By Gordon T. Hughes II
It’s December, and that brings the holidays—all kinds of holidays, so depending on your background you’re probably celebrating one of them this month.
For me it’s Christmas. This brings a great deal of pressure, what with gifts to be selected. I love Thanksgiving—no presents, no pressure, just food, really good food, and one goofy uncle you have fundamental, philosophical, political issues with. There is always one. That said, a small price to pay for family, friends and dinner. But what I really want to write about is gift giving.
Some 16 or 17 years ago, my wife, Barbara, bought me the most whimsical, charming pen and ink sketch of a Paris bar scene. To this day I treasure it. The real story, however, is where she bought it and the shop’s remarkable history in the West Village, it’s one and only location.
Barb walked into this charming little shop located on the southeast corner of Bank Street and West 11th Street. Le Fanion was the name on the door. It was packed with exquisite pieces of antique furniture; an incredible collection of ceramics, everything from funny French coffee mugs to one-of-a-kind pitchers for wine, milk, water, and whatever else can go in a pitcher; and of course, French paintings—all kinds of paintings: cityscapes, countryscapes, still lifes… you get the picture (no pun intended, or maybe a small pun intended). We now have a wine pitcher at our farm with a devilish mule painted on the side.
Those of you who have bought a co-op know that you must be interviewed by members of the board. That was not for Barb; she’s just not keen on interviews. However, when I told her one of those board members was none other than Claude-Noelle Toly, one of the two owners of Le Fanion, you would have thought the interview was her idea.
Barb, like me, was so eager to meet Claude and reverse the interview process by interviewing her about her shop, forget about the co-op. We wanted to know how she got to New York and the West Village and just where she finds these remarkable pieces. A normal half-hour chat turned into an evening spent with an amazing woman with the heart of a poet and the brains of a very smart business woman.
She moved from France in 1982 to America to improve her English. She said her mother was dubious about this venture, but when she arrived she fell in love with Manhattan, especially the West Village. She got a job in a small restaurant in the Village where she met the man who was to become her business partner, William Nuckel. Together they hatched a plot to open a French antique shop. They found the perfect location in the West Village in an 1810 building, and thus in 1987 opened La Fanion. Thirty-two years in the same location is not a record, but it’s a hell of a run considering what has transpired lately in our Village. And it’s a run Claude is very proud of.
Here are a few remarkable things about the shop and about Claude: Travel—boy does that girl travel back and forth to the south of France meeting her regular pottery suppliers as well as antique dealers. She goes places most collectors have never ventured. She likes to say that she and her shop “were organic before organic was a thing,” dealing in clay and wood. She has now gone into yoga—yes, yoga—and big time, but that is a whole other column.
I now serve on the co-op board with her and we hang out for coffee at—you guessed it, Cafe Panino Mucho Gusto—with her pal Todd. Sometimes Barb joins us and we listen to great stories and Claude’s ventures, both here and in France. Claude totally enjoys life and I’m lucky enough to work with her on our co-op board and really just to be friends with her.
You don’t need to guess where I’m headed for my Christmas shopping.