Mem­phis soul

A graphic col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Valentino and a leg­endary creative cou­ple hits the right notes

Wallpaper - - September - Por­trait: osma Harvi­lahti Writer: rosa Bertoli

Nathalie Du Pasquier and George Sow­den’s bold graph­ics for Valentino

Two rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent ref­er­ence points seem to an­chor the au­tumn/win­ter women’s Valentino col­lec­tion; re­strained Vic­to­ri­ana co-min­gles with the bold, poppy post-mod­ernism of the Mem­phis Group, the Mi­lan­based de­sign col­lec­tive, founded in 1981, that in­cluded among its mem­bers Et­tore Sottsass, An­drea Branzi and Mat­teo Thun. Ac­cord­ing to Valentino’s creative di­rec­tor Pier­paolo Pic­ci­oli, this was less a study in con­trasts than an ex­plo­ration of com­mon themes.

‘Both pe­ri­ods are char­ac­terised by a shift to­wards tech­no­log­i­cal progress and a gen­eral open­ness to­wards con­sump­tion,’ he says. The col­lec­tion, he ar­gues, in­te­grates aus­tere Vic­to­rian shapes with the sat­u­rated colours typ­i­cal of Mem­phis, ‘es­tab­lish­ing a new har­mony be­tween two dis­tant yet ana­logue pe­ri­ods.’

It is not the first time Pic­ci­oli has spun his work around con­trast­ing cul­tural ref­er­ences: his first solo ef­fort (af­ter Maria Grazia Chi­uri’s de­par­ture from the la­bel in 2016) was in­spired by Hierony­mus Bosch’s

The Gar­den of Earthly De­lights and fea­tured a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Zan­dra Rhodes, while his lat­est menswear col­lec­tion in­cluded slo­gans by English punk artist Jamie Reid. ‘Through be­ing open to di­a­logue, the brand’s stan­dards are al­ways el­e­vated,’ says Pic­ci­oli. ‘To me, Valentino has al­ways been the ex­pres­sion of pure beauty, and I feel that con­nect­ing its pat­ri­mo­nial value to other forms of beauty is a nat­u­ral process.’

For this lat­est work, Pic­ci­oli looked to two of the found­ing mem­bers of Mem­phis, French artist Nathalie Du Pasquier and Bri­tish de­signer George Sow­den, who col­lab­o­rated with Pic­ci­oli, lend­ing re­cent works which ap­pear through­out the col­lec­tion. Du Pasquier and Sow­den are life part­ners who took dif­fer­ent creative routes when Mem­phis dis­banded in 1987. Du Pasquier

took to paint­ing full-time, pro­duc­ing ab­stract, geo­met­ric works that push the bound­aries of spa­tial rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Mean­while, Sow­den con­tin­ued his work in in­dus­trial de­sign, col­lab­o­rat­ing with brands such as Dri­ade, Steel­case and Alessi, cul­mi­nat­ing in the launch of his name­sake home­wares brand in 2010 (see W*177).

The works Pic­ci­oli chose for the Valentino col­lec­tion come from two spe­cific projects: a print se­ries by Du Pasquier en­ti­tled Count­ing, and Sow­den’s

De­sign­ing with­out a Cause il­lus­tra­tions. Count­ing is a play­ful se­ries of il­lus­trated ba­sic maths cal­cu­la­tions per­formed by hands, num­bers and mun­dane ob­jects painted on colour­ful back­grounds. De­sign­ing with­out

a Cause, on the other hand, is a col­lec­tion of works Sow­den has cre­ated over the past two years and fur­ther de­vel­oped for an ex­hi­bi­tion ear­lier this year en­ti­tled

The Heart of the Mat­ter. Pic­ci­oli fo­cused ex­clu­sively on the black and white il­lus­tra­tions from this se­ries, based on ab­stract pat­terns orig­i­nally cre­ated to work as prints on tex­tiles, dec­o­ra­tions and de­tails on man­u­fac­tured ob­jects, some dat­ing back decades. The de­signs were taken apart by Sow­den and used as raw ma­te­rial, up­rooted and de­con­tex­tu­alised. ‘[These works] al­lowed me to play with two as­pects of the creative process I am most pas­sion­ate about – chro­matic ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and com­po­si­tion,’ adds Pic­ci­oli.

He built the col­lec­tion around Vic­to­rian-in­spired con­tem­po­rary sil­hou­ettes, mix­ing colours and prints from the same era with the more mod­ern works. ‘I played with dif­fer­ent con­sis­ten­cies and heft, and adapted [Du Pasquier and Sow­den’s] works to long dresses and coats so their per­son­al­i­ties would be»

prop­erly ex­pressed,’ says Pic­ci­oli. Du Pasquier’s colour­ful prints are recre­ated in vel­vet, fur and leather, while Sow­den’s de­signs are re­pro­duced as an over­all print on floaty silk dresses, com­bined with pas­tels, the aus­tere sil­hou­ettes em­bold­ened by swirly pat­terns. ‘The way Valentino de­vel­oped the draw­ings was very clever and re­fined,’ says Sow­den. ‘Mix­ing [them] with 19th cen­tury sil­hou­ettes was very post­mod­ern,’ echoes Du Pasquier. ‘It is al­ways in­ter­est­ing to have dif­fer­ent worlds meet­ing: it’s where cul­ture comes from.’

The works Pic­ci­oli has used make clear how far the pair has pushed on, post-mem­phis. ‘I would never have done these draw­ings in the 1980s, but I am still the same per­son, and my taste for graph­ics is not rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent,’ says Du Pasquier. Pic­ci­oli ad­mires how the pair’s vis­ual lan­guages orig­i­nated in a col­lec­tive but be­came per­sonal and sin­gu­lar. ‘It’s a great chal­lenge that both artists have done suc­cess­fully,’ he adds.

The three cre­atives still see the strong in­flu­ence of Mem­phis in con­tem­po­rary cul­ture; and not just as nos­tal­gia but as a vis­ual ap­proach as valid and vi­tal as ever. ‘Mem­phis was a defin­ing mo­ment of the late-20th cen­tury. It in­flu­enced the aes­thet­ics and iden­tity of global de­sign,’ says Sow­den. ‘As such, it will never go away, but will be for­ever dis­cussed and crit­i­cised, added to, copied and con­stantly rein­ter­preted by gen­er­a­tions to come.’ Pic­ci­oli agrees: ‘The Mem­phis Group is resur­fac­ing as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary re­ac­tion to the stan­dard­i­s­a­tion of taste and at­tire. Its mes­sage is now more per­ti­nent than ever. Its po­si­tion of gen­tle dis­re­gard and de­fi­ance may be a les­son that we can make our own.’∂

‘I’d never have done these draw­ings in the 1980s, but I am still the same per­son, and my taste for graph­ics is not rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent’ nathalie du pasquier Ð


FROM LEFT TO RIGHT, DRESS, £4,160; DRESS, £3,095; DRESS, £3,530; SKIRT, £1,760; CLUTCH, £1,790, ALL BY VALENTINO


LEFT, SWEATER, £975, BY VALENTINO Fash­ion: Lune Kuipers

Hair: Hiroshi Mat­sushita us­ing Kiehl’s

Make-up: Dele Olo Man­i­cure: Kate Cut­ler

Model: Kekeli Hotse at The Hive

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