In his sprawling Manhattan townhouse -- which combines private living quarters upstairs with the renowned gallery Malmaison Antiques below -- the bespectacled and eminently Gallic proprietor, Roger Prigent, holds court midst a backdrop of gilded chandeliers, Rigence and Empire furniture, and French Art Deco paintings. A portrait of Helena Rubinstein by Christian Berard, marble busts of Napoleon, Venetian glass, silver, Lucite, and ormolu co-mingle in one great melting pot of chic.
The savvy octogenarian has been a front row fixture at every major furniture auction in New York City for the last 20 years, and has never been afraid to buy what others have shunned. Long before it was stylish to mix centuries of design under the same roof, Prigent was doing just that. Mad keen on Napoleon since childhood, the tastebroker adores tipping his favorite Emperor's hat to Hollywood these days, mixing neoclassical and Vogue Regency taste with aplomb. He is a modernist at heart with a contagious fascination for fine French furniture. Prophetic purchases early in his career have led to discoveries of obscure 20th century painters and craftsmen too. Over the last two decades, Prigent has helped pioneer the popularity of mid-century American designers like T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, Samuel Marx, Frances Elkins, and Karl Springer. He sums up 20th century design with the declarative maxim, "Either its chic or its not chic."
After almost a quarter century in business, Malmaison has decided to scale back its operations. "The future will be my minimalist phase, only a few things -- mirrors, sconces, coffee tables -- for a few decorators, very cafi society," coos Prigent with a devilish grin.
Roger Prigent's Malmaison