FROM 3-6 November, 100 talented artisans from across Europe will gather at the magical Château de la Sarraz above Lausanne for the 22nd ed. of the UNIcréa Salon for Art, Fashion & Decor.
This ‘must do’ biannual event attracted more than 6,000 arts and crafts lovers to its Spring edition at the Château de Morges last May, many of whom were returning clientele eager to enjoy four-days of original creations, fashion shows, children’s workshops, and a uniquely welcoming and upbeat atmosphere that celebrates artisanal craftsmanship at its best.
The success of UNIcréa stems from one woman’s determined efforts starting eleven years ago to shine a flattering spotlight on artisans and their creations, which she felt were being underserved at the typical arts and crafts fairs of the day.
With a business degree and ten years experience as an interior designer and a travelling artisan, French-born Céline Dreveton, 38, had the training and personal experience to bring together the necessary elements for success.
UNIcréa’s recipe for success
Her formula involves mixing 100 talented artisans (including 60 new ones at each event) with a magical location (a medieval castle); a devoted team of volunteers called “les UNIS”; 7 universes (textiles, wood, metal, paint, earth, stone and glass) in which artisans can express themselves; interactive events; choosing a charitable organization that receives part of UNIcréa’s proceeds; and of course, an appreciative public.
While Céline receives active support from her family and team of volunteers, this largely one-woman show demands enormous reserves of her time and energy. This makes even more remarkable the fact that she also holds creative workshops in her own home (Jardin Blanc), organizes art classes at the Château de la Sarraz (À qui le tour?) and is about to publish her first book, a ‘dictionary’ of creative pastimes to do when you’re feeling blue, entitled “Ça va pas?”
It was a pleasure to sit down with Céline recently to learn more about her and why she believes so wholeheartedly in what she’s doing.
Q&A with UNIcréa founder Céline Dreveton
Céline, you started UNIcrea 11 years ago because you felt that artisans were not presented in the best possible light. Why was that important to you?
I love arts and crafts. I love people, they’re my drug, but with artisans it’s even stronger. They’re sensitive. When I think of my painters — ‘my’ meant affectionately not possessively — when they create, they really expose themselves. They’re sensitive to criticism and sometimes it’s more nourishing for them to hear someone say “your work is wonderful, it really touches me” than for that work to be purchased.
You still follow the same guidelines today as you did at the start. What are they and why did you put them in place?
When I launched UNIcréa I had three guidelines in mind: First, each artisan would be selected according to the quality and originality of their work and also on their personal degree of conviviality. They make everything happen. I want everyone to spend a good “moment” together and I want them to sell. Now, whether they do so is up to them.
Second, the event would be held in atypical locations. Voila! A castle! The Château de la Sarraz has a lovely energy, and the Chateau de Morges is a military museum so there’s a wonderful contrast between the artisanal creations and their setting.
Third, there would be an entry fee so we know that people are really interested in arts and crafts and in seeing everything that’s there. As the entry is valid across the four days, people have time to really explore every corner of the exhibition – left and right, up and down, the cellars, the courtyards, every floor. I want to make sure everyone enjoys themselves.
Why is the artisan’s personality so important to you?
On the application form I ask them to rate their degree of conviviality on a scale of 1 to 20. For example, I ask: “are you capable of smiling until Sunday night?” From that question, the artisans know what to expect from UNIcréa, that they are dealing with people, not numbers.
Also, I have thirty friends who help me during the event — our team is called the “UNIS”. And my family helps me, too. They call me ‘Queen Mum’. But I manage everything myself and it’s a lot. That’s why I choose the artisans myself, because I want a nice atmosphere. I get to know everyone by first name, by what they create. It’s a nice party, UNIcréa. There’s an atmosphere like we’re one big family.
What must artisans do to succeed in selling their work?
With regard to UNIcréa they just have to share their passion and explain why they have made what they have, in what conditions and with what materials. They shouldn’t try to sell their wares. They have to talk with love about what they have made and the pleasure they had in making it.
Is the public really prepared to buy from artisans?
Our clientele is very loyal and generally don’t leave without buying something. Also, gallery and boutique owners place orders with the artisans. And if anyone needs time to think over a purchase, having entry across the Salon’s four days allows them to do so.
Organizing UNIcréa is a huge organizational task. How do you keep up your enthusiasm?
Organizing UNIcréa demands lots of passion and patience. Out of the hundred artisans participating 60 are always new and 80 come from outside Switzerland, which requires dealing with Swiss Customs. So there’s a large administrative role to fill.
At the end of every UNIcréa, I take stock together with my friends. I ask myself: “did you enjoy doing this? Did it please you? Should I continue, yes or no?” I never want to feel obliged. It has to come from passion.
Expatriates sometimes have difficulty assimilating into a new culture. As a French native living in the Swiss Romandy have you ever felt this way and what would you do to overcome it if you did?
I’ve never felt like a foreigner, but if I were to land in a country and didn’t speak the language there are many things I could do to be with others, like taking a language or cooking course.
That’s why 8 years ago I created Jardin Blanc, hosting arts and crafts classes in my own home. We spend great moments together, and starting in January, I’ll be cooking together with my (12-year-old) daughter some simple meals that participants can enjoy together in addition to the crafting.
Same thing with À qui le tour? art courses at the Château de la Sarraz, where we also have expats taking part. You sense that people are there for the classes but also to share a moment together. Language isn’t a problem because we work (and communicate) with our hands.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
I’ve written a playful, funny “dictionary” entitled “Ça vas pas?” giving you 52 ideas for what to do when your spirits are low and you need a little inspiration. It’s published by Guy Trédaniel and will be in major bookstores in about a month.
What is your ideal day?
My ideal day regarding UNIcréa is when all the artisans have arrived and everything is ready and we can enjoy the moment together.
My ideal day for me is when I can wake up when I want. I read my favorite magazine, I write my book, I go to Lausanne, I eat in my favorite organic restaurant, I go to the movies, and in the evening I prepare a simple meal for my friends that we eat in front of the fire or on the terrace. Voila! We talk about life and remake the world. I’m very lucky, I love my life. ♥
22 ed. of UNIcréa Art, Fashion, Decor
Thursday, 3rd to Sunday, 6th November 2016
Château de la Sarraz, between Lausanne & Yverdon-les-Bains
Photo of Céline Dreveton by CLG. All other photos by Céline Dreveton.