In a junction in NYC where Soho, Chinatown, and Little Italy blur is Maman, a boulangerie serving quiches and madeleines in a fully realized reverie from South of France. Almost as soon as its doors opened this fall, a deluge of Instagrams emerged to capture its interior design and authentic branding. The blue-and-white patterned coffee cups, the Moroccan bathroom tile, sprigs of rosemary in a rabbit-shaped flower vase, an antique high chair in the corner, even a handwritten sign over the trash can—the buzz is just as much about these details as it is about the café’s delectable nutty chocolate cookies.
“I would say about 80 percent of our new customers come from Instagram,” muses Maman’s co-owner, baker, and design visionnaire-in-chief Elisa Marshall. The daughter of an antiques dealer and an experienced wedding planner herself, Marshall conceived Maman with her partners Benjamin Sormonte and Michelin-starred chef Armand Arnal, drawing from the best elements of their childhood.
Marshall enlisted a former classmate, textile designer Candice Kaye, to create custom patterns for the space. “I asked Candice to incorporate peonies because those are my mother’s favorite flowers; the roses are Ben’s mom’s favorite,” says Marshall, explaining the toile tribute to their café’s namesakes. Kaye’s patterns appear on the wallpaper, the chair cushions, and on those covetable paper cups. “These cups were our one design splurge and they serve as great advertising for us. We’ve received calls just about the cups,” Marshall beams with delight. “For me, it’s such an affirmation whenever someone notices these details that I obsess about—even that sign I made for the garbage can!”
Sitting in the small dining area, the personal touch is indeed evident and the family mementos abound. The high chair actually belonged to Marshall’s father and some of the serving plates are from Marshall and Sormonte’s own china cabinets, a gesture of extended kinship. And somehow, despite the layered bricolage of patterns and nostalgic motif, the space feels open and modern—not thoroughly discordant with the urban grit outside.
Maman’s curious, minimalist logo heralds this modern sensibility. The single line stroke with seven peaks, expertly complementing Kaye’s feminine toile, is the work of Alexia Roux, a 23-year-old graphic designer from Montpellier in southern France. Roux, who was referred to Marshall through a friend, was finishing her bachelor’s degree at the Lycée des Arènes while finalizing the branding for Maman. “I was inspired by the waves of the sea,” she explains, imaginably referring to the Mediterranean waters outside her window. Responding to Maman’s brief asking for handwritten typography, Roux included a design departure as a third study.
“There’s something interesting in the fact that you can’t read the word right away, but once you get it, you tend to remember it,” she explains.
“Initially, we were thinking of just using our mothers’ handwriting for the logo,” says Marshall, flipping through concept boards. “We’re so impressed that Alexia went against the brief and took it to the next level. As soon as we saw her ideas, we knew that she got what we were looking for.”
“As a new designer, it gave me a lot of confidence that they went with my idea, my aesthetic,” says Roux, who now works as the graphic designer for four boutiques in Montpelier. “During the process, I remember they asked me, ‘If this was your bakery, what would you choose?’ I replied, ‘Absolutely the last version,’” she recalls about the design development, which was conducted via email correspondence. “I’m so pleased they went with it and I really value their trust in me.”
Roux visited New York for the first time just before the bakery opened and was pleased to see her logo deployed throughout the space. “In the way they did their cards, tags, their signage on the wood—all those great details—Elisa and Benjamin took my sketch and made it special, something precious that you want to hold on to.”