Monday, 4 June 2018

Interview: British Designer Lee Broom's Celestial Vision

Designer Lee Broom with his new Aurora chandelier at the Observatory exhibition in Milan's Brera district. Portrait for DAM by Elli Ioannou
Lee Broom is one of Britain's top designers with showrooms in London and New York. So far he has won more than twenty awards, including British Designer of the Year and The Queen’s Award for Enterprise. Lee Broom's new Observatory collection is being launched with a trilogy of shows in Milan, New York and London. We spoke to the dynamic designer about what drives and inspires his life and work. Story by Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Additional reporting and portraits by Elli Ioannou

Lee Broom at the
Observatory exhibition in Milan
LIVELY and engaging British designer Lee Broom stands amid the glowing lamps he designed for his evocative new show in Milan. The cool, monochromatic look of his lighting designs for the Observatory collection have a crisp geometry and moon-like celestial gleam that was inspired by the heavens above and with names to match: Eclipse, Orion and Aurora.

"This collection does have a celestial quality to it," Broom says. "It wasn't intentional to start with; I was designing the pieces but not necessarily thinking of a theme just working with shape and things like that. But I visited some friends in the country, in the Cotswold's and it was a beautiful, beautiful clear night and we all went star gazing.

"I hadn't seen stars like that as far as I could remember because I am in the city most of the time. So I think that evening had a subliminal influence on me. When I was looking at the pieces later, I was thinking 'Gosh these to me all really have a stellar quality associated with them'. So I just fully embraced that."

Reflecting on the work that led him to create his own design company ten years ago, Lee Broom says working with fashion icon Vivienne Westwood when he was seventeen years old was one of the most formative experiences of his career. The designer had just won a Young Fashion Designer of the Year award and Westwood gave him the chance to work with her for several days before offering him an internship for nearly a year, working with her in Paris and London. You can see why Westwood saw the potential in the young designer as he still combines an unquenchable enthusiasm for designing with a thoughtful approach that has led him to not only create his own products but have many of them made at his own factory in East London.

"Vivienne Westwood invited me to initially spend a couple of days at her studio but it was actually with her in her office," Lee Broom says in Milan. "After that she offered me a job as an intern for 10 months, working in Paris and London. I think that experience really cemented my wanting to go into design. She influenced me a lot I think. It is a very impressionable age seventeen and eighteen years old and I was soaking it all up like a sponge. That formative year has really stuck with me."

Broom went on to study womenswear at Central Saint Martins and after graduating in 2000 he changed direction and opened an interior design practice for four years with Japanese fellow graduate Maki Aoki. They designed nightclubs, bars and restaurants before Aoki eventually went back to Japan and Broom decided to open his own company. Although he moved from fashion to focus on interior design, the designer still applies a fashion ethos to creating his new collections today.

"Vivienne Westwood offered me a job as an intern for 10 months, working in Paris and London. I think that experience really cemented my wanting to go into design"

The coolly minimalist design of the
Observatory show
"Season after season the look of my collections changes but the overarching house style remains the same," he explains. "Every season we develop the style and it changes and a lot of people say to me 'it's so different from last time' but it feels quite normal for me to do that. I think that does stem from my training in fashion. Fashion influences my work too when I'm designing collections or new products as I'm not scared to develop or expand the style or work with new materials. I think that is more synonymous with fashion and it is what I have done with my own brand of furniture and lighting. I love fashion and I am more inclined to read a fashion magazine than an interiors magazine."

However, Broom’s creative career didn't actually begin in fashion but even earlier as a child when he worked as an actor in many TV shows and theatre productions, including as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, from the ages of seven to seventeen years old. With this work behind him at a young age, he was able to finance an early move from his family home in the Midlands to London. "I grew up in the Midlands but I've been living in London for more than 25 years and I consider the city my home,'' he says.

"London absolutely influences me all of the time. I love cities and I am a city boy at heart. I like the energy, I like seeing what people are wearing. I love the architecture. I love the galleries ~ just the energy you get from a busy city. We have a showroom in Soho in Manhattan. So I am there every other month and New York has the same feeling."

Today, Lee Broom says his work is still connected to fashion. "I think the whole model of fashion is inspiring ~ how it changes and how fast it is,'' he says. "I like to work really quickly as well. Of course, we are working with products that are going to be sitting in some body's home potentially forever or passed down for generations, so it cannot be as fast as fashion."

"Season after season the look of my collections changes but the overarching house style remains the same. Fashion influences my work when I'm designing as I'm not scared to develop the style or work to with new materials"

The Tidal lamp designed with two
hemispheres, like a gravitational force
 pulling them apart.
However, Broom has made the way of purchasing his new designs much more immediate. Inspired by the see now/buy now movement that upended the fashion world, with pieces seen on the catwalk available to buy straightaway, Broom's new exhibitions of work can also be bought without waiting months for the design prototypes to be manufactured.

"In this industry we understand when we see a sample or a prototype of a product that it won't be available for months or even longer and sometimes not at all," says Broom. "I think for the general public they don't understand that. Why would you publish a design in a magazine of something that doesn't exist yet? I also feel that the production and the manufacturing of a prototype is the majority of the work. It really changes a piece and challenges you to create multiples rather than just one.

"Sometimes the whole manufacturing process can change and that is half the battle of getting a product from A to Z. We've always put our designs into production that we have displayed. But this year I wanted to propel that forward. So what I've presented here in Milan is going to be exactly what you're going to get if you choose to buy one of the pieces." Departing from the traditional design week model of previewing new designs months before they go on sale, products from the Observatory collection are available to purchase immediately from stores and on line so visitors to the show have instant access to them for the first time.

The Orion collection of lighting designs combined
in different formations. Photo: Elli Ioannou
After Broom celebrated the tenth anniversary of his company in 2017, he decided to refocus on lighting for the new collection. Launched in Milan in April, the Observatory range includes four new lighting collections with seven new designs. The galaxy-inspired pieces play with the refraction and reflection of light and with vertical and horizontal proportions. Other pieces are more sculptural and spherical in form.

"The Observatory is probably one of my more commercial collections in a way," Broom says thoughtfully. "But I am not afraid of being commercial because I have a business to run. I like the fact that people buy my products. It is incredibly satisfying that someone would like your work so much that they would part with their hard-earned cash for it. Last year we did a very extravagant exhibition of our ten years and it was all about limited edition designs and really about the brand rather than the products. So this year I wanted to do something different. I wanted to create pieces that people will come in and say 'I would really love to have that in my home'."

"This collection does have a celestial quality to it. I visited some friends in the country, in the Cotswolds, and it was a beautiful clear night and we all went star gazing. I think that evening had a subliminal influence on me"

 The Eclipse lamp is made up of two
intersecting discs
The Observatory collection uses new technology featuring LED lighting systems and bulbs custom-designed and developed in-house and has finishes including polished chrome plus new interpretations of materials used in past collections. The Eclipse collection includes three of the seven new pieces and has a dramatic celestial inspiration with mirror-polished chrome discs that interact and obscure, eclipsing and revealing its illumination to the viewer at the same time. Orion comprises modular tube lights and opaque, polished gold spheres which can be combined both horizontally and vertically to create custom "constellations of light".

"Each of the lighting pieces is inspired by this idea of the celestial bodies and the solar system,"  Broom says. "There is a simplicity to the shapes and silhouettes. There is an element of reflection and refraction and the idea of using lenses and emitting light in an unusual way.

"The Eclipse is made up of two intersecting discs. One is a polished stainless steel disc that acts as a mirror and reflects an LED acrylic disc. So when you look at the light from different angles it changes." The Orion collection is made up of two designs, one a polished gold tube with an illuminated globe while the other one is an illuminated tube with a polished gold sphere. "The idea is you can hang them in many different constellations," says Broom.

Aurora is a chandelier design with a range of diameters that can be altered to create layers of gleaming rings of light created with vertical LED bulbs. While the Tidal lamp is made of a polished chrome and opaque acrylic with two balancing hemispheres that look like they are being pulled apart by gravitational force.

Lee Broom has also launched a new design in the USA this month called Lens Flair, that was exhibited at his Greene Street store in New York's Soho. The spherical light can be a pendant or table lamp and was inspired by telescopic lenses and mixes glass and solid brass.

"I like the fact that people buy my products. It is incredibly satisfying that someone would like your work so much that they would part with their hard-earned cash for it"

Lee Broom believes that lighting is absolutely key in the design of an interior, more important than any other element. "I always found as an interior designer that often people put in lighting as an afterthought rather than the first thing," he says. "For me,it is the most important element of the space in terms of the hue, how it illuminates the space and how it makes you feel. If it is an office it also has to be functional, so its incredibly important.

"I feel that now more than ever decorative lighting is playing a much more important role in all interiors, including very commercial spaces. Gone are the days where you put a light in the centre of the living room and expect that to just illuminate the space. Today, people are looking at decorative lighting as accent lights, as jewellery for the space, not just the main lighting for the space."

 The Orion lamps exhibited in Milan
The designer says when he is first working on creating a design, the process is more instinctive and intuitive than rational. " I think it is more emotional," he says. "When I am initially designing pieces I am not really working with any boundaries whatsoever. I design quite alone and I do a lot of sketching and just visualising of what I want. In the beginning, it is very personal and I am really focused on what I like and then other people come in after that. It has to be authentic, the design represents what you want and what you are into at that time.

"The form and function starts to comes in a little bit later on. I think if I was to approach my design instantly from being practical at the outset I would dilute some of the aesthetics. But I enjoy creating products that are functional. I am a designer not an artist."

During the ten years since Broom founded his own company in 2007, he has created more than 100 furniture, accessory and lighting designs for his own brand. But he has also designed products and interiors for international companies such as Christian Louboutin and Mulberry and last year he created a limited edition collection of Jasperware for Wedgwood. So far he has designed more than 45 commercial retail, restaurant and bar interiors and has his products stocked in more than 250 stores around the world, alongside the flagship showrooms in London and New York.

"When I am initially designing pieces I am not really working with any boundaries. I design quite alone and I do a lot of sketching and just visualising of what I want"

The new Lens Flair lamp launched in New York
at Lee Broom's Soho showroom
Today, Lee Broom says he finds the early part of the design process the most interesting and fulfilling. "I think the initial part, the inception of the idea is one of the most satisfying because it is in your head, it is an exciting moment, you're focused on the future and what will become of it," he explains.

"Then I think seeing the piece for the first time, seeing the prototype ~ actually it can a be a very amazing experience or a very awful experience! I think those two points in the journey are the most exciting.

"The prototype doesn't even have to be finished but it is like getting a sample, a section or a finish and then being able to imagine the rest of it ~ that is incredibly exciting. Because it is like a birth, it is something starting to come to life. I am really lucky to be able to see the ideas that are in my head created in reality. It is a really nice experience. But it is also challenging because you are constantly striving for perfection."

The Observatory exhibition first opened in Milan in April during the Salone del Mobile before travelling to New York in May and Los Angeles this month. The collection can be seen at the London Design Festival in September 2018.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Master of Light: Victor Horta in Brussels

The spectacular glass cupola of Victor Horta's Van Eetvelde House. Photograph (above) and Cover picture of the Horta- Lambeaux Pavilion for DAM by Elli Ioannou
Belgian architect Victor Horta was one of the pioneers of Art Nouveau and his work is celebrated this year by the City of Brussels with an extensive program of exhibitions and events. We look at some of the most innovative and influential townhouses he built, where he designed not only the architecture but every detail of the interiors. A special report by Elli Ioannou and Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Photographs for DAM in Brussels by Elli Ioannou

The dining room Victor Horta designed for his own
townhouse in Brussels
ARCHITECTURE makes up the visual language of a city, it defines it’s identity, history and atmosphere. Evocative architecture creates great cities and draws people from around the world. Brussels distinctive Art Nouveau buildings have become landmarks for both the city's inhabitants and for visitors alike. One of the major Belgian architects who has contributed to creating Brussels' historic built environment is Victor Horta who has left his mark not only on the city's architecture but as a Belgian pioneer in Art Nouveau design.

This year, Brussels is celebrating the architect as one of Belgium's most influential designers and a leader of the Art Nouveau movement. The 12 month program, called Horta Inside Out, has many of the architect's Brussels' buildings open to the public for different events. It is presented by the City of Brussels and includes conferences, guided visits and exhibitions which explore Victor Horta's work.

Art Nouveau emerged in the 1890s and is characterised by sinuous lines and flowing organic shapes based on plant forms. It was a complete design philosophy and aesthetic that encompassed not only architecture but interior design, furniture, wallpaper and fabrics. The origins of Art Nouveau can be traced back to the writings of the French architectural theoretician Eugène Viollet-le-Duc whose Entretiens was published in 1863 and 1872. He wrote about using modern materials and new technology, such as lightweight metal armatures that would allow cantilevered or arched forms without the traditional use of heavy masonry, as a way to break from the past.

The light-filled cupola and atrium of
 the Van Eetvelde House
Victor Horta was a disciple of Viollet-le-Duc and was the first architect to use these ideas to create the sinuous Art Nouveau buildings we know today. Steel was the great innovation of the late 19th century and Horta used it in the designs of his new public, commercial and residential buildings and he was one of the first to expose it structurally rather than cover it with masonry. In 1893, he stunned the international architectural community with the virtuosity of his fluid design for the light and spacious Emile Tassel townhouse that brought Art Nouveau from purely the decorative arts into the architectural realm. The Tassel House is one of the key buildings of the era and has many of Horta’s design motifs which were to become synonymous with Art Nouveau. Other influential buildings are his home and atelier, now a museum, and the lesser known but equally important Maison Frison and Maison Van Eetvelde, all built within a short period, from 1893 to 1900.

Horta’s particular style of Art Nouveau was influenced by botanical studies and was less floral than the motifs used by designers in Paris. He was more interested in the stems of plants and the way they grow upwards seemingly ‘extending into infinity'. They inspired his use of the spiral staircase and creating landings ~ like leaves on a branch ~ leading to different living spaces. As Horta's stairwells are covered by glass ceilings they give a glimpse of light and sky, looking up into endless space.

Central to Victor Horta’s design methodology was his study of movement and light. His approach and design solutions also considered the ergonomic as well as the artistic and he was very forward thinking for his time. Horta valued both the function and look of a design equally and this was integral to his Modernist sensibility that was a true break from 19th century thinking.

Movement and light are key to Horta's design philosophy

The curling, plant-like design of the
 stair rail at the Frison House
The architect's sources of inspiration and influences were equally innovative. These included the work of Viollet-le-Duc, botanical studies and Japanese art and culture. Like many avant-garde designers, Horta's new and unfamiliar work was not always appreciated and accepted at the time. Even some of his builders tried to sabotage his projects. Unfortunately, many of Horta’s buildings which were privately commissioned, were destroyed or significantly altered during his lifetime. A distraught Horta subsequently proceeded to destroy many of his drawings, making it a difficult jigsaw puzzle to restore some of the remaining buildings back to their original condition.

Victor Horta was passionate about design and often worked in his Brussels atelier for three days without stopping or allowing himself to be disturbed. His food was even left outside of the door so he wouldn't be interrupted. He designed buildings and interiors, oversaw the making of models and had a basement space dedicated to the making of ornaments created by sculptors he employed, many of them his friends.

Horta took a very different approach to design compared to French architects and his work is the opposite of the wide open spaces and direct perspective that was typical in Paris at the time.

The vaulted atrium above the stairwell
in Horta's house.
His work is complex and circular; Horta often used spiral staircases and steel and glass ceilings to bring movement and light into buildings. Tall terraces sitting side by side typified the housing in Brussels. Combined with the city's long winters, this meant that they could be dark and depressing so it was important to be able to bring natural light into the centre of buildings which Horta nicknamed the ‘dead zone’.

Horta's choice of materials was integral to both the design and functionality of his buildings: the transparency of glass in different textures, leadlight and mirrors all contributed to a sense of creating motion and a perception of light and space, as well as being decorative. The architect's other main design solutions for opening up the physical space of an interior was to introduce mezzanines between floors, a revolutionary change at the time. Horta also pioneered the use of electricity in private homes which, at that period, was predominantly only used commercially.

Horta was so passionate about design he often worked in his Brussels atelier for three days without stopping

The curvilinear design of Horta's
innovative suspended,
steel balconies.
Victor Horta's Townhouse and Atelier
The architect's former house and studio situated in the St Gilles district in Brussels is now the Victor Horta museum and embodies the essence of his Art Nouveau philosophy. It was built between 1898 -1901 and has recently been restored. Horta not only designed the architecture of the building but created every detail of the interiors. Each room is full of his experimental use of new forms and materials from the swirling designs of the mosaic floors and the wall coverings in marble, bronze and silks along with the vivid and curvilinear stained glass panels, plant-like light fittings, vases, carved wooden furniture and the fine bronze door handles and hinges with dynamic shapes.

It was very unusual at the time that his work encompassed not just the architecture but a complete and integrated design for the interior of his houses. He was daring in his design thinking and the insistence on its exact execution. And since Brussels in the late 19th century and early 20th century was one of the wealthiest industrialised cities in Europe, Horta's clients had budgets that allowed him to explore and experiment with new designs.

For his own house, the external materials were more elaborate than his adjoining atelier as he wanted to make a statement that an affluent architect lived here. The balconies were innovative and Horta used suspended steel rather than using supporting columns from below. He was one of the first architects to use steel in this type of construction and chose to reveal the structure which was new and experimental. He highlighted this by using bronze which showed the structure as part of the design.

The clever addition of mirrors
created a great sense of light
and space in the stairwell of
Horta's house.
Horta’s designs also reflected the societal norms of the times particularly in the separation of the movement throughout the building by the owners, their guests and the home's staff. Different stairwells, passageways and doors were designed just for the use of staff and ensured the smooth running of the household.

In Horta's house, the first floor landing of the stairwell opens to three different spaces separated by steel, glass and double folding doors in mahogany with botanical designs for the leadlights.

At the very top of the staircase is a vaulted, glazed atrium that brings natural light flooding through the building. This is further enhanced by mirrors on opposite walls that give the sense of looking into infinite, light-filled space.

Always inventive and going against current trends, Horta continued to experiment with unexpected materials. For example, he covered the dining room walls in white enamelled brick, a material that was not considered sophisticated at the time but was exquisitely worked, alternating with glass, marble, gilt metal and fine woods. He even used exposed steel in bedrooms much to his clients' consternation.

Horta's work encompassed not just the architecture of a building but a complete and integrated interior design

 Beautiful bronze door handles
with Horta's signature whiplash curve
Other inventive touches in the living and dining rooms of the Horta house are ergonomic door handles with the same curve as the hand, built-in furniture and a dining table connected to electricity to keep plates warm. He also had a telephone at hand to call his staff  whenever they were needed which apparently impressed his guests.

The UNESCO commission recognized the Horta Museum as a World Heritage site in 2000 along with three other of his major town houses: the Maison Tassel, Maison Solvay and Maison van Eetvelde. Victor Horta's Art Nouveau designs are considered some of the most remarkable pioneering works of architecture of the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Their revolutionary steel structure, open plan interiors, natural light, fluid, botanical designs and multi levels made them unlike any other architecture seen before. An extensive restoration project of the Horta Maison and Atelier was completed in 2013 and the following year it won the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage.

The entrance to the Frison House
showing the stained glass windows
 and the sinuous handrails.
The Frison House
Where would historic buildings be without the support of private patrons and not for profit organisations coming to their rescue? Maison Frison is another of Victor Horta's important townhouses in need of restoration and its recent purchase reads like a movie script. The house was bought less than 12 months ago by Indian-born arts patron and jewellery designer, Nupur Tron. Living between Paris and Brussels, the designer says the decision to move to Belgium was with the intention of setting up a foundation as a platform for an exchange of art and cultural projects between India and Europe.

She was searching for a home to live in and came across the Frison House, even though at first she was unaware of its significant architectural and cultural history. She felt like it was destiny finding the house and buying it happened very quickly. Now she plans to run the Maison Frison as a museum and cultural foundation aiming to bridge the gap between the East and West with new artistic projects.

"There is a strong correlation between India and Art Nouveau ~ which was inspired by the East"

A detail showing the Frison House's bronze
handles and hand-painted decoration.
“I just went with the feeling and the energy of the house. It felt like the house found me, as if it was destiny,” she says today. “This house is a jewel and it was like discovering an uncut diamond that just needs polishing.

"There is a strong correlation between India and Art Nouveau, which was influenced by the East. The curves, the stained glass windows, are typical of palaces in Rajasthan. Yet the house is at the same time contemporary, futuristic and modern but not kitsch. Art Nouveau is liveable but also it is discreet. The restoration and preservation of a house like this makes you proud of your heritage.”

The Frison House was originally built by Victor Horta for his friend, lawyer Maurice Frison, in 1894.  There are many Art Nouveau details remaining in the house, including dozens of steel handles with the iconic motif of vines. The house, located on a hilltop near Sablon in Brussels, was altered in 1955 when it was turned into a retail space and its ground floor had a shop window installed.

The slim, light structure of the
Frison House's conservatory.
Until the 1960s, Art Nouveau was often not valued and some of the buildings were sold for the price of the land. Although, today they are rare and worth several millions of dollars.

The Frison House's grand salon upstairs, features the original decorative marble fireplace, oak parquet floor and curved high ceilings. The substantial doors have lustrous handles designed with counterweights that could easily be opened by staff.

One of the outstanding features of the building is the conservatory, with its vaulted, stained-glass roof and slim, curling iron columns.

This space was restored by the former owners in 2005, using old photographs to replicate iron work and stained glass. It is one of Horta's most notable winter gardens. Napur Tron has embarked on a major restoration of the building and, when it is complete, it will be a new arts and culture centre for Brussels.

The Van Eetvelde House
The beautiful glass cupola and atrium
of the Van Eetvelde House
Many of Victor Horta’s clients were affluent and came from the Belgian capital's cultural elite and bourgeois intelligentsia. The Brussels' avant-garde wanted not only a new and modern art but an architecture that reflected the break with tradition. With a booming economy in Brussels, Edmond van Eetvelde, King Léopold II's Minister for Congolese affairs, commissioned Victor Horta to design him a luxurious townhouse in 1897.

By the late 19th century, Belgium was an industrialized country producing iron and steel that was also used in building houses. But it was not until Victor Horta and the advent of Art Nouveau that these materials were used in such an expressive way, later to be simplified and expressed more structurally in Modernist buildings.

For the Van Eetvelde house, Horta not only designed an innovative steel and iron structure for the façade, allowing for large windows decorated with his signature whiplash curves but he used steel for the interior detailing. The townhouse's structure is particularly slender and represents a modern way of building construction still being used now, and yet Horta was using these techniques in the 1890s.

To solve the dilemma of bringing natural light into Brussels' terraced houses, Horta once again opened up the centre of the building. This lead to one of his most beautiful designs, the soaring, octagonal atrium on slim iron pillars topped by cupola in stained glass that the Maison Van Eetvelde is known for. Horta also used other effective design solutions for opening up the space by using reflective materials such as mirrored glass and steel to enhance the sense of light. The botanical Art Nouveau designs of the stained glass of the cupola have a palm leaf motif and the pillars form the stems with vine-like curling iron banisters.

To solve the dilemma of getting natural light into Brussels' terraced houses, Horta opened up the centre of the building

Victor Horta's richly designed salon
 of the Van Eetvelde House with its
tall mirrors, green marble, silk
 and bronze borders.
The walls today are adorned with the original drawings of floral motifs synonymous with Art Nouveau. Victor Horta’s artists drew directly on to the wall, without stencils and in order to ensure their steady hands, their contract included a clause of no drinking or staying up late!

The octagonal stair-hall had various doors leading to different parts of the house and discretion and privacy were at the heart of its sophisticated design. The double height entrance also enabled circulation in a spiral movement. Horta designed the building so people lived at the centre of the house but circulated around the periphery.

The designer used expensive materials for the Van Eetveld house: marble and bronze with silk wall coverings, fine mosaics for the floors in green and pink with stairs bordered by dramatic curves. The colour palette of gold, green and ochre gave a cohesive look to the interior design.

 Horta was also a collector of Japanese art and the influence from Japan is especially evident in the main living room with its silk wall coverings. This large room has high, decorative ceilings and is lit by big windows. The architect cleverly uses mirrors as an integral part of the design rather than as a separate element. The walls are lined with green marble and the silk from France, bordered by rich bronze borders curling into Horta's whiplash shapes. The silk in the dining room is a copy of the original, as this was faded, but it has been recreated by the original company in Lyon.

Horta was not just an architect but a brilliantly creative artist and an unusually skilful designer.

A detail of the marble and bronze fireplace in the salon
with its handsome French silk wall covering.
The Van Eetvelde townhouse was designed and built in two stages, initially from 1895-97, and then an extension from 1899-1901. This had a sandstone façade and housed a garage, an office for Van Eetvelde with a separate entrance. Horta liked to design each of his buildings customised to the individual client, in exacting detail, according to their particular needs. This made it difficult for the next generation of owners to adapt to the space and many were sold with great difficulty although today they are very valuable. Today, the Van Eetvelde house is currently commercially leased.

Victor Horta's Legacy
Victor Horta was not just an architect but rather a brilliantly creative artist and an unusually skillful and imaginative industrial and interior designer. For him, architecture included every aspect associated with the buildings he designed from the light fittings to the furniture and the wallpaper to the floor tiles. Today, there are ten townhouses which remain standing and are now private residences, foundations or commercially occupied.

The intricate mosaic-tiled Art Nouveau patterns of the
Van Eetvelde's House's floors.
These buildings are considered the greatest expression of Art Nouveau in art and architecture and represent some of the most influential artistic and technological innovations that heralded the 20th century and the beginning of  Modernism.

The City of Brussels' program Horta: Inside Out  highlights and celebrates Victor Horta and his work and it is a unique opportunity to visit the architect's buildings that are not usually open to the public.

For more information about Victor Horta, the events in Brussels and the townhouses that are open, go to the Visit Brussels website.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Jasper Conran's Graceful Geometry and Luminous Colours

 Jasper Conran's vivid, monochromatic colours and bold silhouettes at his AW18 show in London. Photograph (above) by Kseniya Segina for DAM. Cover picture by Elli Ioannou
As one of Britain's leading designers and part of a family design dynasty started by his father Sir Terence Conran, Jasper Conran has worked across all aspects of design including fashion, the theatre and interiors. His streamlined and richly-coloured Autumn/Winter 2018 show was one of the highlights of last month's London Fashion Week. His latest collection has a spare yet graceful geometry highlighted by luminous colours, writes Antonio Visconti. Photographs by Kseniya Segina

Brilliant colour and flowing
silhouettes at the AW18 show
JASPER Conran is one of the founding members of London Fashion Week which originally started life as London Designer Collections. He trained at Parson’s School of Design in New York and produced his first womenswear collection in 1978 when he was 19 years old. Since then, Mr. Conran has also designed costumes and sets for ballet, opera and theatre productions and continued to expand his range to include menswear, homewares collections, fragrances and designs for eyewear and luggage. The designer has also opened L'Hôtel Marrakech in Morocco, in a beautiful riad that was once an 18th Century palace, at the heart of the city's Medina.

This fashion season his brilliantly-hued AW18 show was set against a cool, white background at London's Claridges Hotel. The blocks of monochromatic colour in yellow, orange, bright pink, electric blue and green had a contemporary yet dramatic flair. The colour and inspiration for the designs have painterly origins in the work of artists such as Ellsworth Kelly and Howard Hodgkin. Long, pleated skirts in bright hues were teamed with sporty tops and three-quarter length coats or textured knits. Fluid gowns with cap sleeves fell gracefully to the floor in a mix of contrasting dark and vivid shades. Voluminous but form-fitting around the neck and shoulders, the flowing, long dresses had dashes of brilliantly mixed colours such as silky orange and bright pink (see above) and deep hues of cobalt and violet (see below).

A rich palette in cobalt and violet enhanced the sense
of a painterly collection.
Well-cut dresses and jackets had a spare yet graceful geometry. Navy blue outfits contrasted with ensembles in buttery yellow and others in pink, green and orange. A creamy-white short coat, knit top and skirt provided a palette-cleansing lightness and clever contrast to the luminous colours. Trainers matched the outfits and the low-slung shoes enhanced the sense of the clothes movement and freedom.

A high-necked sweater in grass-green managed to look both stylish and comfortable and made a captivating contrast to another version in daffodil yellow with a well-cut, overcoat with wide lapels flung over the top, in exactly the same sunny colour.

The collection had its sporty edge enhanced by snappy, zip-up tops, textured knits and windproof smocks. The combination of skillful use of colour and the mixture of different folds and pleats and silhouettes added to the sense that Mr. Conran is a master of his metier.

An elegantly monochromatic creation in deep indigo captures Vogue's editor at large Hamish Bowles attention in the audience along with milliner Stephen Jones.
A daffodil yellow knit and coat made for a burst of bright sunshine in the Autumn/Winter 2018 collection.
A grass green knit added to the panoply of bold colours in the collection.
A dark navy, textured knit made a bold contrast to the silky, glowing long gowns.
 Zip-up tops with hoods added to the sporty motif running through the collection.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Splashes of Colour Enliven Paris' Winter Whites at Victoria/Tomas

An indigo velvet jack on the runway at Victoria/Tomas looked warm enough to wear outside in a snow-covered Paris. Photograph and cover picture by Elli Ioannou
Wearing a wintry wardrobe of layered whites, Paris opened the last of the Autumn/Winter 2018 fashion weeks. It's the final stop on the frenetic month-long schedule that started in New York and London and moved on to Milan and the French capital. Engulfed by a sub-zero cold snap, the city's rugged-up fashion pack scurry between shows across town. The new collection of young French label Victoria/Tomas was presented in the dark corridors of YoYo beneath the Palais de Tokyo, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Photography by Elli Ioannou

A vivid blue gathered jacket and pleated
skirt light up the dark corridors
of  YoYo
FREEZING outside in a snowy Paris, the show of young French brand Victoria/Tomas was held in the dark, concrete corridors of YoYo, underneath the Palais de Tokyo, once occupied by the Cinematheque francaise. However, the dim surroudings covered in graffiti, were still a respite from the cold and the sombre hues of the new AW18 collection were enlivened with dashes of dark red, celestial blue and pink. The collection, created by Victoria Feldman and Tomas Berzins, was the couple's second runway show in Paris, after their debut in September last year, on the official ready to wear women's calendar. The life and love of a couple was the inspiration for the new collection.

The daywear offerings included softly-gathered jackets and knit, pleated skirts with stripes, velvet puffer jackets, checked dresses and coats with houndstooth pockets, leather jackets with large, colourful ties and camel coats with ruched sleeves and waists. The checks and plaids that dominated many runways in London, were also part of the Victoria/Tomas collection, including a long overcoat in red with touches of green, blue and black, long shirt dresses gathered at the front and a draped denim jacket worn with a plaid skirt. This season, the duo also added evening wear with silk dresses in pink and black featuring voluminous sleeves and gathered hems.

A check shirt dress with gathered hem
 and jacket with hounds tooth pockets
The brand was originally founded by Victoria Feldman and Tomas Berzins in 2012, four years after they met in Paris while studying fashion. They showed a capsule collection of handmade leather garments in 2013, and were the youngest finalists of the Hyeres Festival of Fashion and Photography.

Before starting their line, Tomas Berzins worked in New York at Alexander Wang before returning to France to launch the label with Victoria Feldman. They both aim to put together collections for the contemporary woman that lives and works in an urban, city environment. The pair work as a team and appear to have a rich, creative dialogue. They have been together for ten years and got married more than a year ago.

While Tomas Bezins says he is inspired by the work of Tim Burton and the world of skaters and hip-hop, Victoria is interested in art and experimental fashion. Together they want to create artistic, sculptural clothes with a brilliant palette that enlivens their designs. The new collection embodies those aims with its dynamic yet comfortable silhouettes and mix of neutral tones like camel with bright colour.
Tap on photographs for a full screen slideshow
A long, houndstooth overcoat with an easy volume reminiscent of the Eighties and dramatic, black leather ties.

Dashes of vivid yellow added a new look to a black leather jacket worn with a long, pleated skirt with contrasting stripe in blue and yellow.  
A red and black knit dress and cardigan made a dynamic combination with its stripes and squares.

Large, check pockets and sleeves give a lively edge to a dark, navy winter coat.

Tones of camel in knitted top and a velvet, ruched sleev jacket made a more natural foil to the brilliant palette of the rest of the collection.
Designers Tomas and Victoria added evening wear to their collection this season, in the form of pure silk dresses with voluminous, graceful sleeves and gathered hems in pinks and blues and black.

A draped and distressed jean jacket with a check shirt and plaid skirt made for a comfortable yet artistic ensemble for daywear.

 A pink, boxy wool jacket with large pockets is worn over a more delicate concoction in pink and teal silk.

Dynamic fuchsia jacket and trousers made for urban life in big cities.
Checks and plaids dominated the runways in London and they were a key part of the Victoria/Tomas collection.

 The neutral tones of a camel coat are made both more contemporary and romantic by the ruched sleeves finished with flair.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Poetry and Drama at Stephane Rolland's Haute Couture Show

  A pearly, winged creation at Stephane Rolland's haute couture SS18 show in Paris. Photograph and cover picture by Elli Ioannou

The dramatic and poetic haute couture show of Stéphane Rolland was held in the gilded Favart room of the Opéra Comique in Paris. The fluid and sculptural creations of the designer's Spring 2018 collection were embellished with gleaming discs as well as jewellery created in a new collaboration with Albert Boghossian, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Additional reporting and photographs by Elli Ioannou

Violoncellist Francois Salque plays during the
 StephaneRolland couture show in Paris.
FRENCH couturier's Stéphane Rolland new show opened in velvety darkness with the liltingly melancholic sounds of violoncellist François Salque lit by a single circle of light on the stage at Paris’ Théâtre National de l’Opéra Comique. Singers from Les Cœurs Parisiens later appeared and heightened the sense of atmosphere. The music accompanied a poetic and subtly dramatic show of flowing, ethereal gowns in pale silky tones of pearly cream and white with dashes of gleaming, silver and crystalline sparkle. The fluid creations were silhouetted with abstract, sculptural forms, some in the shape of flowers or wings. The designer has said his favourite sculpture is the Victory of Samothrace, also called the Nike of Samothrace, a marble Hellenistic sculpture of Nike created in the 2nd century BC. Wings are a potent emblem in his work and his interest was first piqued when he saw the sculpture as a child at the Louvre and was enthralled by the surging sense of movement and the exquisite drapery.

Stéphane Rolland's new show opened in velvety darkness with the liltingly melancholic music of violoncellist François Salque

A fluid and silky dress with a flowing cape
 takes centre stage.
Today, the couturier also sculpts and sees it as an extension of his work as a fashion designer. Past collections by Mr Rolland have been inspired by architecture, sculpture or art, from Velasquez to Anish Kapoor. But this time the leitmotif was the meeting of different artists. Stephane Rolland says these artistic encounters expand and inform his work. He loved the emotion created by musician François Salque's recitals and wanted to include that in his new collection. The designer also formed a new creative partnership with jeweller Albert Boghossian after deciding he wanted to create something new and entirely different for this collection. Gowns were embellished with the intricate jewellery pieces. The collection's standouts are billowing capes and long, pleated skirts and creamy, floating satin gowns decorated with glinting, silver disks, like wearing a piece of mid-century modern design.

Silvery discs catch the light on
a flowing gown.
Softly falling, voluminous satin crepe was the other central theme of the show in tones of white, sand and amber. In contrast  to the fluid gowns, were tailored trousers, coats and shorts. Although architecture is often one of Mr. Rolland's starting points for designing a collection, this time he wanted to "let go" and create pieces that were more gentle in form and shape. The theme of the show was "art and nonchalance" and although there were pieces designed like sculpture he combined this ethos with more relaxed creations such as slimline, lamé pants, white leather shorts and tops paired with flannel, wide trousers and jumpsuits in white crepe. Simplicity and comfort were emphasised with long, voluminous coats in platinum lamé or black wool that had an androgynous look. The couturier has said he grew up surrounded by black-and-white photographs as his mother worked at well-known Parisian photographic studio, Pictorial Service. The sense of volume, contrast and movement Stephane Rolland noted in the photographs as a child were to become integral to his work later as a fashion designer and can be seen in this new collection today.

Softly falling, voluminous satin crepe was another central theme of the show in tones of white, sand and amber

Couturier Stephane Rolland at the finale of his show.
Mr Rolland had an early and fast rise in the fashion world, working at Balenciaga in his early twenties as creative director of menswear. By the time he was 24 year old he had launched his own prêt-à-porter business and worked at this for six years before becoming artistic director of another haute couture fashion house for a decade. He also worked as a costume designer and was nominated twice for the prestigious Molière awards, becoming an official partner of the Cannes Film Festival. In 2007, Stephane Rolland presented a couture collection under his own name and today is a full member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Mr. Rolland is one of just 14 fashion designers based in Paris and nominated by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture as “Grand Couturier,” which also allows his fashion house's collections to officially be called haute couture.

Tap on photographs for full screen slideshow
The satin gowns are embroidered with the jewellery pieces made in collaboration with jeweller Albert Boghossian.

Stéphane Rolland also sculpts and sees this creative work as an extension of his work as a fashion designer.

The designer has said his favourite sculpture is the Victory of Samothrace, also called the Nike of Samothrace, a marble Hellenistic sculpture of Nike created in the 2nd century BC.
  Wings are potent emblem for Stephane Rolland's work and his interest was first piqued when he saw the Victory of Samothrace as a child at the Louvre and was enthralled by the surging sense of movement and the exquisite drapery.
Past collections by Mr Rolland have been inspired by architecture, sculpture or art, from Velasquez to Anish Kapoor. But this time the leitmotif was the meeting of different artists, including jeweller Albert Boghossian. 
The gilded dome and frescoes of the Opéra Comique in Paris where the show was held.
Stephane Rolland grew up surrounded by black-and-white photographs and they influenced his sense of volume, contrast and movement.
The collection included billowing floating satin gowns embellished with fabric flowers.

  The music accompanied a poetic and subtly dramatic show of flowing, ethereal gowns in pale silky tones of pearly cream and white with dashes of gleaming, silver and crystalline sparkle.

  The guests of the Stephane Rolland show at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra Comique.
The sense of volume, contrast and movement Stephane Rolland noted in the photographs as a child were to become integral to his work later as a fashion designer and can be seen in this new collection today.
In 2007, Stephane Rolland presented his first couture collection under his own name and today is a full member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.
Mr. Rolland is one of just 14 fashion designers based in Paris and nominated by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture as “Grand Couturier,” which also allows his fashion house's collections to offcially be called haute couture.
The finale of the haute couture show by Stephane Rolland.

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