Masters & Muses
Interview by Camilla Frances
Images from Guillaume Benoit and Jérôme Galland
Nicolas Kugel and his brother, Alexis, represent the fifth generation of a family of art and antique dealers, a tradition established in early 19th century Russia and continued ever since. Nicolas and Alexis have led their eponymous Paris gallery since the death of their father, the renowned art dealer Jacques Kugel, in 1985. In 2004, Galerie Kugel moved to Hôtel Collot, an exceptional hôtel particulier on Paris’s Left Bank, providing a gallery space as unique and photogenic as their museum-worthy collections. Nicolas shares with Cabana his proudest achievements, greatest challenges, happiest memories and ideal interiors.
The most memorable trip I’ve ever taken:
Certainly, my first trip to Russia in 1992. My father was born in Russia, so it was a journey to discover my roots and a chance to meet my Russian relatives. Moscow was gloomy, dangerous and dirty. No restaurants, no shops, nothing we were used to. The beauty resided in the incredible people I met, people for whom culture and beauty was essential to survive this horrible regime. It was a life changing experience to witness Communism collapsing.
The best party I’ve ever been to:
A Ball at the Weiller’s family house in Versailles, where we were invited with my 18-year-old daughter, Flore. The fantastic exotic Brazilian decoration and music was outstanding as the hosts were half Brazilian. All the youths were beautifully dressed, giggling, flirting, drinking. It was like watching a prom ball, unforgettable.
A moment that defined or changed my career:
When Hubert de Givenchy called me to ask if I was interested in buying his Limoges enamels collection and the cabinet armoire au char d’Appolon (pictured below) by the celebrated cabinet maker, André Charles Boulle.
The greatest challenge I’ve overcome:
Starting and finishing the work and decoration at the gallery, Quai Anatole France, in just six months to be ready for the inauguration date that coincided with the opening of La Biennale Paris in 2004. We had to finish the huge decoration work we undertook with the most talented, François Joseph Graf, and the great architect, Laurent Bourgois. Then, when the objects and furniture of the stock arrived, the magic became real...
My proudest achievement:
It would be too pretentious to say that I have achieved this, and I don't know what the future holds, but I do think that we have tried to carry on the family tradition since we took over the running of the gallery when our father died. The search for, and discovery of, works of art is a passion that is shared in the family and I can be proud to pass it on to our children.
I would describe my childhood as:
I was raised in my parents' flat surrounded by fragile antics, but I never broke anything. I think I was brought up in the culture of respect for the object without realizing it.
My next weekend-away destination:
Our family house in Ibiza, where l relax immediately just by listening to the frogs singing.
An object I would never part with:
A 17th century multi-faced lottery dice in ivory, which was given to me by an unknown woman on behalf of her dying friend. After seeing our taste in a magazine, her friend decided that I should have this ivory dice. I never met her. I was so touched.
The best gift I’ve ever given or received:
I found a map from the 18th century, representing the domain of Hubert de Givenchy, and I offered it to him with great pride.
My favorite flea market or antiques fair:
Maastricht Art fair, for sure. This fair is ancestral. It has inherited the spirit of the Middle Ages and the spirit of trade. Respect for culture and cosmopolitanism is still very active. It is a place of encounters and discoveries. A commitment to excellence, rigorous vetting standards, and an unparalleled collecting experience have remained constant in Maastricht’s journey to today.
Regardless of social status, regardless of cultural background, it must above all have a particular atmosphere that allows the person who lives there to be recognized. A decoration may be superfluous, but it is a reflection of the person and his or her taste. An interior is in some ways a reflection of its inhabitants.
An interior that is intended to be seen by others, without being lived in, will be cruelly lacking in soul.
I feel most confident when wearing:
Without hesitation, a Tuxedo. I have to admit men are lucky and advantaged when it comes to choosing an outfit.
My signature scent: Lillies, the most wonderful flowers.
My all-time favorite fabric: Silk velvet.
The person I call for good advice:
Most certainly my wife, who is wise, patient and a good listener.
The person I call for a good time:
My good friend Ariel Wizman, philosopher, journalist and DJ. He is always in a good mood.
The most interesting dinner party companion:
I had the incredible opportunity to sit every day for two weeks at Henry Kissinger's table. I was too young to realize what a privilege it was to interact with such a man. I was staying with the Goldsmith family in Mexico, in a beautiful place. It was right after my father had passed. My friend Alix, Jimmy’s daughter, invited me to stay many times and I am very grateful to her and her family.
A new artist or designer whose work excites me:
Eva Jospin, for the energy and enigma generated by her work - both classic and very innovative.