The France of 1962 was the French Line’s post war answer to the legendary Normandie of the 1930’s, Here again the French created a tour de force in maritime and interior design showcasing the best that France had to offer. Although smaller than the Normandie, the France was no less an equal.
Interior designers used the latest techniques and materials to create interiors that shone by the day and shimmered by night. Anodised aluminium stood in perfect harmony with tapestries and paintings that heralded a new era in shipboard design, creating interiors that were bold and yet comforting to the ship’s passengers crossing the Atlantic.
Joie de vie reigned supreme on all levels. Women dressed for dinner in their best and were gallantly escorted down the grand staircase by their elegantly dinner suited companions into the 1st Class Salle à Manger Chambord. The walls shimmered in gold anodized aluminium while the cobalt blue ceiling twinkled with lights imitating the night sky. Chairs were strangely angular, in red, orange and cream. Around all four walls of the room Jean Mandaroux's continuous mural, painted on 17 lacquered aluminum sheets, was entitled "Les plaisirs de la vie": The Pleasures of Life.
Another prime focal point of the 1st class passenger’s public rooms was the opulent smoking room, the Salon Riviera aft over looking the stern. Modern art mingled with traditional in a room that rose through two decks and was equally inviting by night and day.
The 1st class main lounge Salon Fontainebleau seemed softer in colourings and treatments than other public rooms however maintained an edge with stunning abstract tapestries along several walls imitating stained glass in rich colours edged with black.
The First Class cabins also showcased design and art, especially in the Apartements de Grande Luxe of which there were two.
This isn’t to say that Tourist Class passengers suffered by travelling in ‘reduced circumstances’. Again interior designers pulled out all stops in the decoration of these spaces. The tourist class smoking room, Café Rive Gauche, had a hard industrial edge to it with chairs that looked as if they came out of a mecano set. Add people to this and you have a room that breathes life and joie de vie.
The two deck high Tourist Class, Salle à Manger Versailles was an equally impressive space that by no means indicated that one was travelling in tourist. The walls were produced from Polyrey and Formica with a decoupaged gold leaf abstract pattern. Only the forward wall held a mural done in 14 engraved glass panels by Max Ingrand, as well as two tapestries, "Les amoureux du printemps" by Marc Saint-Saëns, and "Paysage provençal" by Auvigné.
I could go on forever extolling the superlatives of this wonderful ship and bore you all to tears. Although she was a product of the same era as P&O’s Canberra and Orient Line’s Oriana, she had an entirely different approach to her interiors. Whereas the British Ships had a stark almost clinical feel, the France was luxury at it’s most refined.