That is a bold statement! But, if you have ever had the pleasure of seeing the ‘silk’ papers from Papeteries de Montsegur, you would know exactly what I mean.
Would you like to hear a truly wonderful tale of wonderful paper? Well, for anyone out there who says that paper isn’t interesting, you are in for a shock. Not only is the beautiful silk paper from Papeteries de Montsegur stunningly elegant, sophisticated and luxurious, but the mill itself has an enchanting story to tell. But, first things first! We heathens in the, UK would probably call these papers ‘tissue’, but with typical French style, Remi Danglade, maître papetier at Papeteries de Montségur (master papermaker to you and me), ensures me that his papers are most definitely ‘silk’ and that in fact, ‘I know my paper is the best in the world.’ And, this is not an empty boast. But why this fixation with silk? Well the French name for the portfolio is ‘papier de soie’ – silk. And, that is where we come to the wonderful story of an unusual paper mill, set in the scenic countryside of south eastern France surrounded by truffle forests, lavender fields and vineyards, and with giant trout swimming in the river!
WORMS ARE HUNGRY FELLOWS
Back in 1840, in a quiet corner of the small town of Montségur-sur-Lauzon, the silk industry was prospering and the little silk worms were busy producing their silk. Silk worms, as many of you may know, are fed on Mulberry leaves. But a blight killed the leaves off and the poor little worms had no food. But, of course, paper always saves the day, and the mill Montsegur was able to produce a very thin, natural paper, with all the fibre goodness retained – and it had to be very thin for their jaws are only small – which could be fed to the worms instead of Mulberry leaves. Now, silk worms are hungry little fellows, and you need many, many of them to produce enough silk for dresses and hankies and scarfs, so the mill had to make lots of paper to keep them happy. Quite by chance, during the 1889 World Expo in Paris, where the silk merchants were showing off their wares, along with examples of the worms who made it all possible, (and of course with their food ie the thin Montsegur paper in tow), ‘someone’ noticed that the small bits of paper that were left over from their feeding made great confetti. Carnival was approaching, and as confetti at that time also included chalk, which stained clothing and turned into a sticky mess, the use of the Montsegur thin paper to make confetti was thought ideal. So, Montsegur became a confetti maker – something it still does today. In fact, much of the confetti that you see at big events, or stadiums, or concerts is from the mill. And even artificial ‘snow’ on that movie you watched last week, probably originated at Papeteries de Montsegur.
THE GENTLEMEN FLORIST
And so things continued. Papeteries de Montségur made thin papers for various applications until one day in the 1960s, a gentleman stopped by the mill. This gentleman was none other than the top Parisian florist, whose flowers adorned the homes of the rich and elite. He needed a thin, beautiful, luxurious paper to wrap his bouquets, but he wanted complementary colours to his flowers, but the dye must not come off onto the flowers. After all, Parisian society would not want colour bleeding onto their white roses! Thanks to him, Papeteries de Montsegur learned how to deep dye its papers and a wonderful array of colours was born. Come closer up to date, and big brands realised that they needed to make their products stand out. They needed to make them special. And, they needed their customers to feel like they were being treated like royalty. The brands started to look for ways of doing this, and Papeteries de Montségur perfectly fitted the bill by enhancing the quality of the packaging. The papers today are the height of elegance and are used by the most luxurious brands in the world.
FANTASTIC AND ENCHANTING
Remi said, ‘Thirty years ago there were 18 machines in Western Europe making this kind of paper. Today ours is the only one left and it is producing the best silk paper in the world.’ Although with a fantastic history and a story worth telling, Papeteries de Montsegur is very forward looking too. Remi told us that there is a lot of investment in research and development and new ideas are being developed all the time. Now, scented papers are possible, and those that catch the light during the day and release it at night. And, there are more than 500 recipes for colour. The silk papers can be over-printed and Remi said that it works well with flexo, screen, offset and digital, but so that he can ensure that customers get a bespoke product, ‘we bought five flexo presses and do a lot of the printing ourselves.’ This research has also allowed the company to move into new markets and it makes some very highly technical papers for a number of industrial uses. Needless to say, the mill, set in its beautiful surroundings, is also very environmentally conscious too with accreditation and a green way of working. Remi stresses that Papeteries de Montsegur is very close to its customers and wants to help and support them and share its knowledge. ‘I have a compass,’ he said. ‘Our philosophy is to make the best silk paper and for this we are guided by this compass, which has four cardinal points – quality, reactivity, reliability and creativity.’ Designers will find the paper enchanting. Creative printers will think it is fantastic. Brand owners will be able to make thei r product s real ly s tand out . We think that we agree wi th Remi . I t i s simply beautiful!