Isabelle Hebey, a French interior architect and designer, blazed a trail in the mid-20th century with her superb designs and impeccable taste. Born into a French family in Martinique, Hebey began her career in Paris in the 1950s. Her creative genius was felt across a range of products—from pens and watches to public housing and boutiques. Perhaps more enduring than her contributions to design was her philosophy that defied convention, leaving a lasting impact on the world of interior decoration.
Early Life and Education
Born in 1935 in the idyllic locale of Martinique, Hebey was part of a French wealthy family. As a young girl, she attended the Couvent des Oiseaux, a convent school. Later, she would broaden her educational horizons by studying sociology and psychology, eventually earning an arts degree from the prestigious École du Louvre.
Hebey’s career was anything but boring. She designed various items, from elegant pens and stylish watches to unique public housing and modular bathrooms. Her work in vehicle design saw her shape the interior of cars, making even mundane trips an aesthetic experience.
Isabelle Hebey’s reputation gave her international fame, with notable clients such as Sophia Loren, Christian Millau, and Prince Bao Long, the last crown prince of Vietnam. She even had a stint helping Yves Saint Laurent with the design of one of his early apartments and was the visionary behind dozens of Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutiques worldwide.
Interior of the Concorde
One of Hebey’s most remarkable projects was working on the interior of the Concorde, a design icon in itself and a source of French pride. Her involvement in such a unique project only solidified her status as a design icon.
Hebey’s design philosophy was simple but revolutionary: “The beautiful get along with the beautiful.” She pioneered the practice of mixing antique styles with modern designs, a juxtaposition that was not only possible but also classic and timeless.
Hebey’s love life was as intriguing as her career. Her second marriage to architect Marc Delanne ended in divorce. However, she found a kindred spirit in Prince Bao Long, who led an equally fascinating life—first serving in the French Foreign Legion and then becoming a Paris investment banker.
Despite some of her residential work appearing somewhat out of date today, Hebey’s influence is undeniable. She cured the French of their habit for period rooms, replacing cruel copies with genuine articles. She dismissed clients who sought traditional embellishments, dubbing them “les irrécupérables,” and encouraged others to be forward-thinking.
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