At the head of the Saint-Gobain merry-go-round factory in Aisne for forty years, Philippe Legrain now reigns over the world market for retro carousels.
His job is to offer dreams to young and old. Two minutes and thirty seconds of happiness, the precise time of a carousel ride. With his French company, Concept 1900, and its retro carousels, Philippe Legrain wants to immortalize suspended moments. Horses, carriages, carriages, a myriad of colors and twinkling lights. And then there is the famous music, the one that we identify in the distance on a square, in a park, a carnival or even an amusement park. Since 1982, the date of the birth of his first merry-go-round, Philippe Legrain has established himself as the leader of the antique carousel market. He is the one who creates the most prestigious rides in France, including those at Disneyland, Parc Astérix and Puy du Fou… But if France has nearly 600 of them, Philippe Legrain’s attractions also tear themselves away from internationally, in Russia, China, the Middle East and South America.
To embellish children’s dreams, the entrepreneur and his wife, Inna, have imposed a genre on themselves: retro. This is how they managed to stand out. “We were inspired by the wooden horses of yesteryear. We have created a niche in this field of leisure. With this style, there is no fad, it doesn’t age,” explains Philippe Legrain. The company worked on the design to obtain the greatest possible realism. The rows of horses give the impression of galloping, offering the sensation of cavalry in motion, and with them the carriages, tops, gondolas. “We were also inspired by the style of Gustave Bayol”, an emblematic figure in the fairground arts, adds the founder of Concept 1900. To make these rides so authentic, the horses are made with real horsehair. The eyes are made of glass and painted by hand by one of the twelve permanent painters for even more expression in the look. Among them, Frédéric, who has worked here for more than thirty years, one of the 48 employees of this company which ensures that know-how is passed on from generation to generation.
To make these rides so authentic, the horses are made with real horsehair
The warehouse is located in Saint-Gobain, in the city’s former ice cream factory, known worldwide since 1692 for its glass production, in the Hauts-de-France region, where Philippe Legrain grew up. It is in a huge hangar of more than 10,000 square meters that dreams take shape. In ten different workshops, ranging from carpentry to electricity, through painting and welding, we create, we assemble, we mold, we make… From one workshop to another, we plunge into the world of wood, we breathe in the smells of fresh paint, steel or polyester, we walk in the sawdust and we witness the metamorphosis of the horses which, at first white as snow, will be adorned with a thousand colors. “We work the old way, there are no modern devices. The parts are welded point by point, which a machine would be unable to do”, explains Philippe Legrain. Manufacturing is a real work of precision, where each gesture is millimeter. The part that requires the greatest attention is the central mast, the one that will hold the entire structure. About 5 or 6 rides are built at the same time and each requires between four and six months of work.
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Philippe Legrain and his team have already sold more than 200 carousels abroad, for amounts ranging from 200,000 to more than one million euros. For delivery, it’s a whole organization. The carousels, delivered disassembled, will require, depending on their size, one to several days of work and up to 7 people for assembly. Because if it takes one day for the carousel 4.5 meters in diameter and three for that of 7 meters, the XXL format of 10 meters requires seven days of installation. Philippe Legrain’s career is atypical… Before becoming passionate about wooden horses, he was a professional rider specializing in show jumping. “I’ve done a lot of competitions, but it’s an exhausting job. I tried to retrain myself and I had this idea of creating polyester horses and little by little the idea of rides came to life…” A way of continuing to lead a hectic life… gallop.
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