Alexandre Piffaut

Photographs courtesy of Mad et Len

Inventions – Flood Poems
Inventions (2014)

Often amidst our hectic lives of responsibility and obligations, we are reminded by our peers and loved ones to stop and smell the roses. Perhaps Marcel Proust best expresses this when he romanticizes the lingering nature of scents and tastes in his magnum opus, Swann’s Way. Reaching beyond centuries, Alexandre Piffaut and his wife, Sandra, took heed to Proust, successfully capturing the essence of his reverie.

Sometimes embodying that sweet smelling rose, reminiscent of an old flame, often expressing instead the refreshing taste of blueberries at sunrise, Mad et Len captures all the charm life has to offer. Soldered into each structure is a genuine and timeless reminder, as Proust says, of things past.

Mad et Len, Alexandre Piffaut

Hi Alexandre, greetings from the sunny Singapore! How is everything coming along at your end in the South of France?

Firstly thank you very much for your interest in our works, and those of all our collaborators.

South of France is the best part of France—better than Paris, for sure, and we love to say it. We have a deep art of living, especially here in the Alps where it is very rural and wild, quite like the Canadian Bush. People here work with nature and live with the seasons. You can find sheepers, new rural paysan (peasant) people who came back to a very autonom way of life: they make their own cheese, vegetables, meat, milk and et cetera. You will also find fishers, hunters, loggers and wood cutters.

In summer, we relax and look after our vegetable garden. Sometimes we even get the chance to eat it—if it has not been attacked by wild pigs–and we can learn from our aged neighbours (they are about eighty-five) on how to make tomatoes, french beans and pickles tins for the forthcoming winter. We also often swim in the lake down the village.

In autumn, the big thing to do is to chase mushrooms and it is a fierce competition. People here have special secret spots where they can find very tasty mushrooms, and they love to show you how nice the mushrooms are—sometimes you might even get to taste it—but they will never show you where they found it. Even your best friend would not tell you because as a matter of fact, the area is known for its truffles but that is another story.

Mad et Len, Alexandre Piffaut

Sounds like the perfect life. I presume it must have been difficult to transit from Paris to the French Riviera. What were your lives like before?

Sandra was a senior art director in an advertising company. She was mainly working with very corporate brands, and got bored after five years. There was a lot of stress, working, eating and sleeping. The Parisian life is very full but very busy. So she quit and bought herself a round-the-world ticket to make a “lifetime” backpack ballad. At the point of her experience, cosmetic and perfume was mainly a blockbuster for the worldwide market, involved in a big industry, with big company names and licenses. The technology was massive and it was a world that was out of reach.

As for myself, I am the son of an artisan and a psychologist. I come from the law field. I had the choice of working in an office or escaping from it, and I chose to escape. So I started to travel, working on boats, living in Africa where I tried to build a bakery with my fellow friend, Gerry. Unfortunately, things happened. We were in the middle of a coup d’etat, it was not funny at all, so we stopped the project. After this, I travelled on boats and started to discover the raw materials of perfumery on the fields: sandalwood in New Caledonia, precious wood in Fiji, agarwood in Malaysia, roses and jasmine orange flowers in Morocco, and finally I met Sandra in Malaysia, in Terengganu to be exact. Two weeks later, we were married in Thailand.

It is no wonder that people say travelling can change a person’s life. You have revived the apothecary’s craft. What was your founding vision for Mad et Len, what did you set to do differently?

Our founding idea comes in two axes. Quality and limit.

As for quality, pure raw materials are chosen for simple products. This was how we translated the work of the Apothecary Maison.

Based on all the experience and research that we gained, we work with one or two ingredients at the best of its quality, depending on the season of harvesting. Most of the time we ask our supplier what is really the best and make the most from that starting point.

Read more in N˚5: Arrival.