Serge Mouille: Master goldsmith of luminous design

The lights of French designer Serge Mouille are instantly recognisable. Aficionados of 1950s vintage design are snapping up the unique and exceptional pieces of this designer. In just ten years, Serge Mouille has created a timeless style of handcrafted light sculptures. Before achieving international recognition, Serge Mouille was first and foremost a master craftsman who elevated his metalwork to an art form. A look back at an atypical career, whose luminous creations have become classics of post-war design.

Spider” ceiling lamp with 5 fixed arms, design: Serge Mouille, 1958

Serge Mouille (1922-1988) was born in Paris. He was not a very studious pupil, but very quickly showed a predisposition for drawing. He was a precocious talent, as at only 13 years old he passed the entrance exam to the École des Arts Appliqués. He decided to train in metallurgy and goldsmithing. He became fascinated by this second discipline during the courses given by Gabriel Lacroix, who became his mentor. Under the guidance of Lacroix, Serge Mouille became one of the best experts in metalwork. Unfortunately, he was forced to stop his studies temporarily when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Serge Mouille at work
©️ Barnies

He resumed his studies and brilliantly obtained his diploma in 1941. After the war, having become a master in the art of modelling metal with a hammer, Serge Mouille worked for various goldsmiths, including Hénin Orfèvre. In 1947, following a competition, he was appointed to succeed Gabriel Lacroix at the École des Arts Appliqués. Initially Lacroix’s assistant, he officially succeeded him in 1954 as professor of drawing and chasing

Cut-out shapes and figures made by Serge Mouille between 1950 and 1955. Serge Mouille is a goldsmith in the art of working metal
©️ The strict maximum

It was encounters that precipitated Serge Mouille’s creative career. On the commuter train that takes him to Paris every day, he meets Slavik, a decorator at Publicis. Slavik introduced Serge Mouille to Jean Adnet, who was then in charge of the Galeries Lafayette display team. While Slavik and Jean Adnet were commissioning Serge Mouille to design lighting for an exhibition, Mouille met Jean Adnet’s twin brother, Jacques Adnet, director of the Compagnie des Arts Français, who asked him to design a light fixture for his South American clients

This project launched Serge Mouille’s meteoric career as a designer. The teacher set about the task and took almost a year to design thefirst floor lamp in enamelled aluminium, with three arms articulated by means of ball joints. The lampshades fixed to the ends swivel and tilt, and are topped with a teat. The “Serge Mouille” style of lighting was then born. For thisfirst project, delivered in 1952, Serge Mouille wanted to design a piece that stood out from the standards of the time, and in particular from the Italian lamps, which he considered too technical.

Three-arm floor lamp model MFL-3, design: Serge Mouille, 1952. Tripod base, the shadow interiors are white © Le strict maximum

For 10 years, Serge Mouille perfected his insect-like models, developing his aesthetic vocabulary in the form of floor lamps, table lamps, hanging lamps and wall lamps with a minimalist look. The “Mouille Style”: thin steel rods in black lacquered metal, brass ball joints, meticulously handcrafted aluminium sheet reflectors with unique shapes that evoke the female breast, a sculptural aesthetic that gives the impression of movement in space

Serge Mouille’s famous breast-shaped reflectors
©️ Le strict maximum
“Araignée” wall lamp with 5 fixed arms, design: Serge Mouille
by Editions Serge Mouille
Wall lamp with 2 pivoting arms, design: Serge Mouille, 1954
©️ Nedgis
Straight design floor lamp with 1 fixed arm, design : Serge Mouille, 1953
Lamp model “Cocotte”, design: Serge Mouille, 1957

Unique fact: Serge Mouille chisels each reflector by hand, they are real jewels with a smooth finish that cannot be reproduced by usual techniques. Moreover, the designer will always refuse to industrialise his models – he will create about fifty of them -, preferring to jealously preserve an unrivalled know-how. Each model is unique and allows for a wide variety of lighting styles.

Tuyau” wall lamp, design: Serge Mouille, 1955. A genius of metalwork, Serge Mouille designed a series of lights with original shapes
Eye” wall lamp
Flame” wall lamp
Conche” wall lamp, design: Serge Mouille, 1957. Serge Mouille was inspired by the shapes of nature, often shells, as here

3 personalities allowed Serge Mouille to carry out his goldsmith’s work by hand, to make his work known and to record orders. Serge Mouille never wished to entrust the realization and the distribution of his pieces to a publisher, he found in the person of the gallery owner Steph Simon (1902-1982) who exhibited exclusive models of Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand, an ideal relay to expose his models in Paris. To manufacture his lamps, Mouille relies on Henri Depierre, who welds the first three-armed floor lamps. Finally, he could count on the influence of the decorator Louis Sognot (1892-1970) to place his creations when he obtained orders from individuals.

Stand of the Steph Simon Gallery at the 1959 Salon des arts ménagers. Serge Mouille’s lighting fixtures are prominently displayed © Le strict maximum
1st Triennale d’Art français contemporain, 1956. In the background, we can see a Serge Mouille wall lamp with 3 pivoting arms on the Louis Sognot stand
© Le strict maximum

From 1952 to 1963, Serge Mouille independently created his famous black metal luminaires with an immediately identifiable style – the Formes Noires series – while continuing to teach. He stopped his activity in 1963 for various reasons: The Steph Simon gallery encountered financial difficulties, he ended his collaboration with Henri Depierre and his new series – Colonnes -, created in 1961, met with mixed success. However, he continued to teach and draw. It was not until the 1980s that his work was again highlighted in various retrospectives. Serge Mouille, suffering from tuberculosis, died in 1988.

Lamps models Très Grand Signal and Grand Totem, design Serge Mouile, 1962 and 1963, series Columns. With his new series, Serge Mouille radically changed his aesthetic language. His lighting columns use fluorescent tubes, which were new at the time

Lamps from the Column series in a contemporary interior
© Scandinavia Design

In 1999, Gin Mouille, Serge Mouille’s widow, founded Editions Serge Mouille with Claude Delpiroux. Most of the models created during her husband’s active decade are now being produced again, in strict accordance with the shapes and dimensions of the originals. A delight for lovers of the design of the master goldsmith whose creations are recognised and celebrated throughout the world.

François Boutard

Cover photo credit: © Liberty’s