, the protocol varies in the details but the fundamental codes are respected, so as to avoid “disruptive chaos”. Sophistication at the table, according to JFC, is reflected in an eclectic selection of fine china and crystal services, silver cutlery, linen, Damask patterns, floral arrangements and accessories designed to the taste of the finest European decorative arts. Alongside the inventory available to design dinner and reception projects in style is a vast knowledge of tradition and a refined sense of aesthetic.
Looking to leave Paris after around 40 years of international experience, Le Dû crossed paths with Carlos Pimenta Machado, also from the hospitality field, with a valuable résumé formed in Switzerland and Asia. Together they formed JFC – Heritage Designers in 2012, and in five years it has registered a record of bespoke projects for a select portfolio of clients, ranging from French politicians, leading European financial figures and collectors to international industry heavyweights.
Carlos Pimenta Machado recalls one example: the preparation of the tables for a recent dinner at Residenz, the Royal Palace in Munich, following the vernissage of an exhibition of the crown jewels of Bavaria. Besides the exuberant serving set, “in an extension of the theme of the event, the tables were enriched with silver ostriches with sapphires and rubies, ostrich eggs made from rock crystal, cushions decorated with micro-pearls and napkins embroidered purposely for the occasion” – all prepared with the “utmost care and passion”, replicating elements of the setting (a ceiling, a pattern, a decorative element) to enrich the adornments of an original table.
For Jean-François Le Dû, some of the most exuberant experiences were dinners “such as at the magnificent Rococo palace of Catherine the Great in St Petersburg, or in Burma, with the tear-jerking beauty of the Bagan temples”. This ephemeral art – because it is all taken apart again after around two hours – can, however, take months to conceive.
The originality of an event is founded on drawing from the chosen locations, adding a touch of emotion to the event. “In a classic setting, we add splashes of modernity. We explore the interests of the hosts, their history or their professional journey, transferring them to the adornments in a creative way,” adds Pimenta Machado. The possibilities are endless, with each theme explored in line with imagination and taste.