" You know how sometimes you discover a place or a person that you always knew had been there, but never really investigated or acknowledged ?…. That is how it was for me when I walked through the door of Au Bain Marie and was greeted by Aude Clement.
Here is a little store on the rue de l’Université, in the chic end of the Paris latin quarter. Hemmed in all sides by wonderful private art galleries. You can’t just push the door and walk in; no… here you ring a bell, and wait for the door to be opened and for you to be greeted. It sets the tone.
Au Bain Marie is the extraordinary result of an extraordinary career. Aude Clement originally trained as an architect, at a time when young ladies didn’t do that sort of thing. The May 1968 riots saw her school closed down, and she came to Paris and switched to a design school.
With her qualifications in her pocket, she found herself unexpectedly employed as a journalist, writing about gastronomy and fine dining for the most famous French papers and magazines.
For many years she had a huge store near the Crillon hotel, where she displayed her unending collection of antique and collectors tableware.
Napoleon III dinner plates
Today, Aude’s store is smaller but her passion for a beautiful table and the importance of fine dining still persist. Once you enter through the door, you know you are somewhere special. It was difficult for me to take photos, because I hardly knew which way to turn.
From the collection of vintage ice buckets, to the spectacular antique sets of cutlery, to the dinner sets designed by Aude, be they on porcelain or on tole. While I took my pictures and chatted to Aude I observed her clients. Some were regular visitors, back to add to a collection, while others were here for the first time and walked around slowly, trying to take it all in.
Aude’s long experience means that she is a fount of knowledge on the history of tableware, and is able to source practically anything, no matter the request.
Creil & Montereau – ‘Le Parisien’ 19th century
She is regularly called upon to style important dinners, for up to 1500 people at museums and embassies in Paris. Her breathtaking tablescapes and attention to details have made her a Parisian reference in stylish dining.
Her china and flatware have been flown around the world and used for picnics in Central Park; high dinners in Tokyo and Christmas gatherings in Sydney. Her address book would make the busiest socialite pale in envy. But the delightful thing about Aude is her down to earth and friendly manner.
She can understand the need for dishwasher friendly knives, and she creates a line of tin plates, using 18th and 19th century French illustrations, because they are just perfect for hanging on a wall or using on that picnic without fear of breaking a thing!
So next time you are in Paris, and you want to find the perfect set of fruit knives, or pick out an antique soup tureen, or simply admire the crystal decanters, then pop along to Au Bain Marie, ring the bell, and say bonjour to Aude! And if you can’t get there in person, Aude takes orders via her website. "