Despite being the oldest manufacturer of artist pastels in the world, there are many reasons why you’ve probably never heard of La Maison du Pastel. Like any true luxury item, these pastels are expensive and rare. And not because of marketing. These pastels are crafted with the highest quality ingredients, each one hand-rolled using the same technique the Roché family has been using since they started the company 1720 (read the detailed history here).
After being passed from generation to generation, then almost closing in the 1980s, today La Maison du Pastel is experiencing a bit of a quiet renaissance. It’s run by just two very dedicated and passionate women, Isabelle Roché and Margaret Zayer. For most of the week they are in the atelier outside Paris creating every single one of the almost 1000 different shades of pastels. On Thursday afternoon they bring them to the Paris boutique, which they open for just a few hours to the general public. Dating back to 1906, this charming little shop is hidden in the back of a courtyard on Rue Rambuteau, near the Centre Pompidou. If you happened to be walking past the large carriage doors you might see a non-descript dry cleaners, but only artists in the know and curious explorers who walk to the end of the courtyard will find La Maison du Pastel.
They have their loyal regulars, as well as artists visiting from around the world who have fallen in love with their pastels (about half of their production is exported outside France). Margaret, who is originally from the United States, explains to me how it’s the amount of pigment they use (with minimal binding agents) that accounts for the amazing intensity and clarity of the pastels. I watch as Isabelle shows a customer from Australia how well the colors layer on top of each other, their texture and their feel.
I’m not an artist, but I can’t help falling in love with every single tray of colors she pulls down from the wooden shelves. At €17-€20 per pastel, they are far more expensive than the mass-produced pastels you’ll find in most art supply stores. It’s not about profits or branding. Isabelle and Margaret simply refuse to cut corners, committed to creating the same quality pastels their customers now expect, and it’s their reputation that has kept them in business even when times were difficult.
I would be too terrified to waste them on myself, but the box sets and Petits Rochés (half-sticks) make excellent gifts for artist friends, and it gives me an excuse to return again and again to this lovely little oasis of calm in the center of Paris.
La Maison du Pastel
20 Rue Rambuteau, 3rd
Tel 01 40 29 00 67
Open Thursdays 2-6pm, or by appointment.