An inviting hand: Calligrapher to the fashion world

An inviting hand: Calligrapher to the fashion world
French calligrapher Nicolas Ouchenir (left) works in his workshop.

PARIS - His hand is steady and sure as it delicately traces the contours of the biggest names in the world of style: the celebrities, the magazine editors, the clients.

Nicolas Ouchenir is a calligrapher, a member of a rarified profession whose ink appears on the must-have invitations of Europe's fashion shows.

He may not personally meet all the VIPs attending the catwalk parades. But his personalised flourish to them, deliberately evoking the elegance of times past is carried close in their hands, in handbags, in tailored breast pockets.

With Paris Fashion Week about to kick off on Wednesday, Ouchenir is being kept busy. The phone rings incessantly in his office with the fashion houses' press and publicity people calling to reserve his service -- most at the last minute.

"You have to react fast," says the 36-year-old, who is dressed in jeans and a white shirt, and sat behind a desk upon which piles of invitations await. Next to them are pots filled with quill pens, pens of whittled reeds and calligraphers' instruments, all of them on a stained leather desk pad.

He knows well the codes and hierarchies of the fashion world, having eased ink onto countless cards that serve as coveted entry passes to the biggest fashion events in the world.

He is especially versed in the seating plans for those invited. Codes often marked on the invites correspond to the spots where the guests are to sit - with the front row, just a stiletto's slide away from the catwalk, reserved for the elite.

'Fall asleep in the office'

"I have no fixed working hours," Ouchenir says. He works out of an office on Paris's chic-and-expensive rue Saint-Honore -- shared with several other entrepreneurs working in different sectors.

"Sometimes I work all night and fall asleep in my office and awake to find ink everywhere, or I spend whole nights waiting for a seating list in a PR's office," he says wryly, his humour serving him well in a business where "nervous breakdowns happen often".

Ouchenir has been a professional calligrapher for 12 years.

He had an "obsession" with writing, he says, born from when he saw his childhood doctor in Paris scribbling out prescriptions with an old-fashioned quill.

There was no specialised course. He taught himself the craft after completing business studies.

His career began when he started writing invitations for art show openings at the gallery where he was an assistant.

"I didn't know that it was a profession. I just loved doing it.... And it worked really well and people got used to seeing it. After a while, they only had to see the writing on the envelope and they almost didn't have to open the invitation to know where it came from."

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