‘In Provence, it’s all about sitting around a table and spending time with family’

Wild Geese: Ruth Ribeaucourt runs a jewellery design business from her home in Lacoste

Ruth Ribeaucourt: ‘You sit down for meals here. Shops close for a few hours in the afternoons, or often for the rest of the day. There’s certainly no rushing around.’

Ruth Ribeaucourt: ‘You sit down for meals here. Shops close for a few hours in the afternoons, or often for the rest of the day. There’s certainly no rushing around.’

 

“Irish born, but French at heart” is how jewellery designer, antique textile dealer, magazine contributor and Provence guide Ruth Ribeaucourt describes herself.

Living the clichéd dream in France, she turned Provence into her canvas, thriving on its culture and beauty.

Growing up in Northern Irish Border town Rostrevor, Co Down, Ribeaucourt was first introduced to art by her mother, who had opened a contemporary art gallery in Dundalk when she was at school.

“I was fascinated by the artists and the people I met. Although I was good at art, I didn’t pursue it in college.” Instead she studied business at Trinity College in Dublin. A trip to the Louvre on her Erasmus year, was to give her a taste for combining art and business, which was to become her later career.

“But first I did an internship at Walt Disney Studios in Dublin, where I ended up in a marketing assistant role before I went on to become a marketing manager.

“I thought I’d be working for Disney forever,” she says. “I loved my job and the people I worked with.”

Financial crisis

But the birth of her first child, the global financial crisis and finding out that she had an autoimmune disease, which attacked her thyroid gland, created a perfect storm and saw Ribeaucourt’s life take a different turn.

“My French husband and I always wanted to live in France and when his hours in finance were cut, we decided to move to the small town of Lacoste in Provence.

It was the winter of 2010 when Ribeaucourt “stepped off the ladder, rather than onto it”. “When we arrived, there was nothing open in the town. Everything was closed up for the winter. I had no driver’s licence and a one-year-old. I thought to myself, I’m never going to get a job again.”

But an encounter with her husband’s family during her first Christmas in France introduced her to their fragile family ribbon business and her love for textiles and heritage was born.

“Soon I started to explore the brocantes, sourcing materials, which I sold online on Etsy. I decided to make jewellery out of ribbons which I now sell to Japan and the US.”

By combining her marketing and communication skills, everything started coming together. In 2014, Exquisite Threads was born, selling antique and vintage silk ribbons, 18th century Indiennes fabric, trims and lace.

“A lot of the silks I offer are antique salesman’s samples which were woven in the 19th century in my husband’s family’s silk factory in St Etienne, ” she says. “In recent years, I’ve sold museum-quality pieces and very special antique samples to key haute couture designers looking for inspiration for collections and to costume departments for period TV dramas and theatre, as well as to a very loyal small creative clientele.”

Coinciding with her own business, she started working in communications for the family’s haute couture ribbon company, Julian Faure, and launched their Instagram account, sharing with the world the art of jacquard ribbon weaving. Their clients today include Chanel, Dries Van Noten, Gucci and Christian Dior.

In 2015, she founded The French Muse, which offers an immersive and authentic travel experiences, workshops and retreats around the famous southern French region. From photography to food, lifestyle to writing and baking as well as “intimate journeys into the heart of the area and its culture”, Ribeaucourt wants her guests to soak up the region’s colour and light, and “famous pace of life”.

“I always carefully select and plan a visit with a very special artist in their home or atelier space. It could be a ceramicist, a painter, a plumassier, a textile artist or a photographer. The fun is in creating chemistry between artist and guests. I also create private appointments with my favourite antique dealers. So it’s a really immersive authentic experience.

“I use social media a lot to advertise and am on social media for all my ventures. It’s a fantastic tool for this kind of bespoke work, and it allows me to work from home.”

Ribeaucourt also contributes to the magazine Where Women Create and works as a photographer for product shots, stills of patterns, jewellery and her surrounding countryside with its stunning homes.

Indulge

“I have a few jobs now and am constantly finding new ideas at the many French flea markets in my area,” she says.

“You can have a great family life here. There’s a lot of balance. I have two children now and it’s a fantastic place to raise them, while it allows me to indulge in my creative and business side.”

Recently, Ribeaucourt also delved into fundraising. Having watched the horrific forest fires in Australia on TV, she felt she had to do something, so she put together a global art auction on her Instagram page, raising over €100,000 for the forest fires across Australia through her Red Cross fundraising site: “The response has been overwhelming. It started as a grassroots local initiative and went global so quickly. We’ve very proud of what we’ve achieved in a short space of time.”

Of life in the slow lane, she says Provence is still the same as it ever was. “You sit down for meals here. Shops close for a few hours in the afternoons, or often for the rest of the day. There’s certainly no rushing around. Needless to say, it can be frustrating in the beginning.

“But you don’t really get the same disposable culture here. People have small kitchens and basic houses. It’s all about sitting around a table, eating and spending time with family.”

Ribeaucourt advises anything thinking of moving to France to learn French. “You won’t get far without it. But, because you have to, you learn on your feet. Adapting to the way of life takes time, but it’s worth it. Obviously its not as buzzing as Dublin and you miss Irish people, but once spring comes around and the boards come off the windows, it’s a wonderful place to be.”

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