Charlotte Reiss is the founder of Vivi et Margot, a traditional French home shop and lifestyle brand. She is also a seeker of beauty, a magnetic soul and the epitome of what it means to be a Huntress.
From following her intuition ten years ago to buy and renovate a 200-year-old French farmhouse, to turning a passion for French artisan craftsmanship and antiques into a business, to leaving behind a glamorous and successful career in fashion and moving her family to France full-time this May, Charlotte continues to show us what it means to Follow Our Arrow.
On her Instagram account, Charlotte documents the beauty of everyday life and the special pieces she finds along the way. She also opens up about her journey to create the life she always dreamed of and pushes her community to ask themselves “What if it does work out?" in making life altering decisions.
We share our intimate and inspiring conversation with Charlotte below.
We hope you enjoy, Huntresses.
Tell us more about Vivi et Margot. What inspired you to start the company and buy a home in France?
My husband and I connect over a shared philosophy about life, we both always wanted to work to live rather than live to work, so to speak. To us, this meant that our personal and professional lives would blend together and take us on a journey. We weren’t sure what that looked like when we first met, but we found our way there.
I was pregnant at 38 with my first daughter Vivienne (Vivi) and my husband and I both knew that we wanted to spend our time in Europe in the future and eventually retire there (we are planners). At the time, I was watching House Hunters International on HGTV quite a bit and marveled at some of the properties the couples were finding in France for a fraction of what I assumed the costs were. My husband is a homebuilder, so the renovation of an old home really appealed to him. We started googling homes for sale in France in various regions and were shocked to see we could buy an old ruin or beautiful farmhouse at a totally affordable price. We just looked at each other and said, “let’s do it!” My husband has an absolute sense of adventure to him that I love. We narrowed it down to about ten properties online. By this point Vivi was born, so he flew to France for a week to view the houses and we would facetime the walkthroughs. We looked from Normandy all through Southwestern France at everything from actual ruins to stone cottages and farmhouses. The house we bought was actually very plain looking, but it had good bones, was on a great piece of land and had so much potential. I was slightly wary as I imagined something different visually, but it felt like a fun adventure to go on to renovate, restore and create together so we put in an offer and within a few months we had the keys.
My husband was between projects in LA (he was house flipping) and was able to spend three weeks at the house stripping some of the rooms (removing carpets and wallpaper etc.) and working to find a contractor for us to work remotely with in the beginning process of the renovations and landscaping. We would spend three weeks there every summer and two weeks at Christmas and tackle smaller projects here and there like painting or carpentry. Gradually, the house became a home through these changes and through the memories we were creating on each stay. It took us about 9 years to completely renovate it to where it is today.
I love so many French brands and products and I used to bring back baskets from the market full of French napkins, soaps or small vintage pots I could fit in my suitcase for myself and friends. Friends and guests in LA would say how much they loved them and wished there was a shop online in America to be able to purchase. This was around the time I started sharing photos of our home and the beautiful things I found on Instagram. It really seemed to resonate with people, and it made me think - what if I opened a shop and started selling these beautiful things I was finding? What if? It didn't take long until I decided to launch Vivi et Margot online shop named after my two daughters, Vivienne and Margot.
Most people are aware that I was a talent agent for 25 years and at the time Vivi et Margot was my evening hobby. During the day I would live my corporate life and in the evenings, I would come home, feed and bathe my children, put them to bed and get to work on fulfilling orders from Vivi et Margot.
In your opinion, what makes house a home?
One thing I can say about our home in France is that it really maintains its own magic. As soon as we arrive and open the shutters, it instantly feels like home with its rambling gardens and vines. We don’t have a huge team of people over there; we have a gardener and someone that checks in and cleans once a month. I never want the home to feel like a holiday home or unloved. In the winter I keep the radiators on low to keep the warmth so nothing becomes damp. The entire house and grounds, it has our fingerprints on it and that is what makes a house a home. It's your touch, your things surrounding you.
The words we live by at The Huntress are “Follow Your Arrow.” Your decision to sell your newly built home in Charleston and move back to France felt like such a perfect example of this. Can you talk more about what led you to France and your decision to make it your home?
After I made the decision to leave my job and focus on Vivi et Margot full time, we decided we should move somewhere on the East Coast to be closer to France and closer to family.
I wasn't ready yet in January 2019 to move straight from LA to a farmhouse in the middle of rural France, so we settled on building a home close to Charleston on a plot of land on a lake. Looking back, the move honestly made no sense as we knew no one there, and it turned out to be the greatest mistake but also the turning point for deciding to move to France permanently.
We moved in January 2020 after pouring so much into the building process, but the house felt empty and cold and not what I had imagined. Everything was brand new and the pandemic hit shortly after moving in, so we weren't able to decorate or add our personal touches. The house felt cold, empty and soulless. I had just left my career, I felt afloat, I felt lost, I felt as if I was grieving for my past life. It was a very difficult time, like I know it was for so many people.
In March 2020, I was sitting in my office looking out the window, it was raining, and I just felt I was not being my authentic self by staying there. I was about to turn 47 and I didn’t want to wake up at 50 and have regrets about my life and wonder why I waited to go to France permanently. The only reason I could think not to do it was fear, which couldn’t be my reason. On one of many soul searching walks with my husband, I told him that I thought we had made a terrible mistake. I was afraid to tell him after all we put into the Charleston house, but he actually felt the same disconnect and together we decided that sometimes in life we make mistakes, big ones, but we could fix it together and move on, which we did.
In our long talks about moving to France permanently, we came to the realization that we couldn't raise our children in our country home. It was meant to be a retirement home, but not a place to raise children where they could get an education and be part of a community. The second part of our journey came in deciding where in France we did want to be. I’ve always loved Provence. It’s just magical with beauty and architecture and the history woven into every single street. One of my best friends of thirty-something years lives there. We knew this area would be home. We came back to America and sold the house and are currently in a rental for 90 days waiting for the school term to finish. We move to France June 1st and we couldn't be more sure of our decision. It was a journey, but we know we’ve found home.
Your phrase at The Huntress is “Follow your Arrow” - when you follow your arrow, your arrow isn't always going to take you straight. You will have to take a slight left or right turn but always keep in mind how you believe you should live your life. That will keep you on the right path.
What daily rituals help you tap into your inner Huntress?
My version of self care is routine, I thrive on routine and comfort. I surround myself with things that visually make me happy or bring me comfort. I find that when I make the effort; setting the table, using my "special china" instead of saving for once a year Holidays, using a more luxurious soap or bath oil, when I iron my bedding and make my bed carefully, when I take pride in my things, that is my version of self care. It’s such a small amount of time in my day but it makes all the difference.
Aside from that, I like to get outside and walk and listen to my music and daydream, not think about work, projects that are coming up. I like to connect with my friends on my walks, I like to listen to music that reminds me of people and places. Things and people that warm my heart. Its my half hour of private moment.
Your mantra “what if it does work out” is so powerful for overcoming fear of change and taking big steps. Can you talk about what this means to you?
There’s a quote I found on The Huntress website that I absolutely love.
“And the day came when the risk it took to remain in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to BLOSSOM.” - Anais Nin.
This should be a guiding principle for all of us.
It doesn't have to apply to my life and situation of moving countries, it could be realizing that you’re not complete with where you are in your life, your career, and deciding to make a change, or getting yourself out of an unhappy relationship. You can never let the fear of making a change in your life be greater than you doing it and achieving happiness and fulfillment.
This is a personal journey I’ve gone on myself. From the insecurity around leaving a career where I was well-known and respected to open up a shop, to giving up the LA lifestyle to move to France. There was a sense of insecurity, for sure, that it could fail, but the fear of regret was much greater for me. Once I let go of that fear and said “I can do this,” that was when it all started to fall into place.
When I opened up on my Vivi et Margot community on Instagram by posting stories about the move I started to receive the most beautiful messages. People write incredible letters to me tell me that I helped them overcome their own fears and have given them the courage to say “this is my life and I want to spend the next chapter doing things differently and not be afraid to live my authentic life.” To be able to share with these like minded people has been one of the most rewarding experiences.
Can you share 3 recent shots from your camera roll that you took (or screen shot) just for inspiration?
One of the many ways The Huntress feels connected to you is your emphasis on making small moments special. Can you describe one of the most special moments you created in your home over the past year?
The mealtime in Europe in general is very family oriented. You take pride in setting a table, you take pride in creating a beautiful meal, you take pride in your cooking. I take such joy in entertaining and although I haven't been able to do this in the same way, I still love to do that just for my family of four. Mealtime is about family coming together. There is a lot of love that goes into making the meal and then a lot of love around the table. My idea of a perfect day is either a long lunch or dinner. We'll sit at a beautifully set table for hours just eating, talking, laughing and creating memories. Life is short, moments are fleeting and I intend to not lose another moment.
The value of shopping at the Huntress (outside of the beautiful community you’ve built) is that it is an experience, but the customer can come in and buy a small piece of that and it just feels beautiful. It evokes a sensibility that says go ahead and do it -- lay the table with your grandmother’s tablecloth, take a few more minutes and iron it, and why not drink your nightly glass of wine out of a beautiful vintage glass? It lets you be intentional about creating the feeling of home.