On any given day, you might find Julien Lombrail, a founder of Carpenters Workshop Gallery, having lunch at Table, Bruno Verjus’s Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris’s 12th Arrondissement. Across the Channel, Loïc Le Gaillard, Lombrail’s co-founder, might be twirling linguine con i ricci around his fork at London’s Pollini restaurant, in the pair’s new arts-and-social club, Ladbroke Hall.

Le Gaillard, 52, cuts a thick, manly figure, with an indented chin, dark eyes, and a receding hairline. Lombrail, 45, has unruly dark locks, a scruffy beard, and softer features. Both are French and dress classically, in slick blazers, white or blue shirts, and pants veering into too-tight territory.

“They like to call themselves the bad boys … the pirates,” says one artist who has worked with Le Gaillard and Lombrail for more than a decade. Others refer to them as wolves.

Lombrail, Nacho Carbonell, Brad Pitt, and Le Gaillard.

The pair are certainly a powerhouse in the world of high design. Since founding Carpenters, 18 years ago, they have come to represent the biggest names and estates in the business, including Charlotte Perriand, Jean Prouvé, the Dutch Atelier Van Lieshout, the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, the American sculptor Wendell Castle, and the fashion designers Rick Owens, Karl Lagerfeld, and Virgil Abloh.

In 2022, The Art Newspaper called Carpenters the first design “mega-gallery,” and in a story published in The New York Times last month, the Polish designer Marcin Rusak referred to it as a “holy grail” of the design world, while the San Francisco–based interior designer Nicole Hollis emphasized Le Gaillard and Lombrail’s “close relationship with their artists.”

Today, Carpenters employs around 120 people, spread across its Paris, London, New York, and Los Angeles locations, and attracts such high-profile collectors as Brad Pitt, Tom Ford, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, Roman Abramovich, and his ex-wife Dasha Zhukova.

“They like to call themselves the bad boys … the pirates.”

In April of last year, Le Gaillard and Lombrail unveiled Ladbroke Hall, a $37.5 million, 43,000-square-foot club and gallery space in the former site of the Sunbeam-Talbot Motor Company, a Beaux Arts building in London.

The glitzy club, complete with a Michèle Lamy–designed bar and an imposing chandelier by the Spanish artist Nacho Carbonell, transformed a once quiet corner of North Kensington into a hot spot where Uber Blacks sidle their way up at all hours of the day and night. This past spring, Le Gaillard and Lombrail hosted a party there in honor of Chioma Nnadi, who replaced Edward Enninful as editor of British Vogue. Guests included the singer-songwriter FKA Twigs, the influencer Alexa Chung, and the Bridgerton actress Nicola Coughlan.

Ladbroke Hall, Lombrail and Le Gaillard’s $37.5 million, 43,000-square-foot club and gallery space in London’s North Kensington neighborhood.

But beneath Carpenters’ glittering façade, cracks have started to form. Over a dozen interviews with former employees and artists whom the gallery represents, AIR MAIL has uncovered a series of issues including alleged mistreatment of artists, art-market abuses, and inappropriate sexual behavior.

Original Sins

Le Gaillard and Lombrail both grew up in the art world. Lombrail’s mother, Ingrid Donat, is a well-known French-Swedish furniture designer, and his father is an auctioneer in Paris. Le Gaillard’s father, Alain, has a gallery in the Sixth Arrondissement that sells work by Anish Kapoor and Alberto Giacometti. Their families know each other.

Le Gaillard and Lombrail officially founded Carpenters Workshop Gallery in the winter of 2006 with a show of work by the up-and-coming French designer Vincent Dubourg. Before long, Carpenters had set up shop at the Design Miami and Design Basel fairs, and it soon became a staple at New York’s Armory and TEFAF fairs.

Part of Carpenters’ tremendous success owes to their recognizing the profit gap between design and fine art and finding a way around it. The founders’ idea was simple: selling limited quantities of design art and calling it “functional sculpture,” allowing them to charge higher prices and achieve profit margins similar to those in the sculpture and fine art markets. “They took away the borderline between art and design,” the influential Dutch designer Maarten Baas, whom the gallery represents, told The New York Times.

Le Gaillard and Lombrail also picked up many of the artists they work with straight from design school and persuaded them to sign exclusivity contracts with them. Several of their artists—Baas, the Belgian designer Job Smeets, and the Amsterdam-based artist duo Studio Drift among them—have gone on to become major successes. Carpenters made them famous and, in the process, created a lucrative network of collectors around the world who buy and sell their work.

There was also, according to two people I spoke to for this story, a mandate around the Carpenters offices to keep prices high. “If anything was on at Phillips that was ours, we’d be watching,” says one person who worked at the gallery from 2019 to 2023. “And if it wasn’t going for the right price, we’d bid it up.”

(Bidding up, or “shill bidding”—placing bids on a piece not with the intent to purchase it but to inflate its price—can mislead genuine bidders into paying more than they otherwise would for a work. Although it’s illegal in the U.K., the E.U., and the U.S., it’s a fairly common practice in the art world.)

In 2016, a bookshelf by Donat, whom Carpenters represents, sold at Phillips for $150,000, smashing previous sales records. At a Sotheby’s auction in 2019, a clock from Baas’s Grandmother Clock series sold for $285,000. And in 2022, a Castle stool sold at Sotheby’s for $252,000. (There is no evidence that these particular auctions were affected by shill bidding. Representatives of Carpenters disputed the allegation that the gallery has participated in shill bidding or otherwise acted illegally to manipulate market prices, and claimed there was no mandate at the gallery to keep prices high.)

“If anything was on at Phillips that was ours, we’d be watching. And if it wasn’t going for the right price, we’d bid it up.”

While the gallery was busy selling works for hundreds of thousands at auction, other artists it represented felt that they weren’t getting their due. “There’s, like, three, four people that they work with that are just, it seems, moneymakers for them,” one artist who has been working with Carpenters since 2017 says, referencing stars such as Smeets, Baas, and the Italian architect Vincenzo De Cotiis. “But everybody else just gets sort of … left under the bus.”

In most galleries, artists place their work on consignment and receive a 50 percent commission when it sells, with the gallery retaining the remaining 50 percent. At Carpenters, this is also true (though the exact percentage fluctuates depending on the contract), but standard marketing costs, such as photographing the work for the gallery’s Web site and any damages to the work incurred while under Carpenters’ care, are subtracted from the artists’ commissions, rather than the gallery’s, according to several of their artists whom I spoke to.

These costs often add up, and many artists felt there was no accountability behind them. (According to its representatives, Carpenters “has not deliberately withheld sums due to its artists and has not made deductions from commissions paid to artists without a proper contractual basis.”)

A Roger Herman exhibition at Carpenters Workshop Gallery in Ladbroke Hall.

Carpenters has also disappointed artists on other occasions, allegedly failing to reimburse them for substantial expenses. One artist represented by the gallery tells me he made a total profit of $329 after three years for a work that cost him $7,000 to produce and ship. The work sold for $10,000. In another case involving a different artist, the gallery agreed to manufacture a certain number of pieces and didn’t follow through. (Representatives of Carpenters stated that the gallery does not and would not contractually commit to produce more than one or a certain number of pieces.)

Several artists also allege that Carpenters makes invoices difficult to dispute—or even keep track of. These artists said that they are rarely given access to sales invoices, which makes it impossible to know what their pieces are actually sold for—and if they’re receiving the right commission. Others claim they received no paperwork at all.

This isn’t always the case—Hannes Koch, a co-founder of the London-based design studio Random International, who is represented by Carpenters, tells me he was always paid on time, and that he’s found the gallery to be up-front with regards to their business practices.

Yet this trend has caused another artist represented by Carpenters to file a lawsuit against the gallery in the U.K., alleging that it exploited his economic dependence, breached its contractual obligations with him, and withheld accounting information and sales figures for his works, thereby depriving him of substantial remuneration. This artist “has absolutely no view about the manufacturing of his works, the sales of his works, and the statements of sales of his works,” his lawyer told me. (Representatives of Carpenters declined to comment on the lawsuit, which is currently pending, but stated that “all allegations are being refuted.”)

“I always ask for [buyer invoices], like, every time,” says another artist represented by the gallery. “I do know from collectors that became my friends that [Carpenters] sold my pieces way more expensive than what they … put on my … invoice.”

Several of the sources I spoke to for this story confirmed that figures were manipulated in order to reduce the artists’ commissions. “The practice of the two different invoices was kind of known to everyone [at Carpenters],” says one person who worked at the gallery from 2008 to 2015.

Another former employee, who worked at Carpenters from 2019 to 2021, alleges that teams within the company were kept separate from each other—sales employees were not privy to production costs, and production staff were kept in the dark about sales prices. “All the commissioned pieces are hung up on a wall, which production then sees,” this person said, “but production does not know what the final sale number is.”

(Representatives of Carpenters confirmed that the gallery “has historically separated its internal production and sales teams” but that it “operates with appropriate transparency between the teams.”)

Lombrail, Carbonell, Ashlee Harrison, Waldo Fernandez, Kris Jenner, Tommy Clements, and Le Gaillard at the opening of Carpenters Workshop Gallery’s Los Angeles space, in West Hollywood.

“I’ve had the experience … where … I find out, by way of the grapevine or whatever, that something [of mine] is sold or something is showing somewhere,” one artist says. “It’s just like, when were you going to tell me?”

When artists asked questions about works that had sold, communications with the gallery often stretched out—if they were resolved at all. “We would ask for a breakdown, and it would take months,” another artist tells me. “We were just happy to get the money at a certain point.”

One artist claims he invoiced the gallery for the out-of-pocket production cost of a mirror on February 20. He says he has yet to be paid back for his expenses—despite discovering that the work was exhibited at a major art fair earlier this month. He claims he still doesn’t know whether the work sold.

“A gallery selling work for higher than they tell their artists is a cardinal sin in the art world,” a gallery owner who is unaffiliated with Carpenters tells me. “If you don’t have the trust of your artists, you don’t have anything.”

“I don’t know of any artist … who’s particularly happy with them,” an artist who has been working with Carpenters since 2009 says. “Everyone’s unhappy for various reasons.”

(Representatives of Carpenters disputed the allegation that the gallery deliberately withheld or obscured sums from its artists, and stated that its statutory accounts, including its invoicing records, are independently audited. They attributed its occasional “administrative delay and inefficiency in communications” to a “period of rapid growth and expansion” in the last four years.)

“The practice of the two different invoices was kind of known to everyone.”

Morale inside the company seemed to worsen when Le Gaillard and Lombrail unveiled their 83,000-square-foot production facility, Roissy, near the quiet French town of Mitry-Mory, outside Paris. The space was revolutionary when it opened, with The New York Times hailing it as a “common ground for artists and artisans.” With it, Carpenters became the first gallery to integrate artisans into its business.

But there was a flip side to bringing artists’ production in-house: some artists felt that the pieces produced at Roissy were not at the level that they would have liked. “That’s one of the schemes that they try to follow,” says one artist I spoke to who is represented by the gallery. “They take over your work, so they can control the production costs.”

Also, because stock is kept at Roissy, most artists don’t know how many pieces they have in storage at any given time. In an industry that revolves around edition numbers—say, there’s supposed to be just one version of a particular chair—this gave Carpenters another opportunity to evade transparency.

A storage area in Roissy, Carpenters’ 83,000-square-foot production facility outside Paris.

“I can confirm that there were multiple editions” of pieces that were sold as uniques, alleges one person who worked at the gallery.

“Imagine … you have some unique pieces that you know haven’t been sold,” says one artist, “and then suddenly they would appear in a magazine with some collector. That happened more than once.”

(Representatives of Carpenters denied that the gallery has sold multiple editions of pieces marketed as unique.)

“A gallerist selling work for higher than they tell their artists is a cardinal sin in the art world.”

It didn’t help that full-time Carpenters employees earned meager wages. In 2019, a gallery manager at the London office was making between $32,000 and $45,000. Then the coronavirus struck, and while most employees at the London gallery were immediately furloughed, Le Gaillard “expected them to still work,” according to another former Carpenters employee.

This sort of thing is not unusual in the art world, but it was met particularly poorly because—as the former employee points out—at around the same time, Le Gaillard and Lombrail “were discussing hedges for the new property in Ladbroke for [$76,000].”

(Representatives of Carpenters did not respond to the claim that Le Gaillard expected his employees to work despite being furloughed, but did state that “staff are paid at commercial market rates.”)

“[One year], we were kind of relying on this bonus and … were told there’s no money,” this employee adds. “[Then] they went and spent [$766,000] on a Thomas Houseago sculpture to put in the corner of Ladbroke.”

Ladbroke Hall officially opened on April 27, 2023. David Adjaye, the superstar Ghanaian-British architect whom Le Gaillard and Lombrail had contracted to lead the renovations, was embroiled in a #MeToo scandal two months later. (He denied any criminal wrongdoing.)

Culture Shock

According to several people I spoke with for this story, inappropriate behavior on the part of Le Gaillard and Lombrail toward employees became a recurring issue soon after the gallery’s inception.

In 2009, rumors began circulating that Le Gaillard was allegedly involved with the gallery’s director, who was engaged to be married at the time. She abruptly quit the following year.

The gallery started an internship program in 2010, recruiting from places such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s postgraduate art-business schools for six-month stints. The hiring practices were allegedly anything but orthodox. “If they saw someone that they personally liked the look of,” says one former gallery director, “then [we] had to give that person a space.” Incidentally, the vast majority of the interns were women.

When Le Gaillard didn’t approve of an employee’s appearance, he apparently had no qualms about saying so. (“They told me at one point, one of the reasons I got the job is because I’m not ugly,” says one former Carpenters employee.) According to another former employee, at an event ahead of Design Miami that year, the London gallery director who joined after the first two directors quit was told her face makeup looked like “war paint.” Le Gaillard allegedly instructed her to go home and take it off.

Le Gaillard also allegedly used Lombrail’s South Audley Street pied-à-terre in London as a venue for affairs with employees, including one with an intern in her early 20s. When the other interns got wind of the affair, she abruptly left, too. (Representatives of Carpenters confirmed that Le Gaillard had a “consensual relationship” with a woman in her 20s before he was married.)

In 2010, an employee was allegedly given the unpleasant task of cleaning up Lombrail and Le Gaillard’s Airbnb during a Design Basel fair in Switzerland. “They would take their mattresses, put them in the middle of the living room, and have mirrors around them,” this employee, who is no longer with the company, tells me. “[We] went with a pair of gloves and plastic bags to clear like condoms and tissues and stuff like that.” (Representatives of Carpenters denied that this incident took place, and stated that it does not expect staff “to carry out domestic household duties.”)

A former employee alleges that when she asked Le Gaillard where she would be staying during an art fair, he responded, “Come on—you can sleep between both of us,” referring to himself and Lombrail. (Representatives of Carpenters stated that neither the gallery nor Le Gaillard recalls this comment being made.)

“If they saw someone that they personally liked the look of, then [we] had to give that person a space.”

Despite Carpenters’ rapid growth in the 2010s, a human-resources department remained nonexistent at the company, and employees felt they had nowhere to turn. (A human-resources department was finally established in 2022, but even then, one former employee notes, “it was more like … emergency-response cleanup.”)

One former gallery director I spoke to described being sexually harassed by a client; when this person went to Le Gaillard and Lombrail for help, the pair allegedly didn’t address it. (Representatives of Carpenters pointed out that this former director did not raise a formal complaint and continued to work for the gallery for several years after, and that the gallery has since introduced “operational procedures and anti-harassment training” to support staff.)

Several people told me that Le Gaillard has squeezed women’s backsides as a sort of impromptu greeting and that he struggled to keep a personal assistant, an issue that seemingly persists today. “There were some [assistants] who would last two or three days,” one former employee says. “I think one turned up at 9 or 9:30 in the morning and didn’t come back from her lunch break.” (Representatives of Carpenters said that Le Gaillard denies the allegation of inappropriate touching.)

Over a series of interviews, sources have provided the names of at least eight employees Le Gaillard has allegedly slept with. “The whole sleeping-with-the-director-on-every-continent apparently was a thing,” one former employee says.

There was also, allegedly, an unspoken rule never to enter Le Gaillard’s London office on Albemarle Street without knocking first. “In the beginning, I asked [a colleague] why the knock,” this employee says, “and [they] said, ‘Well, you never know who he’s with. If it’s artists, there could be cocaine lying around, and if it’s a female, well, you don’t want to know.’” (Representatives of Carpenters denied the allegations that the gallery’s founders have “misused cocaine or engaged in inappropriate behaviour with women in the workplace.”)

Three former employees I spoke to recounted how Le Gaillard kept sex paraphernalia behind a paneled wall by his desk. “There was a removable piece of wall on the inside,” one of these employees says. People at the company allegedly referred to it as the “sex cupboard.” (Representatives of Carpenters stated that Le Gaillard denies that he has ever kept sex paraphernalia in the gallery’s offices.)

“There were some [assistants] who would last two or three days. I think one turned up at 9 or 9:30 in the morning and didn’t come back from her lunch break.”

Over time, women who worked at Carpenters allegedly developed a de facto protocol for dealing with Le Gaillard’s unwanted attention. “When I started at the gallery,” one former employee says, “a female colleague came up to me, and she said, ‘Has he taken you out for lunch or dinner or anything like that yet?’ And I said, ‘No, he hasn’t.’ And then she gave me a brief, like a rundown of what to do if he came on to me.”

“We would … especially tell the female interns this stuff straight up, to be like, This is where you are careful,” another former employee says.

One woman I spoke to who recently worked as Le Gaillard’s assistant for six months says she was treated professionally by him. However, she acknowledged she’d heard rumors about consensual affairs with younger women in the internship program.

An event space inside Ladbroke Hall.

Le Gaillard’s most recent alleged affair, with Louise Torron Lavigne, who joined the New York office in 2018 as a sales assistant, was a common grievance among the people I spoke to for this story. Most of them suggested that Torron Lavigne’s affair helped get her promoted. (Over six years at the gallery, she rose through the ranks to become director of Carpenters’ Los Angeles gallery.) One former employee claims to have seen the pair engaging in sex acts on the gallery’s CCTV cameras. (Torron Lavigne did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

Yet the gallery has seemingly harnessed the power it wields in the design world to evade criticism. It has also allegedly pressured artists who have tried to leave. (One artist tells me that collectors stopped buying his work after he had a fight with Le Gaillard, fearing the gallery would stop selling to them.) It’s a testament to the gallery’s standing that even the employees and artists who are no longer affiliated with it would only speak to me on the condition of anonymity.

(Representatives of Carpenters said that decisions “to hire or promote staff members are based on commercial merit, not gender, appearance, or any other characteristics.”)

“The whole sleeping-with-the-director-on-every-continent apparently was a thing.”

According to the people I spoke to, a high-pressure culture was also pervasive at Carpenters. When asked for an example of this, one former employee says, “It’s like trying to remember a specific blade of grass.”

Oftentimes, on the days leading up to an opening at one of the Carpenters gallery spaces, Le Gaillard would allegedly gather the employees and quiz them on their knowledge of the works on display. If they came up short, public humiliation was often in order. “He would say degrading stuff in front of everybody,” another former employee claims. “That was his way of relieving tension.”

In an e-mail obtained by AIR MAIL that Le Gaillard sent to an employee—subject line: “This is my Merry Xmas”—he writes, “Work, sell, make money and no attitude. If you are not 100% clear with this, think carefully and reconsider your job. It is not going to get easier.”

Working at Carpenters “is like a deal, or it’s a bet,” one former employee says. “You’re betting that you will be one of the people that wins.”

Another former employee sums up Le Gaillard’s management style in this way: “They were talking about a new girl who just started working at the New York office, and he said, ‘Break her. Then build her up again.’”

(Representatives of Carpenters denied allegations that its founders engaged in workplace bullying.)

Boys and Their Toys

Far from Carpenters’ glitzy gallery world, the Roissy factory stands as a world apart. Every day, three types of employees—skilled artisans, gallery production managers, and a group of mainly Polish workers—construct chairs, chandeliers, tables, and other functional objets d’art.

This is where the American artist Wendell Castle’s Veiled in a Dream sculpture was produced, and where artisans weld together Donat’s famed tables. At any point, design-world big fish, such as the architect Peter Marino and the interior designers Pierre Yovanovitch and Jacques Grange, might drop in to select pieces for their clients.

A 2023 story in French Vanity Fair referred to the space as reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory; Lombrail and Le Gaillard call it the “toy factory.”

Lombrail, right, and the artisan Guillaume Priol discussing the patina on Above Within Beyond, an outdoor bronze sculpture by Wendell Castle.

The “toy factory” was the site of a tragic death nine years ago.

On August 17, 2015, the 59-year-old bricklayer Zbigniew Sokol collapsed while on the job. At the time, five Polish workers, Sokol included, were allegedly living on the Roissy premises—which saved the gallery money on accommodations, claims a former employee who was overseeing production at the time—sleeping on air mattresses in rooms that had been left untouched since the building’s former owners had vacated the premises. The men worked on rotation for one- or two-month shifts—during the day, they were tasked with heavy lifting, and at night, with handling the building’s security, according to one former employee who worked on the premises—before returning to the U.K., where they were contracted by a construction company.

After Sokol’s collapse, his colleagues, who assumed it was due to a combination of the heat and his age, sent him to his air mattress to rest for the afternoon. But Sokol lost consciousness while he was resting, and when the workers returned to check on him, they discovered he was dead.

A policeman determined he’d died of natural causes, reported the time of death as 9:20 P.M., and went on his way. A funeral was held a few days later, which Le Gaillard and Lombrail both attended. According to the production manager, an official company statement was never released.

France has stringent labor laws that stipulate minimum standards for housing. Two different French lawyers I spoke to confirmed that such living conditions would likely violate the country’s labor laws, with one of them specifying that “[the law] requires [companies] to house employees in decent accommodation and in safe conditions … [and] prohibits substandard housing, [for example,] premises used for residential purposes when they are not intended for that purpose.”

After Sokol’s death, Le Gaillard and Lombrail booked off-premises accommodations for their employees, and things at Carpenters went on as if nothing had happened. Today, the story is seldom mentioned, except in whispers. “They put a little light on a wall for him in the factory,” a former employee says. “That’s kind of it.”

(Representatives of Carpenters said Sokol’s death was “tragic and saddening,” adding that the gallery was not responsible for organizing lodgings for subcontractors.)

“Break her. Then build her up again.”

In the past few weeks alone, six more employees in the London office have quit, and many of the former employees I spoke to for this story have gone on to forge new lives after Carpenters. Others were reluctant to talk to me; one artist asked if I had been hired by the gallery to trick him into giving it information.

“Unwrapping your life from [Carpenters] is near impossible,” one former employee says. “It takes over your whole life.” Two former employees independently mentioned Stockholm syndrome to me.

“It’s an institutional problem,” another former employee says, “the way this whole art market is set up. The market is 90 percent female, but then 90 percent of the top positions, C.E.O. positions, are men. So they always have this harem situation going on.”

She pauses for a moment. “If one pretty educated girl leaves, the next one comes in, you know? Then the cycle can just start again.”

Elena Clavarino is a Senior Editor at AIR MAIL