Renowned French perfumer and master contrarian Francis Kurkdjian on his latest fragrance (Aqua Vitae), his advice to young noses (avoid cocaine), his favorite odor (sweat), the scents he wears (none), his next commission (Rick Owens), and the crisis in the fragrance business...
So what's new, Francis?
We're launching a new fragrance called Aqua Vitae. The idea for the perfume came about two years ago. We wanted to complete the story that started four years ago with Aqua Universalis. It is about a fragrance as a breath of life and the intimacy it created between two persons. In English, it is known as “the space between us.” I imagined a fragrance that is at once enveloping, warm, almost oriental, but in a light and airy way. That was the technical challenge of this fragrance. Aqua Universalis was about freshness and cleanliness, Aqua Vitae is more about sensuality. For the launch of Aqua Vitae, I invited journalists to see a rendition of the Rites of Spring. My first shock in life was seeing Pina Bausch's Rites of Spring ballet. She made me love modern dance. Forget about classical dance, which I used to think was perfect.
Is it for both men and women?
Yes, Aqua Vitae is unisex. I don’t do men's fragrances the way I do women's. Women’s elegance and men's elegance are different. It's not about allure or sex. I don't do men's fragrances the way I do women's. An elegant man doesn't behave like an elegant woman.
What's the difference?
The codes of elegance are completely different.
What's an elegant man for you?
For me, elegance is about carriage, and also a state of mind. It's not about being well-dressed. Some people are well-dressed but extremely vulgar. Elegance has nothing to do with something material.
Are there celebrities you find particularly elegant today?
Well, elegance is pretty rare these days. I have elegant people around me who are not famous at all. And I don't like celebrities; I'm not interested in them. I don't read about them in magazines.
You don't like gossip?
Not really. I listen to them with a very distant ear. Plus, you need time, and an available brain. Of course I know what's going on around me. But knowing when Jacobs will leave Vuitton is not something I'm interested in.
And yet you are a big fashion fan.
I like couture, the item of clothing. I like style. For me, fashion is the perverted side of what I call couture. I like the craftsmanship of it. I'd rather spend a lot of time in an atelier watching people work than with people who gravitate around the designer, saying things like “I love you, darling.”
Did you see the current exhibition of male nudes at the Musée d’Orsay?
I liked the fact it was thematic, not chronological. I discovered artists I didn't know. I should go back, because I attended the opening. I'm actually surprised the theme wasn't tackled before. I like the way masculine nudes became indecent. History repeats itself. We just recreate things. It's like in the fragrance business. It is very strange. I don't think we invent things.
If you had to create a perfume for the exhibit, how would it smell?
The nice smell of sweat.
Sweat is your favorite?
When it is good, yes. There is nothing more beautiful than that.
A load of exhibits are in the works that showcase the midcentury homoerotic photographs of Bob Mizer and, perhaps more notoriously, the drawings of Tom of Finland (aka Touko Laaksonen), he of exaggerated bulges, lurid male-on-male gazes, leather scenes, and occupational fetishes. The largest of these exhibits, "Bob Mizer and Tom of Finland," has just opened at MOCA Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, the first museum to examine the daring work of the two artists, who were often at odds with the law. It spans five decades and runs the gamut from tame to lewd, humorous to subversive.
We asked filmmaker-archivist and Bob Mizer Foundation president Dennis Bell and artist-curator and BMF vice-president Billy Miller (also editor of the infamous gay fanzine Straight to Hell) to bring us up to speed on the changing landscape of homoeroticism in the art world.
As custodians of the Bob Mizer Foundation, can you tell us how long you’ve been working on this exhibition and how the idea started?
Billy Miller: There are a few major exhibitions happening in the next several months highlighting different aspects of Bob’s art and times. “Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland” at L.A. MOCA, curated by Bennett Simpson and Richard Hawkins, explores the art and connections between those two figures. The Mizer materials are specific examples of catalog boards used in the production of his groundbreaking publication Physique Pictorial. “DEVOTION: Excavating Bob Mizer," opening November 23rd at 80WSE gallery NYC, combines a few ideas the Bob Mizer Foundation has had in mind for the past couple years. Curator Jonathan Berger added a performative aspect, so now New York University students from different departments will be working on discovery, archiving and restoration projects in the middle of the gallery for the entire run of the show. We're excited to show the public a peek into the material and how much work is involved. There are around a million and half negatives, thousands of films and videotapes, costumes and other archival materials in the collection, and a very sizable chunk of it is being shipped to New York. Considering that much of the material will be unseen, since Mizer himself placed it in those boxes, everyone who visits the gallery will be a part of the process. SALVOR Projects has created a related installation utilizing Mizer imagery at NYU's "Broadway Windows,” on view 24/7. “Art & Physique Circa Bob & Tom,” curated by David Frantz, opens November 9th at the ONE Institute, while L.A. Invisible Exports NYC is featuring Bob’s art at this year’s Miami Art Basel fair. Bob’s work is additionally featured currently in a large show at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris titled "Masculin / Masculin." And, there’s a solo show happening this spring at EXILE Berlin, which we’re looking forward to. Different ways of looking at Bob Mizer are beginning to unfold.
Dennis Bell: The exhibition at NYU is in a sense a progress report of the archiving effort we’ve been undertaking at the the Foundation for the past several years. It’s not the pinnacle, as there is still a very long ways to go, but this is the first time we have the opportunity to show off the physical work and workflows of cataloging Mizer’s work. A couple of years ago, we had a successful kickstarter.com fundraiser, which allowed us to purchase a large amount of archival materials to re-house Mizer’s negatives. We have volunteers at the Foundation who donate their time towards this effort. Carrying this archiving process to other institutions as an installation piece was Jonathan Berger’s idea, and we’ll see how it works. We are only about 20% of the way through Mizer’s vast output, and this exhibition is a way to show off not only Mizer’s physical negatives, but also some of the amazing unseen images we have discovered along the way.
Did you know Bob Mizer before he died in 1992? What would he have thought about being the center of attention at MOCA, etc.?
Billy Miller: I met Bob towards the end of his life in conjunction with the publication I edit called Straight To Hell. It's difficult to say how he would have reacted to a wider acceptance of his art, but I suspect he would have adapted to it as he did with other changes in his life.
The work of Bob Mizer and Tom of Finland intersected in the early issues of Physique Pictorial. How well did they know each other?
Dennis Bell: Mizer and Laaksonen didn’t actually meet for about 20 years after Mizer first began showing his work in Physique Pictorial in 1957. There is a lot of discussion about who first influenced who, and that will always be debatable. All I can say is I’ve seen plenty of Mizer photographs of shirtless sailors alone in the forest being watched by other uniformed men that date back to at least 1951.
How has acceptance of male erotica changed since Bob Mizer and do you think gay rights are going in the right direction now?
Dennis Bell: Perhaps one of the most important ideas the work of these artists shows is what obstacles our predecessors had to cross just to see some skin 50 years ago. It’s interesting today to watch a younger generation try to figure out all these “types,” “fetishes” and “niches.” Today, young gay couples just want to get married, have kids and live in the suburbs. We’re approaching a new era.
Straight to Hell magazine is infamous and very different from Bob Mizer’s polite portrayals of men. Where does polite end and explicit begin?
Billy Miller: The first thing that comes to mind is Bob’s big-dicked Jesus on the cross, a Nazi bent over and spreading his ass in an occult ritual, Tico Patterson’s huge erection poking out of a burial casket, and thousands upon thousands of spread asses, macro shots of raging boners, blowjobs, fucking, hanging bondage, cum-covered faces, and synchronized asshole puckering that went on in his later films and photos.
Dennis Bell: Bob Mizer’s images cannot be fairly called “polite.” He went to prison and had years of legal troubles simply for creating images that, in their own time, were as subversive and controversial as any image you see today in Straight to Hell. You have put it in context. In the 1950s, naked male bodies with only an outline of a cock seen through a posing strap were just as explicit…probably more so.
Considering he's been a reigning figure in fashion for 35 years, it's pretty shocking to think there had never been a major exhibition of Jean Paul Gaultier's work until two years ago. (Not counting Bravehearts: Men in Skirts at the Costume Institute in 2003). In 2011, after years of research, first-time curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot launched The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. An instant hit, the don't-call-it-a-retrospective has traveled the world over and now calls the Brooklyn Museum home.
The show, which opened last week with a muse-studded dinner, goes a long way in capturing the autodidactic couturier's dual playfulness and profundity. Perhaps no other contemporary designer has upended traditional dress as cleverly, as skillfully, as humorously as Gaultier. His contributions to fashion, particularly during the 80s and 90s, have been nothing short of revolutionary. So while the exhibition doesn't attempt to place Gaultier in a hierarchical constellation with other star designers, it does shed light on the singular impact he's had. His radical riffs on gender codes, his embrace of misfits, his elevation of street style into the realm of haute couture, and his close friendships with strong women ranging from Madonna to Beth Ditto only begin to tell his story.
A key feature of the exhibition are the mannequins, many of which have plaster-cast heads with moving faces projected onto them. When they look squarely at you, as they do on occasion, it's very eerie, and gives the sense that these clothes have lived in the real world and have real stories to tell. Fortunately, Thierry-Maxime Loriot — a former model for the likes of Giorgio Armani and Lanvin (but not Gaultier) — was on hand to walk us through it...
On those eerie mannequins...
"It was important to Mr. Gaultier to make the show alive. There's a movie by Jacques Becker from the 1940s. It's about a Paris fashion designer who falls in love with a fashion model and so he makes a mannequin made of her. At the end of the movie he puts a wedding dress on the mannequin and she comes alive. So Jean Paul wanted to have live mannequins. Also, in 2007 he saw a play at the Montreal Theater Company. There were no actors, only projections of faces with clothes. So we approached the theater company to develop these faces. Luckily I was the prototype for it, so what we had to do was cast the heads of his muses. We all went through the same process of having our heads cast in plaster. It’s horrible because you cannot breathe. After that they project a film in 3D onto the mannequin version of your face so all the features fit perfectly. We have 32 in total.
Mario Testino's particular brand of feel-good photography — Princess Diana smiling sweetly, a scantily-clad yet wholesome Gisele Bundchen, bronze-skinned boys cavorting on a beach in Rio — might lead some to think he's been seduced by his own high production values and celebrity focus. But that wouldn't be the complete picture.
What Mario seeks in his photos is a natural effervescence, because to him happiness equals freedom. The search for this freedom started early, propelling him toward the twinkling lights of London in the 1970s, far removed from his native Peru. It's also the impetus that drove him back to Lima last year to open MATE gallery. "[MATE] is something I have worked on for many years," he tells me. "I have long had a desire to give back to my home country and I feel the best way I can do that is through the arts."
Opening tonight at MATE is a very personal giving back. The exhibit Somos Libres ("We are free", the beginning of the Peruvian national anthem, written upon winning independence from Spain) showcases works by established artists — Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Paul McCarthy — alongside emerging artists. "For me, this exhibition is about the freedom and inspiration I have found in contemporary art over the past 30 years. I wanted to show a selection of works that have had a particular significance to me in both my professional and personal life. I also wanted to show that contemporary art has no limits — it's this freedom of expression that excites me."
More than an acronym of his name, MATE is suggestive of other important properties of Mario's arc, namely friendship, camaraderie, and the collaborative spirit. "In my work I have collaborated with artists like Vik Muniz, John Currin, Beatriz Milhazes, Keith Haring and George Condo. The process of collaboration is definitely something I want to continue."
Of course art, with its vast expanse and unknowable forces at work, is not a realm one ventures into alone. As such, Mario began his collecting under the auspices of London gallerist Sadie Coles. "[She] encouraged me and helped guide me through other forms of art I was less familiar with. I was immediately drawn to contemporary art and what I found young artists to be saying about our society — that really struck a chord with me."
How exactly does being struck happen, I wondered? "I think it's different every time. I try and look beyond what I am familiar with or perhaps what instantly appeals to me because that would be based on what I already know. I like to try and discover something new." Not that Mario is done with photography. "Would I see myself becoming exclusively a fine artist? Maybe not."
Somos Libres, October 15, 2013 – April 6, 2014, MATE Asociación Mario Testino, 409 Pedro de Osma Avenue, Barranco, Lima 4, Peru
In a tête-à-tête with Carine Roitfeld, it's clear right away that the enigmatic former French Vogue editor-in-chief has a heightened sense of awareness — fitting for one of the most astute and influential figures in fashion. While I've interviewed her before, I am still amazed. She scans the room, picks up on visual cues and uncannily knows where the conversation is going, partly because she takes it there. She’ll speak at length and doesn’t slow down, not for a second, and all of it in non-native English.
The topic of this interview is the new documentary about her. Fascinating and revelatory, Mademoiselle C was conceived and directed by Fabien Constant, who spent four months trailing Roitfeld. It takes place in early 2012, the year she relocated from Paris to New York, post-French Vogue, to produce and launch her self-titled biannual, CR Fashion Book.
“I immediately said yes to Fabien because I am very spontaneous,” she says, in characteristic rapid-fire speech while cradling a cup of hot tea, her only demand wherever she goes. “It was a documentary about the new magazine, something for people to talk about. You need buzz. And now, when I see it, I think it’s very personal! But I told Fabien, ‘This is your film, you can do what you want. I open the door for you.’ He did everything. He chose the poster, he chose the name, the music, everything. He calls it Portrait of a Lady, not that I’m a lady.” The thought sends her into demure giggles.
The film chronicles the making of the debut issue and delves deep into her fabulous life. We see her coddling Kate Upton on a location shoots; hotly debating budgets and contracts back at the office (Condé Nast reportedly refused to let its contracted photographers work for CR Fashion Book); organizing a star-studded charity catwalk in Cannes; cavorting with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Donatella Versace; and hanging out with Beyoncé at the Met Ball. “We talked about babies,” she recalls of that night. “She showed me pictures of her baby, Blue Ivy, and I showed her pics of my granddaughter. There I was, sitting next to the biggest star in the world and we talked about babies.”
Asked to pick out a favorite moment from the film, she doesn’t hesitate. “The part in the film where Karl [Lagerfeld] is pushing the stroller [with her granddaughter]. Karl is very nice with children. I think that’s going to be an iconic moment.”
There is another memorable scene, in which she’s practicing ballet in her home with a trainer. She’s attempting the splits, which she finally achieves as the camera captures her agony. It provides a tidy analogy for her work ethic. “I was working on the theme of ballet for my second issue,” she explains. “It was my new obsession. I learned everything there is to know about ballet. Maybe people think I was being ridiculous in the film, but I don’t care. Ballerines work, work, work, and they have maybe half an hour on the stage. I think this is a bit the way I work, too. I like to push hard for a single moment.”
For her latest issue of CR Fashion Book — the third, hitting newsstands now — she has found a new new obsession: “Caravaggio, the Renaissance painter! I’m obsessed with the way he reinvented painting. He did things like street-casting and showing dirty feet. It was very real and raw. And I was thinking there is a lot of Caravaggio all around us everyday. The world is full of people who try to do things differently and find a new way of beauty. Otherwise things would look boring and there would be too much political correctness.”
Vogue Memos, a Rizzoli tome out next month, has quite a ring to it. One imagines it to crackle with all the scandal and intrigue of, say, the Pentagon Papers — as if some dark fashion-world secret lurks between its pages. But actually, given its long title, Diana Vreeland Memos: The Vogue Years promises less in the way of scandal, but all the intrigue one could hope for.
It's a fascinating compilation of the memos — reprinted in their original form — that Diana Vreeland, Vogue's editor-in-chief in the 1960s, sent to her staff and photographers, some of them giants in the field like Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, and Richard Avedon. Usually dictated by phone each morning from her Park Avenue apartment (she was rarely in the office before noon, and didn't like formal meetings anyway), the memos were typed up by a secretary, annotated further by Vreeland's hand, and dispatched by post and courier wherever her team may be.
The book has been lovingly edited by her grandson and president of her estate, Alexander Vreeland. (His wife, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, created the definitive documentary on Diana Vreeland, The Eye Has to Travel.) He presents a novel, riveting means of understanding one of the most outlandish cultural icons of the 20th century. As he explains here, surprises and maybe a few guffaws await even the most knowledgeable Vreeland-phile...Read More
Jean-Charles de Castelbajac is best-known for his confrontational approach to fashion. His outfits have graced everybody from Andy Warhol to Lady Gaga, and over the years he has often been the designer of choice for the most creative, and by proxy the most rebellious.
What you may not know is that he is also an accomplished painter and live artist, with a furiously productive output. He tours with the French group Mr No, painting live and performing onstage. And you can always tell where he's been in Paris, and indeed the world, by the faded chalk drawings of angels and friends that he leaves on building walls — like friendly graffiti.
De Castelbajac's latest exhibition, The Phantoms of Eden, opened this month in the luxury resort of Eden Rock in Saint Barths. We caught up with him at his French home to speak about the show and much more.
How did the collaboration with Eden Rock come about?
I always wanted to go to Saint Barths. It’s a place where the past encounters the modern and the Caribbean. This meeting, and in fact the collaboration with Eden Rock, came about through my Parisian gallery, Nuke. For me the idea of evoking ghosts in Eden was a perfect situation.
The exhibition is beautiful. Can you tell us a little about the act of making it?
The process of this exhibition has been quite long. I started to paint four months ago in small format. The link between it all was the evocation of ghosts: the ghosts of my innocence, the ghosts of my childhood, and the ghosts of the friends I’ve lost. All of this brought me to a land I’ve never known, closer to the invisible. When I arrived in Saint Barths, I started to paint a big fresco, in conjunction with my paintings. It’s all about accident, and the evocation of lost innocence.
Ever since I’ve known you, I’ve seen you draw on walls with chalk. Can you remember the moment this materialized?
The first time I remember drawing with a chalk on a wall was in Casablanca when I was six years old. So, a very little boy! After that, I was totally fascinated by the work of Keith Haring in the subways of New York. Around 1992 or '93, I started to draw angels on the walls of Paris. Now, I always have a chalk in my pocket! It’s a form of prayer I suppose, a poetic gesture, and I love the idea of ephemera.
Meet Martín, new androgyne on the scene. Martín (pronounced Marteen) is spicing things up at Ryan Lee gallery with a series of portraits of the artist — whose full name, Martín Gutierrez, implies another layer of social commentary — as blow-up sex dolls. The show is both creepy and sublime, partly because it's hard to believe that these veristic, voyeuristic dolls are not plastic, but Martín in the flesh, whose poses in lush architectural settings are both suggestive and mundane. It's as if the dolls had just been used and discarded, either left on the bed, slumped in a chair, or hastily stuffed back into a cellophane bag.
Martín also makes music, hauntingly beautiful songs that call to mind Amy Winehouse's throaty voice crossed with the lyrical gravitas of Antony Hegarty. The videos for these songs — in fact all of Martín's work — are created entirely by the artist, not just the writing, but also the directing, producing, styling, and shooting. And then there are the collaborations with fashion houses, like YSL, who chose Martín's first unreleased single, Hands Up, for their cruise 2012 video editorial, followed by Dior and Acne. Martín’s first EP is set to be released later this year.
Here, the artist sheds light, and shading, on the many faces of Martín...
You work in a wide range of media, from photography and video to music and performance. In an industry that craves categorization, how do you fit in? Or is that the point — you don't?
I would call myself a performance-based artist. I think the title lends me the most freedom to cross between mediums. We don’t have much choice in how we are perceived by others. Perception is a powerful dynamic I have learned to bend in my work, through personal trials and conflicts throughout my life. The freedom of individuality that the art community celebrates is my reasoning for gravitating towards it.
Your video series — Martin(e) 1, 2 and 3 — are very focused on interior spaces and architecture. How intentional is this?
It is difficult for me not to respond to architectural space. I have always been attracted to buildings that hold iconic history, especially classical architecture, but perhaps this has something to do with the fact that both my parents practice architecture and I grew up keenly aware of the built environment.
There is a solitary, self-reflective vibe in the videos, recalling Tilda Swinton in I Am Love or even Cindy Sherman's self-portraits. Are those accurate comparisons?
It is a privilege to be compared to such established artists. Both Swinton and Sherman share my investment in exploring personal transformation. More importantly, Tilda Swinton is also on my celebrity crush list.
Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin unveiled their first stateside exhibit last night, at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. The show features highlights from the duo’s prolific career, including an ethereal Tilda Swinton, a rugged Mickey Rourke, a forlorn Javier Bardem, and a robotic Lady Gaga, as well as a still-life flower series, a first for the couple.
Inez & Vinoodh just released Gaga’s first image for her upcoming album ARTPOP, and are in LA to shoot the avant-singer’s first video, in time for its promised August 19th debut. Hint caught up with them at their Beverly Hills opening to discuss art, fashion, and the Michael Jackson photograph that never was.
Why did you choose LA for your first US opening?
Inez: It chose us.
Vinoodh: We did our first show at the Gagosian in Paris, then they suggested the next step would be this.
Is New York the next step?
I: Probably in a year or so.
What was the process like to choose the images for the exhibit?
I: It was really a very close collaboration between us and the gallery director here [Deborah McLeod]. It was an almost weekly back and forth, like a chess game of images, until we had a group of works that we felt were important to print and bring here. And then we spent two days moving things around until we came to this. The [still life] flowers were made specifically for here, so that’s a whole new body of work.
Because you have a lot of celebrity portraits in the exhibit, do you find the process of photographing a celebrity different from photographing a model?
V: No, no.
I: It’s the same.
V: Even if we photographed a doorman it would be the same.