ANNEMARIE SCHWARZENBACH by Olivier Saillard
Artistic, Image and Culture Director of J.M. Weston
Recently appointed as the artistic, image and culture director of the French shoemakers J.M. Weston, Saillard is one of the most renowned and innovative curators of fashion. Saillard left his role as director of the Palais Galliera fashion museum in Par is, where he began in 2010, putting the museum on the map. Of all his brilliant exhibitions, one of the most notable was The Impossible Wardrobe, a performance starring Tilda Swinton at the Palais de Tokyo, at which the actress expressively carried archival articles of clothing i nstead of wearing t hem. Dedicating my life to fashion was never a question. It is something that I have done since I was very young. I remember spending all my time in the attic of my mother and father’s house, full of old clothes. I didn’t have my own bedroom - I spent all my time in there from 5 until 20 years old. It was a special atmosphere.
Many years after, when I started in the fashion museum, I realised that it was the exact equivalent atmosphere. Clothes areimportant tome, before fashion. Iwa salso concerned to do something new in fashion. And something new, when I started in the ’80s, was to study the past. I was interested in doing something new with the past. In my life, I’ve always believed the past is more beautiful than the present, probably for one reason: nostalgia.
One day, I think it was when I started to work with Tilda Swinton - I am very interested in women who dress like men - I discovered a famous portrait by Marianne Breslauer of Annemarie Schwarzenbach. In the image she wears a pullover and a shirt, and she’s like a man and a woman. It’s a very strong portrait.
I then tried to find another image, and came to learn more about her. I discovered that she was a writer, a photographer. She had a very short life; she died at 34. When I left the Galliera and came to J.M.Weston, which is of course a men’s shoe brand, I said to the CEO, “If we ever do anything devoted to women, Annemarie Schwarzenbach could be, would be, should be the idea of the J.M. Weston woman.”
Schwarzenbach had a very natural elegance - it’s not like many gay women during the ’20s. She had something more sophisticated. She was never overdressed; she was very natural.
I’m very surprised that, in the past decades, women are women and men are men. All the men are bodybuilding; the women are buying lips and boobs. I think it’s a stupid mode. During the ’20s and ’30s, it was important for women to reveal themselves: not their femininity but their humanity. It was not a question of gender, but a question of human, of being alive.
I’m completely surrounded by Annemarie Schwarzenbach. It is an injustice that she isn’t very known in the world. We have never seen an exhibition of her photographs in Paris. I don’t like the idea of men or women, especially after this disaster of Harvey Weinstein. In Paris we used to talk a lot about femininity and men’s position; I really think we have the wrong idea.