The Cou­ture Edi­tion

Neue Luxury - - Front Page - By Ali­son Kubler

Ar­guably the most suc­cess­ful art and fash­ion col­lab­o­ra­tions are those that dis­play a cer­tain de­gree of ir­rev­er­ence, or in­deed, a will­ing­ness to up the tra­di­tional ante. This strat­egy of dis­rup­tion was key to Marc Ja­cob’s art in­ter­ven­tions at Louis Vuit­ton with the likes of Stephen Sprouse and Takashi Mu­rakami. Ja­cobs recog­nised that col­lab­o­ra­tion af­forded an op­por­tu­nity to reframe the com­pany’s il­lus­tri­ous his­tory for a con­tem­po­rary au­di­ence that failed to con­nect to Louis Vuit­ton’s long­stand­ing her­itage. Sim­i­larly, when Her­mes in­vited Er­win Wurm to col­lab­o­rate, the re­sult­ing One Minute Sculp­tures utilised the brand’s sig­na­ture pieces in clever and sub­ver­sive ways that ul­ti­mately recon­cep­tu­alise its tra­di­tional brand icons.

Pres­ti­gious porce­lain com­pany Porzel­lan Man­u­fak­tur Nym­phen­burg looked to fash­ion to reprise the orig­i­nal avant garde sta­tus of their sig­na­ture Com­me­dia dell’arte fig­urines. A pop­u­lar form of comedic street the­atre in Europe in the 17th and 18th cen­tury, Com­me­dia dell’arte is best known for char­ac­ters such as Ar­lecchino (a mis­chievous ser­vant) and Pan­talone (a miserly mer­chant), char­ac­ters that have en­dured time. The Cou­ture Edi­tion was a ges­ture of re­bel­lion in keep­ing with the com­pany’s orig­i­nal in­te­gral focus on com­mis­sion­ing lead­ing artists of the day. Whilst con­tem­po­rary cul­ture might be de­fined by speed and fast con­sumerism, Nym­phen­burg is some­thing of an anachro­nism; every­thing they make is hand­made and pred­i­cated on time spent slowly.

Based in Mu­nich, at the Nördliches Schloss­ron­dell in Nym­phen­burg, the com­pany was es­tab­lished by Bavar­ian Elec­tor Max III Joseph and still bears the royal im­pri­matur. Af­ter 268 years in the busi­ness of mak­ing exquisitely beau­ti­ful things, Nym­phen­burg has proven its com­mit­ment to both in­no­va­tion and tra­di­tion alike. Its his­tory is deeply em­bed­ded in broader Euro­pean her­itage, and its porce­lain is found in the most sig­nif­i­cant mu­se­ums and gal­leries such as the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum in Lon­don, the St­edelijk Mu­seum in Am­s­ter­dam and the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in New York.

Though the com­pany has a rich and cel­e­brated his­tory the true se­cret to its longevity is en­twined with a will­ing­ness to look out­side its own reper­toire and col­lab­o­rate with con­trast­ing artis­tic dis­ci­plines in or­der to re­tain its rep­u­ta­tion and avant-garde spirit. These projects have man­i­fested into col­lab­o­ra­tions with artists and cre­atives such as Nick Knight, who de­signed a ‘sculp­tural pho­to­graph’ of ar­guably the most iconic face of the 20th cen­tury, model Kate Moss. Knight worked with Nym­phen­burg ar­ti­sans— as well as sourc­ing in­put from aero­nau­ti­cal en­gi­neers— to mould and craft the model’s fea­tures to re­alise the cru­ci­fix in­spired work. Im­por­tantly the piece makes a con­tem­po­rary anal­ogy with Nym­phen­burg’s cel­e­brated re­li­gious and de­vo­tional pieces. The fig­urine rep­re­sents a bridge with tra­di­tion and pop cul­ture, and the sa­cred and pro­fane.

Orig­i­nally cre­ated in 1759-1760 by Franz An­ton Bustelli, the Com­me­dia dell’arte fig­urines are amongst Nym­phen­burg’s most fa­mous de­signs. At their in­cep­tion they were ground­break­ing and ut­terly con­tem­po­rary, de­scrib­ing the ro­coco zeit­geist. To cel­e­brate the com­pany’s 260th an­niver­sary in 2008, 16 fash­ion de­sign­ers were in­vited to reimag­ine the cos­tume of their favourite Com­me­dia dell’arte char­ac­ter— of which there are 16 in the se­ries.

De­sign­ers, each of whom were cho­sen for their own per­ceived avant garde sta­tus in re­spect to their mi­lieu, were given carte blanche in the form of a white fig­urine to be customised to their spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Al­though the porce­lain fig­urines ap­pear de­cep­tively sim­ple, each Com­me­dia dell’arte char­ac­ter is com­posed of some 100 in­di­vid­u­ally cast and hand as­sem­bled pieces. The de­sign­ers who were en­trusted to re­dress the fig­urines in­cluded Ade­line An­dré, Dami­ano Biella (Es­cada), Igor Cha­purin, Este­ban Cortázar (Emanuel Un­garo), Mau­r­izio Galante, Chris­tian Lacroix, Gus­tavo Lins, Pascal Mil­let (Car­ven), Ralph Rucci, Elie Saab, Do­minique Sirop, Franck Sor­bier, Naoki Tak­izawa, Vik­tor & Rolf, Vivi­enne West­wood and Gareth Pugh. The com­pany’s will­ing­ness to turn over one of its most beloved prod­uct lines to some of the 20th cen­tury’s most sig­nif­i­cant cre­ative in­di­vid­u­als amounts to a cal­cu­lated risk, but one with mu­tual ben­e­fit, a ten­sion be­tween tra­di­tion and rein­ven­tion.

The con­nec­tion with fash­ion is an ap­pro­pri­ate one, as there has been a no­table re­turn to the ar­ti­sanal in con­tem­po­rary cou­ture col­lec­tions with an em­pha­sis on au­then­tic­ity and be­spoke de­sign. In a con­certed at­tempt to re­tain the crafts and skills unique to cou­ture, Karl Lager­feld has lead the charge at Chanel, ac­quir­ing the main ate­liers that cre­ate lace, bead work and trim­mings, the sub­ject of the Arts des Metiers col­lec­tions. Nym­phen­burg is too part of the great Euro­pean ar­ti­sanal tra­di­tion. All of its pieces are pro­duced as they have al­ways been to ex­act­ing de­signs and by a small num­ber of ded­i­cated crafts­peo­ple.

It is thus not anoma­lous for the com­pany to look to the great cou­turi­ers for col­lab­o­ra­tions. Haute cou­ture is where fash­ion, craft and art most closely co­a­lesce. It is by def­i­ni­tion the ap­pre­ci­a­tion and focus of the hand made; it is the most con­sid­ered form of fash­ion. Lacroix’s work is em­blem­atic of the he­do­nis­tic 1980s and its cel­e­bra­tion of em­bel­lish­ment and or­na­men­ta­tion. Valentino brought to his fig­urine his sig­na­ture red, while Vik­tor & Rolf, who have sourced in­spi­ra­tion from the har­lequin and Com­me­dia dell’arte in pre­vi­ous col­lec­tions, adopted a darker more con­cep­tual frame­work in keep­ing with their own in­tel­lec­tu­ally chal­leng­ing aes­thetic.

Gareth Pugh also pre­sented as one of the more sub­ver­sive choices amongst the 16 de­sign­ers. Early in his ca­reer the Bri­tish de­signer was iden­ti­fied as some­thing of an en­fant ter­ri­ble in the vein of Jean Paul Gaultier, John Gal­liano and the late Alexan­der Mcqueen. His col­lec­tions are both artis­tic provo­ca­tions and flights of dark fan­tasy; the stuff of night­mares pow­ered by comic books and the de­signer’s uniquely Bri­tish goth sen­si­bil­ity. Pugh is par­tic­u­larly ad­mired for his com­mit­ment to the ar­chi­tec­ture of his pieces, util­is­ing lux­u­ri­ous ma­te­ri­als such as silk and cash­mere and mink. This could be cred­ited to his time work­ing for Rick Owens at fur­rier Revil­lion, where he also met fash­ion con­sul­tant Michèle Lamy. His col­lec­tions have re­sem­bled con­fec­tions of in­flat­able clothes, plas­tic dresses and la­tex masks, pre­sented in the­atri­cal run­way shows that bridge fash­ion and per­for­mance art and pay homage to his early ca­reer in the­atre cos­tume de­sign, as well as the legacy of artist Leigh Bow­ery.

His choice for Nym­phen­burg is the iras­ci­ble Capitano Spavento. A mer­ce­nary of sorts fa­mous for his brag­gado­cio, blus­ter and tall tales. Pugh clothed Spavento in a full cos­tume that cov­ers the cap­tain’s body and face in the de­signer’s sig­na­ture black and white checker­board pat­tern­ing which was un­veiled in his Au­tu­mun 2008 prêt-à-porter col­lec­tion. Pugh’s punk ap­proach of­fers the per­fect foil to the fig­urines them­selves, with their as­so­ci­a­tions with plush draw­ing rooms and glass fronted cases. The re­sult is el­e­gant and yet sin­is­ter, jux­ta­pos­ing the Ro­coco phys­i­cal­ity of the fig­urine and the harsh­ness of the pat­tern, like much of Pugh’s de­sign aes­thetic.

Nym­phen­burg’s Com­me­dia dell’arte se­ries evinces a bond be­tween past and present, link­ing artists and ar­ti­sans across his­tory to re­alise a unique body of work and a highly col­lectible homage to the char­ac­ter­is­tics of cou­ture. The project priv­i­leges tra­di­tion and skill, and high­lights those spe­cific to each dis­ci­pline. Most im­por­tantly per­haps is the Cou­ture Edi­tion’s ad­her­ence to au­then­tic­ity; whilst the project looks to the new, in de­sign­ers such as Gareth Pugh, to rein­vent the old, it is specif­i­cally loyal to its orig­i­nal in­tent. Porzel­lan Man­u­fak­tur Nym­phen­burg is un­chang­ing and stead­fast in its vi­sion and com­mit­ment to ex­cel­lence, mak­ing it a truly mod­ern com­pany.

2008. Lon­don. Photo by Flo­rian Böhm.

Gareth Pugh,

Im­age courtesy of Porzel­lan Man­u­fak­tur Nym­phen­burg.

Im­ages courtesy of Porzel­lan Man­u­fak­tur Nym­phen­burg.

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