The Light Fantastic: This Unique Exhibit Pairs Porsches With Stunning Chandeliers
Photography by Robb Pritchard
What do chandeliers and Porsches have in common? At first glance, not much, but Régis Mathieu’s life revolves around both of them and his absolutely stunning exhibition celebrating the combination of light and automotive art is utterly unique. Before the exhibit’s close on the 17th of October, I went to the Cité de l’Automobile in the French city of Mulhouse to meet the man behind the display.
It’s one thing to write about an unimaginably wealthy person who can go to a Sotheby’s auction and buy pretty much whatever takes his fancy, but it’s another subject entirely to talk to a man who started with next to nothing and has spent half of his life working his way up to this point. At first he was barely able to keep his road cars running, but over the years his business grew and he slowly began adding to his collection.
Today he is in his mid 40s and has become a world-renowned chandelier designer and restorer, with his works hanging in the Opera Paris, the Louvre, and in the Monaco Opera. His clients include Cartier and Chanel now, but it was a long journey to achieve such acclaim. While still a teenager, Régis decided to resurrect his late father’s business of designing, creating, and restoring chandeliers. He had to start absolutely from scratch though, and it has taken over a quarter of a century to build up his amazing personal collection of Porsches in the process.
“Chandeliers and Porsches are actually similar,” he explains. “In regards to functionality and practicality to get you from A to B, an old Lada is really all you need. A Porsche craftsman, though, he gives you a lot more than what you really need in a car, from the lines of the body to the nice interior, the trim and the powerful engine, until it becomes something very special. A chandelier is much the same because essentially it’s just a light, but one that is crafted into a form of art. This is why, in my opinion, putting them together works so well.”
Walking through the main hall of a collection of 600 cars, one of the biggest and most important collections in the world, all of the other cars in this exceptional museum became mere background as he opened a door to a side room. With a thousand points of suffuse light catching the familiar lines of various Porsche sports and race cars, it was immediately obvious that this was an inspired idea well realized.
His passion for Porsche started at a young age, and Régis was enamored with the timeless lines of the VW Beetle, which in a slightly non-linear way, he thinks has its ultimate expression in the 911. The Porsche was a car he could never hope to afford in his youth, though, until one day in the 1980s he discovered that there was a compromise, something sort of halfway between the Beetle and the 911: the 356. At the tender age of 19 he acquired a German-market SC which he was very satisfied with until, while he was in California trying to get his business established in America, he came across the bright red Speedster displayed here. It was love at first sight.
“I had to sell the SC to pay for it, but it was a good decision because so many years later I still have this car, and when you have a Speedster you have a dream because it’s so light and easy to drive. I have done the Tour de France [Auto] six times in it, and for many years have been taking it on holidays with my wife. In fact, a holiday without the Speedster isn’t a holiday at all. I live in the south of France so it is very easy to drive to Corsica, Sardinia, Spain, and Italy.”
The next acquisition he made way back when was a very cheap 2.2E, but he didn’t keep it long… and as crazy as it sounds today, he swapped it for a 2.7 RS! “It sounds [like] an incredible story to say it now, but in 1992 no one wanted a 2.7 RS. Back then the 964 RS had just come out so the 2.7 was considered just an old and underpowered car, and people either ripped them apart to make them go faster or they got rid of them in exchange for something faster. This one was really original, which today is amazing, but back in 1992 meant that it was just slow. It was my dream car as a boy which is why I wanted it. I had no idea what it would come to be worth.”
That said, it was bought with a big chunk of capital back then all the same, so with the business still slow and unpredictable his life goal was just to preserve these two cars—the Speedster and the RS—and the business was basically to make sure that they were perfectly looked after. “I didn’t need an apartment, didn’t need to go out to restaurants or on holiday, so it was OK,” he smiles. “Actually for two years I couldn’t even afford the insurance for them as the business wasn’t so good back then.”
With a combination of perseverance, self-belief, and business acumen Régis managed to build his company, Mathieu Lustrerie, into a renowned name in the exclusive world of high-end chandeliers and its success allowed him the luxury of buying some more cars, although nothing too spectacular. Yet. “The 1967 soft-window Targa 912 is a fantastic car for driving in my home region of Provence. It’s a convertible but with the Targa roof on you are not out under the hot sun which is really great. With the small four-cylinder engine it’s not so fast, but that is made up for by the fact that this car is so easy to drive. And when you want to enjoy it a little more, on some nice roads for example, the 50/50 weight balance is perfect.”
Past the Alfa-Romeo-red 914, there is an ordinary looking 911S, but the fact that it has pride of place in the display indicates that there may be something more about it than first greets the eye. Régis found it by accident around the back of a garage he’d stopped at to look at a 914. It was dirty, had bad wheels and even worse seats, but the VIN number started with a “3” not a “9” so his interest was piqued because it meant it was a pre-production model. Looking at the Carfax, he saw that it had been kept by Porsche for four years. Intrigued, he contacted a friend at the company to find out a little more… and got a very surprising answer. “He said, ‘Where did you find that? It’s a famous press car, we’ve been looking for it for years!’”
Porsche was keen to buy it, but Régis declined because owning a car that had been a factory press car and was featured in many brochures and magazine test drives, as well as being used in promotion photos with Ferry Porsche himself sitting on the front, is a special feeling. “It’s of course very nice to drive, light and fast, just like any 911, but the car has much more value to me because of its history. It really is a privilege to own a car like this.” Porsche have asked to use it for a few exhibitions and Régis is more than happy to let them display it.
A few years ago when then the business started doing very well, Régis decided to invest some capital but instead of buying stakes in a company or property, or something equally as boring, he decided to put his money into something that wasn’t; a pair of serious race cars. The 904 Carrera GTS had only done 1800km when he bought it, which was the lowest mileage of any of the hundred 904s in the world. It was so original it even had the factory-equipped tires on it. His love of owning such a car is equalled by his love of driving it though, so he has more than doubled the mileage and it currently stands at 3800km, which is still possibly the lowest out there.
As a lover of the Speedster he was also on the lookout for a 550 but came across this glorious 718 RSK in the UK instead and was smitten. At some point in its life it had had an engine change so it’s not a matching-numbers car but the sale came with 13 folders full of history including photos of it being driven by Ricardo Rodríguez, younger brother of the more well known Pedro, and so this became another star of the collection.
“With these two cars it’s like how I was with my first ones all of those years ago, I run my business so I can look after them! But in the last few years the price of some Porsche models have gone up like crazy so now I couldn’t afford to buy my collection again.”
These are the Porsches on display, but the chandeliers are also amazing, even if they’re not something most know too much about in a technical sense. The most impressive is a sand-cast three-foot-tall bronze piece that is a painstakingly accurate replica of one commissioned for Madame de Pompadour, who had the rather dubious sounding title of the Official Chief Mistress of Louis XV.
The display will run until the middle of October (the 17th to be precise), and it’s well worth a visit if you can find the time before it closes, as no other Porsches have been seen displayed quite this way before. The Cité de l’Automobile is open all year though, and includes 600 cars from the dawn of motoring up to modern supercars like the Bugatti Veyron, and is surely one of the most spectacular automotive sights anywhere in the world.