Jean-François Ponthieux arrives at the Turtle Cafe in Elwood at 11am, pulls his Vespa onto the sidewalk, kicks out the stand, and notices me waiting to greet him.
“How did you notice me?” he asks. “Did you find me on Google? Or did you see the photo of me with the macaron?” When I nod, he explains that when So Frenchy So Chic first launched at the Werribee mansion, he did a photo shoot with the local gazette that involved him lying down with a macaroon (festooned with the French national colours) in his mouth. It was an incredibly droll cliché, and one that he’s been trying to live down ever since. Today, near his home in Elwood, Ponthieux embodies an altogether more sophisticated French visage: one of European style and a palate for strong coffee. He is immaculately dressed in smart summer clothes – a personification of So Frenchy So Chic, of which Ponthieux is king.
Along with being the So Frenchy So Chic in the Park festival director, Ponthieux is the founder of Cartell Music, the Melbourne-based independent music label that brings popular French music to Australian audiences (ie. Revolver, Melanie Pain, Moriarty and Australian-born, Paris-based Nadeah. Under the Cartell umbrella, Ponthieux organises both the So Frenchy So Chic compilation album series and the live music festival.
The latter is his pride and joy – a daylong music event that captures the essence of French music and culture every January at the Werribee Mansion. Cartell Music is still a boutique arrangement, which means that Ponthieux does much of the legwork himself, travelling to France every year in search of the talent.
While the festival only runs for one day of the year, the organisation is a year-round engagement – he only enlists the help of a production manager and a few other staff seasonal staff. “My role is very wide,” he says, pouring some cold milk into his second espresso. “It goes from booking marquees to booking bands, setting up the bars, working out the budgets and booking busses and organising wristbands,” he says, laughing at the enormity of the task. “I just itemise it all and work my way down the list.”
But as Ponthieux says himself, his busy schedule isn’t our concern, and his main aim is to capture the laidback, atmosphere of January in Melbourne. “I call it the slow music movement,” he says. “You take time to sit on the grass and listen to the music. You don’t have to rush to stage five, six or seven to see a band that is only going to play for 15 minutes. It’s about a relaxed atmosphere; the underlying tone of the event is joie de vivre.”
Joie de vivre is a French term meaning ‘the joy of life’, and according to Ponthieux, you need more than just music to have a rounded experience at So Frenchy So Chic in the Park. Along with the line-up of French artists for 2013, Melanie Pain, Nadeah Miranda, Carmen Vega and Revolver, Werribee Park is bedecked in French ornaments for the day. “We have decorated the lawn with bales of hay and umbrellas and barrels of wine everywhere,” he says. “It feels like the countryside. When you arrive, there is a large main bar and then we will have a champagne bar and potentially another cocktail bar.”
It wouldn’t be French without the food, and Ponthieux has gone to great lengths to ensure an array of quality food for the festival. “There will be picnic hampers that people can pre-order from the website, with gourmet sandwiches, cheese platters, fois gras and sweet things like macaroons and ice creams and crepes. There are some coffee stands, and we have a kids zone, because it’s free for kids under 12.
“So you can find your spot, sit with your friends, eat some food and listen to music,” he says, pausing for a moment. “If you want to boogie then you can boogie.”
So Frenchy So Chic in the Park runs at the Werribee Mansion on January 20. For more information, tickets and delicious hampers visit the Cartell Music website.