Within the spring of 2020, when the entire world instantly got here to a halt, metropolis dwellers started concocting all types of escape fantasies. Some imagined transferring to a rural space and turning into sustainable farmers; a quantity nursed long-dormant inventive ambitions; nonetheless others devised plans for brand new tech ventures, with visions of blockchains dancing of their heads.
However one Parisian couple, Victoire de Pourtalès and Benjamin Eymère, dreamed up a mission that mixed all three of those eventualities, plus just a few extra. Their daring new enterprise, as Eymère explains whereas steering his Citroen Ami electrical buggy towards their hemp area within the French countryside, is a type of intellectual ecological amusement park: “an open-sky R&D laboratory” that hyperlinks artwork, nature and science.
It helps that the couple’s new base of operations is Le Château du Marais, a powerful 980-acre property within the French countryside that’s been in de Pourtalès’s household for generations—and that offers their enterprise, 91.530 Le Marais, its identify (the quantity is courtesy of the native zip code). De Pourtalès grew up in its extraordinary Louis XVI-era château, encircled by a moat. However for her and Eymère, the principle attracts of the place are the forests and fields that encompass it. And though wheat has all the time been the realm’s chief crop, hemp received the couple’s consideration for its potential as a sustainable super-plant: It requires no pesticides, grows shortly and can be utilized to make eco-friendly alternate options to just about something, from development supplies to face lotions. It’s biodegradable, after all, and since all the plant can be utilized in numerous methods, there’s virtually zero waste. They harvested their first crop in September. (Like marijuana, hemp is a hashish, however its cultivation isn’t restricted because it accommodates minimal quantities of the psychoactive compound THC.)
To those that knew the couple effectively throughout their earlier lives on the coronary heart of the Paris cultural scene, their new roles are solely mildly shocking. Granted, they weren’t precisely farmer sorts: de Pourtalès cofounded VNH Gallery and was a director of David Zwirner’s Paris house till 2020, whereas Eymère is CEO of L’Officiel Inc., the worldwide journal group, and cofounder of the blended-sake model Heavensake. However they and their two younger sons have all the time spent weekends on the château, an hour south of town. De Pourtalès’s father was an avid naturalist and homeopath who handled her childhood sniffles with potions constituted of herbs he gathered within the woods. She nonetheless likes to take invigorating dips within the moat.
At any time when they’re in work mode, each de Pourtalès and Eymère are likely to assume massive. Considered one of their early strikes was hiring Kulapat Yantrasast, the Bangkok-born, Los Angeles– and New York–primarily based architect who’s a favourite within the artwork world, to plan a plan for an out of doors area adjoining to the hemp fields. Constructed primarily of wooden and “greencrete”—a hemp-based reply to concrete—and surrounded by a newly planted bamboo forest, with two hovering portals on the entrance, the house will host cultural and neighborhood occasions, and perhaps the occasional trend present, after it’s accomplished subsequent yr. “You are able to do live shows, artwork exhibits, festivals, farmers markets, something,” says Yantrasast. A former disciple of the Japanese architect and concrete grasp Tadao Ando, Yantrasast is gung-ho about hemp’s promise as a inexperienced constructing materials. “Concrete is nice, nevertheless it has its limitations,” he says. “It’s not recyclable. And hempcrete is rather more porous, so it’s higher at absorbing warmth and sounds.”
A part of what drew Yantrasast to the mission was de Pourtalès and Eymère’s revolutionary method to conserving the château’s historical past alive. Grand ancestral properties, Yantrasast factors out, have a means of turning into cash pits, and aristocratic households usually fumble of their makes an attempt to maintain them going: “How do you maintain the glory of the previous whereas bringing one thing new to it?”
The reply for de Pourtalès features a year-round arts-and-culture program, which she sees as a pure extension of the property’s terroir. The château has been a haven for artists and writers for the reason that early nineteenth century, when memoirist Madame de la Briche hosted a well known literary salon right here and intellectuals comparable to François-René de Chateaubriand had been frequent long-term company. De Pourtalès’s great-grandmother, American-born heiress Anna Gould, continued the custom after transferring in in 1897 following her marriage to Depend Boniface de Castellane. At the moment, de Pourtalès says, increasingly more artists are feeling a primal urge to reside amid nature whereas utilizing it as inspiration. In the meantime, the Paris contemporary-art scene retains gaining prominence worldwide, which is “nice for the galleries and for town—however typically we neglect concerning the artists,” who don’t all the time have good areas to create.
In 2019, de Pourtalès started a residency program, internet hosting artists in a few of the property’s outbuildings. Final yr, younger French painter John Fou spent two months prepping an equestrian collection that he exhibited within the type of a conceptual merry-go-round, impressed by the property’s 100-odd horses, with all of the canvases positioned in a circle and going through inward. In October, Belgian artist Edith Dekyndt displayed a big piece of material that she’d buried on website for 3 months, a part of her ongoing explorations of the mutability of on a regular basis objects. Later this yr, alongside a creek subsequent to the sector, development will start on a village of not less than two dozen “artist stables”—small studio dwellings, additionally manufactured from greencrete and designed by Yantrasast. They’ll be accessible for in a single day stays to all types of holiday makers, together with faculty teams and nature-starved weekenders, in addition to artists, musicians, architects and writers hungering for what de Pourtalès describes as a “inventive neighborhood.”
On the technological entrance, the couple have turned to the most recent science to reimagine the old-school agrarian château mannequin. Though the French countryside is dotted with picturesque farm plots, many outsiders don’t notice that the agricultural system right here was industrialized many years in the past. Eymère and de Pourtalès want to reestablish a extra holistic, extra sustainable connection between grower and land via using precision farming strategies, which intention to extend productiveness whereas decreasing the environmental affect. A Russian firm referred to as Acron created a customized fertilizer for the hemp area’s clay-rich soil. Digital monitoring gadgets put in atop the portals of the sector will collect local weather information that may be shared with neighboring farms. And as an alternative of simply promoting the crop at harvest time, the pair are closely concerned in growing the merchandise that can comprise their hemp, partnering with established small-scale producers. Along with the greencrete, they’re engaged on textiles and yarns, in addition to pure oils for magnificence merchandise. A blockchain system will enable full traceability, “from the seedling all the best way to the ultimate materials,” Eymère says.
“Bringing tech to the agricultural atmosphere is an effective enterprise proposition, nevertheless it’s additionally a superb inventive proposition,” he provides. “We’re seeing extra artists working with scientists.” The château’s inaugural artwork exhibit final summer time, Phytocene, was the brainchild of two musicians and a biophysicist. After inserting probes within the hemp area to trace the intricate ways in which particular person crops talk with each other, the artists turned the information right into a video-and-sound piece and projected it on a large wall in one of many property’s beautiful outdated granaries. On the time of writing, the couple are nonetheless planning the 2022 calendar, however already on the lineup is a twin residency by the younger artists Bianca Bondi and Guillaume Bouisset, who intend to collaborate on an “alchemic set up” within the granaries involving halo-bacteria, minerals and crystals.
Like increasingly more French individuals their age and youthful, de Pourtalès and Eymère, each 40, possess an entrepreneurial intuition that runs counter to the inflexible and retrograde stereotypes which have usually plagued their countrymen (notably those who reside in castles). Eymère has a regulation diploma from NYU, and de Pourtalès has organized artwork reveals on a number of continents; their social circle skews predominantly inventive and worldwide. “With out the foreigners, Paris isn’t Paris,” de Pourtalès says. “After all, some Parisians will say that they’re very comfortable with out foreigners, however they will’t survive with out them.”
Just a few of the couple’s extra cautious pals have requested them in the event that they’re trying to deal with an excessive amount of. Amongst their newest product concepts is a hemp-based artisanal gin. De Pourtalès smiles and shrugs. “Sure, it’s formidable,” she says of 91.530 Le Marais. “However we’re doing it little by little. It’s actually a lifetime mission.”
De Pourtalès and Eymère have additionally simply renovated and moved into the château’s 18th-century carriage home, which is nearer to the farm than the grand fundamental residence (the place de Pourtalès’s mom and aunt nonetheless reside). They’ve stocked the place with modern artworks—ceramic items by Eric Croes, a portray by Cy Gavin, a tiled set up by Mimosa Echard—and enrolled their sons within the village faculty. From their backyard they will hear the tractors, odor the horses and monitor any storm clouds that threaten the fields.
“I used to search out it boring when farmers talked consistently concerning the climate,” de Pourtalès says. However after the couple planted their first spherical of bamboo seedlings final summer time, they endured a number of straight days of downpours. “It simply saved on raining! So after all that’s all we talked about. Then we completely understood. Farming turns into your life.”