Tucked away in a narrow passage amid the windy heart of Montpellier’s old town, you’ll find Les Petits Papiers de Flo.
It is a teensy store bursting with light, warmth, colour and creativity; a utopia for paper, stationery and trinket lovers alike. When I stumbled on this shop during my first week in Montpellier, it drew me in completely, and of all the artisan boutiques I’ve since discovered in this creatively driven town, it’s still my favourite.
I met the shop owner and artist, Florence Van Handenhove, by chance at a private exhibition that my host mother was also a part of and I had been invited to. Florence is just as lovely as her creations, and to my delight, she welcomed my proposal of an interview and to feature her gorgeous creations on my blog.
What’s your story? | Parlez-moi de vous.
I studied drawing and photography at the Beaux Arts school in Montpellier, and after finishing I opened the shop straight away. I had initially thought about selling my creations on a sales/return basis in local shops, but I quickly worked out it wasn’t going to be viable and so the idea of having my own shop came about, where I could sell notebooks, cards, key rings, magnets, decorations and whatever I wanted to work on.
We will have been open for 4 years on the 1st December, and we’re only getting business and busier!
What’s your creative process from idea to shop floor? What inspires you? | Quelle est votre procédé creatif? Comment passez-vous de la conception à la fabrication?
As well as researching the marketplace and products on the internet, I think about everyday life and activities we do, and this informs me about what products would be useful to have for the house and handbag, etc. Everybody needs a diary to organise their daily schedules, and so I design them. Once, when my shop was in a mess, I felt the need to create lists of products to sort everything out. I designed a list book and then that became a product.
I change the illustrations on products from time to time and I introduce about ten new designs per season. I do everything from idea generation to production myself, including the artwork, layout, printing, binding and selling. I start with prototypes to try them out, and if they are popular they become a part of my product range.
What is your product range? | Est-ce que vous pouvez me décrire votre gamme du produit?
I have birthday books, scribbling books, notebooks and recipe books, badges, magnets, tins, boxes, jewelery and decorations for the home.
What is the best part of having your own business? | Quelle est pour vous, l’avantage d’être votre propre patron?
The freedom of having my own shop and doing whatever I want to do! I can organise my own workload, and apart from extremely busy periods of production, for example creating diaries for the start of a new year, this gives me a lot of flexibility.
What is the worst part of having your own business? | Qu’est-ce qui est le plus dur quand on a sa propre société?
If there’s something I don’t want to do… I don’t do it! Although I have to manage my accounting to see the future of my business.
Do you have a creative tip to offer? | Avez-vous une astuce?
Take pleasure in what you’re doing, so you can transmit the pleasure of your creations to others.
Communication is also important. My customers arrive by word of mouth. To be successful in business you must be an all-rounder, well organised and good at all the little parts of business…if you have all of the right ingredients for the recipe, you’ll make a successful cake!
What do you love about Montpellier? | Qu’est-ce que vous aimez le plus à Montpellier?
I love that Montpellier is a small town within a magnificent framework. It has a real village atmosphere, unlike a big city, which is too impersonal. I live in the Beaux-Arts quarter and I know a lot of people in the neighbourhood. When I cross the town on my way to the shop, I will often meet fifteen people. In the north of France, people go home after work. In the south of France, after work people don’t go home – they go to a nearby cafe and meet friends. People are more open here.
Do you find the creative energy strong in this town? | Est-ce vous trouvez qu’il y a une forte énergie creative à Montpellier?
I thought I was going to be alone in running a creative business, but there is a real buzz and it’s only getting stronger. With a number of local studios, we’ve put together a brochure that is distributed by the tourism office. There’s a great creative energy in Montpellier.
Thank you so much Florence!
If you find yourself in Montpellier one day (and I really hope you do!) you can find Les Petits Papiers de Flo at 9, rue de Vallat.