On December 3, 2018, Bénédicte de Montlaur, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, awarded Odile de Schietere-Lonchampt with the insignia of Officier of Arts and Letters in a ceremony held at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen,
I am Bénédicte de Montlaur, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy in the United States.
It is my great pleasure tonight to present our dear friend and benefactor Odile de Schietere-Longchampt with the insignia of Officier des Arts et des Lettres.
The Order of Arts and Letters was established in 1957 by the French government to honor distinguished artists and writers and people who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world, contributing to French cultural and creative prestige. Recent reciptiens include Peter Marino, Sofia Coppola, Salma Hayek-Pinault or Benjamin Millepied, and it’s only fair that Odile de Schietere-Longchampt should join such an impressive list.
It is not every day that a French person named directly to the rank of Officer of the Order of the Arts and Letters, skipping over the initial rank of Chevalier.You’re about to join a very exlclusive club, beside photographer Patrick Demarchelier, Laurent de Brunhoff, who continued his father’s legacy by continuing the Babar the Elephant series, or Marie-Sol de la Tour d’Auvergne, former President of the French heritage Society with which you’ve worked so closely. That being said, I can’t pretend I’m surprised that such an honor should be granted to you. Not only are you a fervent advocate and patron of French heritage, you’re also one of our closest, most dynamic friends here at the Cultural Services. Even this award seems very little compared to the full extent of our gratefulness and high regard.
From Annecy, where you were born, to Philadelphia where you moved in 1976, and now New York, what a great journey! You proved very adaptable and quickly fit into the Franco-American community along with your husband, Michel Longchampt, and your three daughters. Bridging the two banks of the Atlantic, you still have a residence in Aix-en-Provence, and contribute to the liveliness of French and American dialogue through your sustained support of French culture and heritage in the United States.
You started carrying out this ambition by opening an interior design store called “Le Petit Trianon”, bringing a little Versailles to Third Avenue. Simultaneously, you launch the decorating firm “Odile de S. Inc” whose clients include L’Oréal, TV Producer Dick Wolf and real estate leader Elizabeth Stribling. Your success story goes on as your impeccable taste, shaped during your training at the prestigious Ecole du Louvre, secured you a position as Personal Designer for Jean Huet, the President of Société Générale. At that time, in 1993, you also were published in the newspaper “Interior Design” and become corporate adviser on the construction of the Société Générale building in New York.
I just mentioned Versailles, and on this occasion I feel obliged to mention that the Cultural Services ranks among the first beneficiaries of your predilection for the French art de vivre, be it regarding luxurious interiors, flower arrangements, or cooking – I’ve heard you’re a great chef . I’m sure my predecessors recall “La vie de Chateau, The Art of Living Elegantly”, the fantastic exhibition you organized with them and French Artisans and manufacturers.
Demonstrating a constant, paramount personal and financial commitment, so long as I can remember you’ve always collaborated with French artists and craftsmen to promote our national know-how and handicraft. Your work strives to introduce the design heritage trades to the public, namely by inviting French craftsmen and women to the construction and restauration sites you supervise in the United States. In 1998 for example, you created a décor for Hermès with Ketty Maison-Rouge, President of Comité Colbert, in order to promote the French luxury industry.
Your career as both a decorator and patron relies on exceptional generosity and benevolence. Between 1990 and 2005, you took part in several show houses with the American Hospital of Paris, not only raising money for the institution but even offering to decorate a room in a New York private mansion out of your own funds. The fruit of your fundraising was then donated to the American Hospital where it helped fund new treatment rooms and medical devices. In the same spirit, you were a long-time decorator for charity galas, be it for French American Aid for Children, French Institute Alliance Française in New York, Action Against Hunger or French Heritage Society. Both the humanitarian and cultural sectors have constantly benefited from your expertise, your advice and your kindness, a genuine set of skills and personal qualities which allowed you to build up a tremendous network in the United States.
As your friend and fervent admirer Elizabeth Stribling told us, “Who can resist Odile? She speaks a special language that is so poetic and romantic and inspiring, that all just melt and say Yes to Odile as she works persistently to raise needed funds for French preservation. She is beautiful, and loves beauty. She makes all of us feel so special with her smile, her poetic phrases, and her beloved genuineness.”
For the last twenty years, you’ve lent your sound judgement to the French Heritage Society, a fantastic framework for your decorative taste and commitment to culture to come together. You’ve assisted successive presidents as they undertook restoration operations of French heritage in France and the United States. In 2007, you were appointed Co-Chairman of the society’s New York Chapter, and as such took it upon yourself to organize a fundraising event for the restoration of the French Consulate’s reception room.
Allow me to dwell on the special relationship you’ve developed and nurtured with the Cultural Services over the years. From the outset, you’ve supported the project of a French bookstore within our walls with the utmost enthusiasm. Albertine open in 2014 as the result of our joint effort, and it is your offshoot just as much as ours, so you have every reason to feel at home here at the Payne-Whitney Mansion.
Our fairy godmother once again in March 2017, you helped conceive and organize, in your capacity as Gala Chair, the fundraising event to restore our very own Venetian Room. We won’t soon forget the image of you standing on a ladder in the ballroom, installing beautiful, custom-made curtains to enhance the ambience, or taking it upon yourself to design intricate, bespoke Venetian Screens to decorate the room. Your personal passion and tireless efforts were integral to making this event and project such a success.
I’m sure you all caught a glimpse of it on your way up here, but as you make your way home later tonight, I can only encourage you to have a better look, as another tribute to Odile’s dedication. This jewel-like reception room, one of the few remaining masterpieces of New York’s Gilded Age, we owe its beauty and good condition to a great extent to the woman standing here. It’s fair to say you quite literally enhance the beauty and prestige of French heritage wherever you step foot. Needless to say the mirrored panels, porcelain flowers, and latticework downstairs have a lot to be thankful for.
Dear Odile, it is a privilege and a great pleasure to bestow this insignia on such a close friend. This exceptional appointment comes as a grateful acknowledgement for your artistic qualities, your tireless patronage, promotion and protection of French heritage, and the invaluable help you’ve provided us over the years.
Odile de Schietere-Lonchampt, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Officier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
photo: Marie Barekov