Irish born, but French at heart, jewelry designer and travel guide Ruth Ribecourt finds beauty amidst dust and dirt. She rediscovers forgotten items and shares French findings with admirers across the globe. Whether living vicariously through her Instagram, or joining in on a bespoke travel experience with the French Muse, Ruth’s followers and clients are treated to the privy secrets of the region. Ruth and her French Muse co-host Corey Amaro design personalized itineraries for their range of guests. From dreamers, storytellers and collectors to boutique buyers, painters, chefs and photographers, the French Muse welcomes creatives with a soft spot for aged beauty, treasure hunts, and layered history.
Previously the Head of Marketing and Publicity for Walt Disney Studios and practically working non-stop, Ruth made a drastic lifestyle change after having her first child. While she liked her job, she reevaluated her priorities and decided to reconnect with her passions. Today, she splits her time between hand making one-of-a-kind jewelry, connecting travelers with French people and culture, and soaking in all Provence has to offer. We caught up with Ruth to take a peek inside the private world of French antiquing and after it all, we couldn’t help but pick out a few of her beautiful designs to commemorate the experience.
dimanche Can you describe the antique scene in Provence?
Ruth In France, antiquing is a bit of a national pastime. Every weekend, you will find any number of opportunities to go antiquing across France. We have the ‘Vide Grenier’, the French equivalent of the garage sale; or the ‘Marche aux Puces’, the French Flea Market - be warned not all are created equal. We also have the ‘Brocante’ and its more expensive, but often less pretty, cousin the ‘Belle Brocante’… and then finally, for the more serious antiques hunters, we have bi-annual antiques fairs known as a ‘Foire d'antiquités’ where you will see the most ridiculously beautiful stands and antiques that will blow your mind.
I have a regular circuit including my favorite weekly flea markets and must-visit annual vide-greniers. Most of my favorite dealers are personal friends. After 8 years of buying, they’ll either pick for me, as they know my follies by heart, or they’ll send me photographs from inside a closed estate sale.
dimache Who are some of your favorite antique vendors and artisans?
R My favorite antiques dealers are those who source only items which speak to them and don’t just sell bric a brac. In a way they are artists, they transform a mundane fold-up market table into an intoxicating still life tableau with found objects.The joy of brocanting done right is that it opens up a world of sensuality.
One of my all time favourite antiques dealers is Odile of La Petite Curieuse in Isle sur la Sorgue, it’s the most magical place I know. Odile can find a diamond in the dust of the grimiest flea market. Once she brings it back to her jewel of a boutique, it is transformed into something special; an 18th century indigo quilt, a morsel of antique wallpaper, handmade dolls furniture and evocative handwritten letters from the 1800s… everything has a story.
Her daughter, my dear friend Aurelie Alvarez is an incredible painter. The first time I walked into her atelier I sobbed; her energy and creativity are breathtaking. She works and lives in a crumbling 15th Century Hotel Particuliere and her work and this incredible space are as one.
dimanche What interests you about previously owned and used materials?
R Growing up in a small village in rural Ireland, I used to go rummaging around junk shops on the weekends with my dad, searching for ‘treasure’ - the joy of the hunt! My fondest memories are of jumping over tall gates marked ‘No Trespassing’ and exploring the ruins of crumbling old stately homes in Co. Louth. So you could say I always felt a pull from the past.
I can safely say I knew nothing of antiques or flea markets until I came to live in France in 2010. My French husband’s family has been making haute couture ribbons since 1864 in Saint Etienne and in 2010 we celebrated our first Christmas in France after moving from Dublin. That year my husband’s grandmother gifted me a box of the most incredible ribbons I had ever seen - 1800s ombré cut velvets, embellished with real gold & silver thread. I was spellbound.
Every weekend I would wake before dawn, drive to obscure tiny villages for a flea market and slowly over time, France revealed its incredible heritage to me - silk, ribbon, lace, quilting, textile printing and natural dyeing, embroidery, and beautiful brushstrokes.
Nelly, one of my favorite antiques dealers, has a saying,
dimanche What are a few of your favorite discoveries?
R When you start out everything is astonishing and then as you gradually develop your eye and knowledge, it is easier to tell the difference between 18th Century and 19th Century- man-made and hand-made.
The finds I cherish the most right now are a series of portraits by a Provençal artist Jules Recubert (1874-1949) depicting his wife Augustine (his great grandson was selling them at a local garage sale), an incredible 18th century silk Chinese embroidery panel, an 18th century textile dyers technical book, a beautiful Indigo Bamileke Ndop ceremonial cloth and ALL of my 18th & 19th century French indigo fabric samples….I could go on!
dimanche Explain the history behind the ribbons you use in your jewelry designs.
R My husband Raphael comes from a celebrated silk family from Saint Etienne. His family, Maison Julien Faure, have been making ribbons since 1864 and work today with the greatest haute couture houses including Chanel, Hermes, Christian Dior, Dries Van Noten, Etro and Lanvin.
I make one of a kind jewelry using silks, ribbons and metallic passementerie from our family silk archives. I combine these museum textiles with vintage buttons, handmade lace, 1920s dress beading, artisanal beading, antique paper, metal, resin and acrylic.
When I started my key objective was to transform these archives from dusty forgotten silk samplers into something that would be worn and loved again.
dimanche What era would you want to live in if you could time travel? And who would be your alter ego?
R Paris Mid 1800s. I’ve discovered I’m drawn to furniture from the Napoleon III era in mid 1800s. Trim was such a crucial fashion element in the 1800s that I would have died and gone to heaven surrounded by such gorgeous ribbons and embellishments! Not too sure about all that corseting though.
I would also be very happy to revisit the 1920s. I love the printed fabrics, the beading and embellishments of this era too.
I would wake up with the dawn to a dry day and a fabulous flea market on the horizon.After a morning spent hunting for treasures, I would join my husband and my two children Louis and Charlotte for lunch at Café de la Poste in Goult. In the afternoon, we would all take a nap if we’re feeling lazy. Then we’d play a favourite film on the cinema screen or go for a walk in the Cedar Forest above Bonnieux.
Written by Carly Smith
Photos courtesy of Ruth Ribeaucourt of The French Muse