Wednesday, 21 July 2021

French Couturier Stéphane Rolland's Sea Change

Spanish star Nieves Álvarez in the film of Stéphane Rolland's new haute couture collection (see below), looking like Meryl Streep, dressed in a hooded gown,staring out across stormy waters in the French Lieutenant's Woman.

Most designers on the Paris haute couture schedule, eschewed live runway shows due to the pandemic and chose to present their new work online. French couturier
Stéphane Rolland showed his dramatic Autumn/Winter 202/22 haute couture collection in an atmospheric film, shot on the wild shores of the Basque country of south-west France, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento

Standing on a high,
stony sea wall, with a gold brocade 
train billowing in the wind
FILMED at dawn with the first light glinting across rolling waves crashing on the shores of  Pays Basque beaches, French couturier Stéphane Rolland 's new haute couture collection looked inspired by this wild sea and rocky coast. 

Directed by Toma Jablon, the film features Mr Rolland's model and muse Nieves Álvarez as she walks atop the sea walls in Hendaye, Biarritz and Bidart. The stone walls formed natural runways with the spectacular backdrop of a swirling sea.

"I chose to film in the amazing Pays Basque because of its authenticity and because the nature is absolutely outstanding," explains Stéphane  Rolland in lilting, lightly-accented English. "And I saw that the stone walls on the sea are the best catwalks ever." 

The new collection, called Water and Stone, was instigated by the dramatic coast and drew on the work of avant-garde mosaic artist Béatrice Serre. The Parisian artist uses natural materials to create spacey installations and giant comet-like wall sculptures, often encasing a mirror at the heart of the work. She uses rock crystal, pyrite, lapis lazuli, opal and even meteorite. Mr Rolland was particularly stirred by the artist's use of these ancient minerals and palette of stony, earthy hues.

"This collection is less black and white than before," says Rolland. "Deep yellow with gold are the main hues of the collection. And there is also deep-red and pure-white. I wanted to emphasize through those colours the softer tones of the beach and the rocks. The red and yellow make a break, and visually-speaking they were more interesting." 

"I chose to film in the amazing Pays Basque because of its authenticity. The stone walls on the sea are the best catwalks ever." 

Nieves Alvarez wears a sweater dress 
of white crepe with Carrara 
marble detailing and a train 
in transparent organza.
For the Autumn/Winter 2021/2022 season, the designer created couture looks and a collection of kaftans and djellabas for both women and men. The haute couture looks have Stéphane Rolland's signature combination of minimalism and volume with striking contemporary embroidery and singular jewellery. 

Trapeze shaped gowns are mixed with long, lean tunic dresses and gilets, fluid trains and sculptural crinoline skirts. Marble, stone and crystal mosaics are used to decorate bustiers, necklines and sleeves.

Nieves Álvarez opens the film of the collection, appearing in a long white gown on a craggy outcrop, silhouetted against a wide expanse of blue sea (see at right). The long, sweater dress is made of white crepe with Carrara marble detailing. The train in transparent organza looks like the frothy foam of the sea. 

Spanish model and television presenter, 47-year-old Nieves Álvarez, looks lithe and intense and Stéphane Rolland says her presence animates his work: "Nieves is the queen of my collection and there is a reason for that," says the couturier. "It is much more than a collaboration, it is more of a union. Each time we do something we grow together and I love that. She is really the reflection of my expression, she has this grace I can't find anywhere else."

The model is shown in the film dramatically flinging a creamy, satin poncho into the wind, as waves crash onto the rocks around her. The giant poncho is paired with embroidered yellow wool jersey trousers and eye-catching, geometric jewellery that looks like polished stones, shells or glass from the

The haute couture looks have Stéphane Rolland's signature mix of minimalism and volume with striking contemporary embroidery and singular jewellery 

A wonderfully draped smock dress
 in buttercup yellow, studded with
 crystal and mother-of-pearl
Another highlight from the new collection, is a wonderfully draped smock dress in buttercup yellow ~ a foil to the simplicity of the sea wall and flat stretch of water (see at left).

The brilliantly-hued satin is embroidered with Bakelite and porcelain cabochons around the neck and voluminous sleeves and worn with long white gloves. Nieves Alvarez looks like a Renaissance queen surveying her lands. 

In another scene from the film, the model wears a silk crepe gown as she walks along a high, curving sea wall. Slender and clinging, it has an open back and an evocative white embroidered hood. As she crosses back along the wall, the floating train, drapes over the stone walkway. This time the model appears as an Egyptian princess and wears one large, minimalist ring in gold. 

Walking up steps to the top of the sea wall, Nieves Alvarez is encased in a long, regal tunic in golden brocade embroidered with marble, amber and citrine mosaics. As with all of the designs, the gown drapes beautifully and looks equally good from the front as the back. 

A highlight from the new collection is a wonderfully draped smock dress in buttercup yellow ~ a foil to the sandy hues of the sea wall and the pale-blue stretch of water

 Spectacular malachite earrings
in rich greens and black 
that pick up the colours 
of the mosaics 

In another scene, a drone flies over the model walking atop a slim, high wall wearing a gilet in a metallic golden knit with a mosaic embroidery of marble, jade and malachite. The wind catches the fabric, billowing it out behind her, showing a jumpsuit in white crepe underneath. 

As she stands on the high end of the walkway, we see  a close up of the details, including the spectacular malachite earrings in rich greens and black that pick up the colours of the embroidery. 

Another notable image from the film shows Nieves Alvarez dressed in a red jersey and white satin ball gown with a huge crinoline skirt. She stands on top of the concrete and stone walls, and we see a close-up of the red keyhole bustier encrusted with white bakelite and diamantes. Completing the look, is another stylish and modern piece of jewellery, this time a white, smooth ring like a pebble. 

One of the most arresting scenes is seeing Ms Alvarez in a red, hooded satin cloak walking on golden sand as the tide washes ashore (see main picture). It recalls Meryl Streep dressed in a similarly hooded gown, staring out across the stormy waters at the end of the Cobb in Lyme Regis, in one of the most unforgettable scenes from the film of the French Lieutenant's Woman, based on the novel by John Fowles. Stéphane Rolland's gown is brought into the present day, by a red bustier embroidered with a mosaic of crystals, red coral and marble with a jagged seashore-like edge and worn with flat, geometric earrings, the colour of bronze. 

One of the most arresting scenes is Nieves Alvarez  in a long red, hooded satin cloak, pictured against golden sand as the tide washes ashore

Nieves Alvarez is silhouetted 
against a sunset of pinks and blues,
the black organza forming dark fins,
 like a mermaid or sea creature
washed up on the shore.
The final look of the collection is an evocative ball gown in black silk faille with a train of organza and a bustier studded with Carrara marble and white bakelite. 

In the last scenes of the film, Nieves Alvarez is silhouetted on a low boardwalk at sundown against a sunset of pinks and blues, the black organza forming dark fins (see at left). She looks like a mermaid or sea creature washed up on the shore. 

Stéphane Rolland began his career at the storied house of Balenciaga in Paris, designed costumes for film and became the artistic director of the historic Jean-Louis Scherrer maison. 

But his eponymous couture house, founded in 2007, has allowed him to dress women from Lady Gaga to Beyonce. Most recently he has also designed for television, creating a shapely couture gown for Lily Collins' lead character in Netflix's much-watched Emily In Paris series. 

Click image below to watch the short film of Stéphane Rolland's AW21/22 haute couture collection shot in France's Pays Basque featuting Nieves Alvarez and directed by Toma Jablon.

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Monday, 5 July 2021

Paris Haute Couture: Daniel Roseberry's Sumptuous Surrealism at Schiaparelli

Daniel Roseberry's model muse Maggie Maurer wears his matador-inspired gold hat embroidered with crystals and pearls and bugle-bead encrusted jacket with a neckline shaped like two doves.

American designer Daniel Roseberry has created another dramatic and engaging haute couture collection for Maison Schiaparelli in Paris. His prodigious jewels and voluminous silhouettes command attention and elicit delight. The couturier marries the artistic avant-garde, integral to the history of the fashion house, with his modern and irreverent sensibility, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento

Surrealist silver tromp l'oeil 
bustier worn with a 
black-fringed cape
DANIEL Roseberry's new haute couture collection for Schiaparelli is full of the Surrealist and experimental ideas that have always been a signature of the maison. Yet this is only the American designer's fourth season and his work has already made a significant impact not only on the House of Schiaparelli but on French couture. Lady Gaga even chose him to design her dress to perform at President Biden's inauguration in January.

The couturier's monumental, sculptural jewels and exuberant gowns and jackets are designed to arouse an emotional response and to make his work impossible to ignore or forget. Roseberry imagines each of the twenty-six looks as magazine covers and asks himself if they are visually striking enough to make the cut. 

Growing up in a Texan family of devoted Episcopalian ministers, his work is influenced by the ritual, grandeur and the garb of church ceremony. And although this may seem an unlikely background for a couturier at a storied French fashion house in Paris, he has galvanized the best of its European history and combined this with his American can-do-anything dynamism. 

Roseberry's ten years with outré American designer Thom Browne in New York also appears to have been a good grounding for heading a conceptual fashion label. At Schiaparelli, Roseberry's aim is to create impudent and modern designs with what he describes as a "barbaric" ethos all while using the talents and traditions of couture to make beautiful clothes. This is the first season, he says, that he has fallen in love with couture. For this collection, he was drawn to haute couture's most extravagant era in the Eighties and Nineties, using richly embellished embroidery and jewellery.

The designer's giant, sculptural bijoux and voluminous gowns are designed to arouse an emotional response and to make his work impossible to forget

Eighties matador with
silk sleeves embellished
with blue and gold eyes
"For two years, I’ve been saying that I didn’t care about nostalgia," Daniel Roseberry explains. "This season, though, it’s where it all started. I found myself wondering, again and again: what if you combined a little Manet; a little Lacroix; a little 1980s; a little 1880s; a little matador; a little space alien; a little Ingres; a little shimmer; a lot of color? Could I do it? And what would it look like?"

Eventually he decided to call this fourth couture collection, Matador Couture, and it is one that he says honors Elsa Schiaparelli's vision but isn't in a thrall to it. 

"If last season was about deconstruction, about pushing past the boundaries of what couture was, about trying to upend all its unspoken rules, about doing things we weren't 'supposed' to do; this season, I felt the freedom to make something fiercely, undeniably, unapologetically pretty ~ because sometimes you have to rebel against beauty in order to return to it."

The first look in the collection (see at right) is like an Eighties matador wearing a Basque jacket with exaggerated arms in Mikado satin and silks. The gold-thread embroidery, inspired by the Schiaparelli archives, includes ceramic blue eyes, gold pearls and rhinestones set against ochre and pink silk. The trousers are stretch lambskin in gold lamé and black. The dome-shaped hat is created from metalized perspex and has a quilted Shocking Pink satin lining. 

Roseberry says that a year ago he felt like he was designing for the apocalypse with the pandemic casting its sombre shadow across the world. But today he feels like we have survived and fashion will continue to thrive. The new collection, he says, represents a return to innocence and the joy that drove him to work in fashion.

"What if you combined a little Manet, a little Lacroix, a little 1980s, a little 1880s, a little matador, a little space alien, a little Ingres, a little shimmer and a lot of color?"

White denim cropped
jacket with embroidery
and Jet beading
"A year ago, I felt like I was designing for the end of the world," he says. "But the world didn’t end. We’re still here. Fashion is still here. Couture is still here. And not only is it still here, but in a world increasingly reliant on the easily replicable and the digitally disseminated, its power ~ to stop you in your tracks ~is greater than ever."

Roseberry explains that he wanted to return to the fashion he loved as a youth. "Blind nostalgia isn’t healthy: we can’t romanticize the past, especially when, for so many groups of people, the past wasn’t romantic at all. 

"But the gift of fashion is its ability to allow us to pretend, and that is its promise as well; if we dream hard enough, maybe we can will that beautiful past into existence." 

The latest collection was designed in three parts, with the first paying tribute to Schiaparelli jackets of the past, such as the iconic shapes of the white denim matador-inspired cropped jacket embellished with embroidered barrel sleeves and black silk tassels, worn over a structured tulle skirt (see above).

The short zipped jacket is embroidered with hand-crafted fringes and black rope fishnet embroidery while Jet beads trace the three-dimensional trompe l’oeil breasts in black resin and fabric. The swirling cords are created with black glass beads and pompons. The jacket is worn with the white tulle skirt edged in black and a wide-brimmed sombrero-style hat made from black Duchesse silk. Decorated with pearls and black Swarovski crystals, the hat rim is strung with small, hanging pompoms. Finishing the look are black satin mules adorned with Roseberry's signature golden toes with silver nails.

"A year ago, I felt like I was designing for the end of the world. But the world didn’t end. We’re still here. Fashion is still here. Couture is still here."

Pink silk roses and black wool
crepe mini-dress inspired
by Jean Cocteau
"This collection is unapologetically emotional, as giddy as falling in love. It is also a tribute to romance, to excess, to dreams, because really, is there anything more urgent today than dreaming big?" Roseberry asks. "Than dreaming of a better world? Of grabbing every piece of beauty with both hands?"

As a homage to an Art Deco evening coat designed by Jean Cocteau for Elsa Schiaparelli in 1937, Roseberry has created a black-wool crepe, curved-sleeved creation, heavily embroidered with dozens of shell-pink silk roses (see at right).

The wool dress has a black duchess satin embroidered in pink silk taffeta that refers to the original piece in the Schiaparelli archives. A turban in black felt and patent leather is worn around the head and over the ears. It is designed to mimic a scarf with two pieces of upturned fabric.

Roseberry's fashion manifesto is to bring new ideas and a flagrant beauty to his work. "Give me more beauty, more earnestness, more romance, more effort," he exclaims. "I hope this collection reminds everyone of the sheer delight that fashion can bring us in hard times, and with it, the promise of more joy when the clouds part."

He sees his work as being in conversation with Elsa Schiaparelli's most imaginative creations from the 1930s. The new collection uses Lesage, the same company she employed, to create the lavish embroideries also utilizing the the same techniques and materials. Even the first matador look is made of vintage Schiaparelli swatches that were collaged together. 

"This collection is unapologetically emotional, as giddy as falling in love. It is a tribute to romance, to excess, to dreams, because is there anything more urgent today than dreaming big?"

A Dadaist piece of
jewellery designed 
as human lungs
The second part of the collection focuses on the body and bijoux, as jewellery is a key element of the house’s visual vocabulary. The designer describes it as being a dialogue between hard and soft, machine and human, metal and fabric. 

"For example, the delicate pair of human lungs, seemingly crafted from a web of capillaries dipped in gold, worn atop severe black crepe gown," he explains (see at right). 

The long-sleeved dress is in wool crepe with a low-cut neckline. This is designed to reveal the gilded brass necklace in the shape of trompe l’oeil lungs. And these are further adorned with sparkling rhinestones, creating a Surrealist piece that also looks like branches or roots of a tree. 

For the designer, the jewels become the flamboyant embroidery. He uses all of the Schiaparelli tropes such as the nose, pairs of lips and ceramic eyes, made by hand in the fashion house’s Giacometti-inspired gold. The evocative and amusing accessories include a minaudiere shaped like a giant pair of lips and a striking and sleek belt clasp with a cast hand that appears to hug the wearer. 

Roseberry has used many upcycled materials for the collection, making each creation a one-off. A look created from a gilt body sculpture of flowers was made by artist Michel Carel and took several months to finish. The colour palette of the collection is equally bold mixing pink, lavender, cornflower blue, ochre and Elsa Schiaparelli's signature Shocking Pink. A black stretch velvet dress featuring a vivid pink silk faille rose (see below) links the brilliance and creativity of the Schiaparelli founder with Roseberry's contemporary take on Surrealism.

Short film in Paris at Schiaparelli's Place Vendome ateliers showing the new AW21 collection

Highlights from Schiaparelli's Autumn/Winter 2021 Haute Couture Collection by Daniel Roseberry 

Long-sleeved midi dress in stretch black velvet with a bateau neckline. Oversized flower petals in pink silk faille for a trompe l’oeil effect. Long earrings are in gilded and silver brass in the shape of a small flower and a large flower with suspended small black and white pearls. Black satin pumps with silk faille bows are adorned with golden toes bearing silver nails.

Handcrafted gilded brass jewellery bustier in the shape of a bouquet of flowers. Long skirt draped in black silk faille with coordinating stole.

Coat in mirrored silver calfskin. The waist is enhanced by a belt with a trompe l’oeil hand jewelry buckle, one in gold metal and the other in silver metal. The bag, in silvery smooth calfskin, is embroidered with pearl and gold Swarovski crystals. 

Bustier jewellery in epoxy gold and silver metal in shapes of body parts and animals to form a cross. Denim pants are embroidered with gold strass and gold thread while eyes are in resin. A jewel bag in gilded brass takes the form of a flower with a mouth in the middle. Black lamb d'orsay pumps adorned with gold toes with silver nails.

Short fitted coat in vintage leather patchwork with voluminous sleeves. The coat is closed with an offset zip on the right side, while the front is adorned with trompe l’oeil gilded brass jewel buttons in anatomical elements, including eyes and ears.

Fitted zipped jacket with exaggerated sleeves made from vintage denim jeans are embroidered with gold strass and thread, and rhinestones. Designs take shape in anatomical elements in resin, including nipples, eyes, mouths, and breasts. Embroidery includes three-dimensional padded flowers using lamé work, gold bulges, strass and beads. Spiral-cut breasts are made from gold lambskin. Leather stirrups in black stretch lambskin. A lip clutch with a removable chain is made from gilded brass with the interior in Shocking Pink. 

Fitted Basque jacket with exaggerated arms in various Mikado silks, satin, and faille weaves. Embroidery techniques are inspired by the Schiaparelli archives and include traditional volute in gold strass, gold pearls, rhinestones, lurex thread, multicolored thread embroidery in ochre silk faille, embroidered with gold thread spindle stretch lambskin in bi-colored lamé and black. Dome-shaped hat in vucum metalized perspex with quilted Shocking Pink satin lining. Black satin pumps with silk faille bows adorned with golden toes bearing silver nails.

Dress in black wool crepe with a yellow silk belt at the waist, topped with an exaggerated bubbled top in silver metallic eel. Gilded brass earrings in the shape of eyes with a large white plastic pearl as the pupil. Attached is a nose adorned with a septum piercing from which hangs a drop-shaped tassel with a white plastic bead.

 Long bubble dress in mauve taffeta with balloon sleeves. Worn with a shoulder bust in mirrored silver epoxy resin.

Mini dress in black silk chiffon with hangs by the stem of a gilded metal rod in the shape of a flower. Black satin mules adorned with golden toes bearing silver nails.

Denim pants are embroidered with gold strass and gold thread while eyes are in resin. Black lamb d'orsay pumps adorned with gold toes bearing silver nails.

Denim pants are embroidered with gold strass and gold thread while eyes are in resin. A jewel bag in gilded brass takes the form of a flower with a mouth in the middle. 

Strapless dress in wool crepe with a plunging heart-shaped neckline. Entirely lined with a pleated silk lurex made by hand for an exaggerated bubbled volume effect that redefines the dimensions of the silhouette.

Thigh-high boots in white stretch lambskin with a silver swirl platform are adorned with golden toes bearing silver nails.

Midi sheath dress in wool crepe, molded on an artisanal metal structure with fabric gazelle horns extending from the shoulders.Embroidered with filigree lamé thread, gold pearls, gold cut beads, handmade gold pompoms, and Swarovski rhinestones. Two trompe l’oeil nipple buttons are in gilded brass. A galette hat, made from black wool crepe, is embroidered with pearls and gold Swarovski crystals

Long dress in black wool crepe with a trompe l’oeil mouth bustier in orange silk with a matching train. Dangling earrings in gilded brass are composed of an eye with an iris in turquoise resin, a nose with a piercing from which hang two eyes in purple resin, and a mouth painted in red resin.

Strapless wedding dress in ivory silk taffeta with exaggerated volume created from hand-crafted pleating. The bustier is embroidered with rhinestones from pieces of hand-cut glass mirrors that are painted for an antique effect. Gilded brass earrings in the shape of a cross are formed by three teeth adorned with silver drops. 

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Paris Haute Couture: Antonio Grimaldi

A black-velvet, mini-dress with voluminous sleeves and floating train embodies Italian designer Antonio Grimaldi's take on the Eighties for his new AW 21/22 collection. 

Today in Paris, the haute couture Autumn/Winter 2021/22 season opens with most couturiers showing digital presentations. Italian designer Antonio Grimaldi filmed his new collection in a vast, modernist space in Rome. Escaping the dour pandemic ethos, he was inspired by the glamour and fun of the 1980s with sculptured, diaphanous party gowns, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento

Couturier Antonio Grimaldi with
his muse and model Anna Cleveland in Rome
THE setting for Antonio Grimaldi's digital presentation of his new haute couture collection for Autumn/Winter 2021/22 was a vast, modernist space in Rome. Turning away from the sombre atmosphere induced by the rolling waves of Covid-19, the couturier looked to the Eighties for inspiration. Grimaldi wanted his new collection to express that decade's glamourous hedonism. 

Called the "Ladies Club", he envisioned the collection as a women-only party that is festive yet dreamlike. His designs capture the essence of the Eighties but in a more sculptural, streamlined way with long capes and skirts. However, there is not a shoulder-pad in sight. 

Grimaldi also adds trains to some gowns to make the silhouette more dramatic, including on mini-dresses and as an extension to long, sinuous capes. 

 The designer's signature is an elegant and dynamic asymmetry, the austere line offset by curves and intricate embroideries, This season includes sculptural necklines mixed with asymmetrical openings on the front and plunging open backs. There are also one-shouldered bodysuits embroidered with crystal and covered with feathers. The collection's twenty-one looks feature cocktail and evening dresses worn with tall, metallic stiletto heels.

The palette ranges from black to glacial white and includes pale pinks, inspired by the aurora borealis, and heightened by fluorescent hues in lime green and light blue. Model Anna Cleveland, pictured with the designer above, is Grimaldi's muse for this season.

Turning away from the sombre atmosphere of the pandemic, the couturier looked to the Eighties for inspiration 

Sculptural curves and vivid colour
are signatures of the designer
Antonio Grimaldi says he always wanted to be a designer, since he was a child. He is passionate about art, fashion and in particular about craftsmanship. He learnt the secrets of couture in a small atelier in seaside Salerno, on the mountainous southern coast of Italy. Grimaldi started working with his mother and sister when he was 15 years old and later designed his sister’s wedding dress. 

In the summer, he started to go regularly to the atelier in Salerno because he wanted to learn about how to make beautiful clothes. The designer says when he was growing up in Italy, fashion school was only for women, so he went on to study graphics and art but was still determined to be a fashion designer.
He attended an art institute before learning more about the craftsmanship of fashion and tailoring. He completed his training when he moved to Rome and started to work in the studio of the historic fashion house, Fernanda Gattinoni.  

Today, he says that working with dressmakers early in his career taught him about textiles and the art of modelling designs to the body. He explains it was also very satisfying to work in an atelier, when he was young, where he was able to turn his sketches from dream to reality. Because the designer studied art rather than fashion, this is still an important aspect of his design philosophy for all of his collections. 

He learnt the secrets of couture in a small, family atelier in Salerno, on the mountainous southern coast of Italy

Asymmetry and beautiful tailoring
enhanced the fluidity and 
virtuosity of the new collection
In 1996, the designer became the co-founder of 'Grimaldi Giardina' and the collections were presented at Altaroma in the Italian capital. Emanuel Ungaro also encouraged Grimaldi to show his work during the haute couture week in Paris. 

In 2010, Grimaldi decided to created his own fashion house in his name. One of the highpoints of his career was being invited to show as a couturier during Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week. 

He says this is important from a business standpoint, as it provides the best fashion platform in the world to reach international buyers. Since 2017, he has been an invited member of the official couture calendar in Paris.  

During the initial phases of creating a couture collection, Grimaldi thinks about the mood of the collection and then does the sketches. Next the fabrics and textures are chosen but this changes as the design of a garment develops. 

Lastly are the modelling and cut of the gown that will eventually be seen in that season's show. The designer sees the process of creation as the same for both ready-to-wear collections and couture. However, he believes art is the sina qua non for designing haute couture. Artistic and conceptual ideas along with the marvellous hand-workmanship are essential to couture and separate it from all other forms of fashion.

Highlights from Antonio Grimaldi's AW 21/22 Haute Couture Collection 

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Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Barcelona: Antoni Gaudi's Basílica de la Sagrada Familia

Looking up into the vertiginous nave of Antoni Gaudi's Basilica de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the columns are designed to look like trees and branches

The first time John Willsteed saw the spectacular spires of Antoni Gaudi's Basílica de la Sagrada Familia, he was the bassist for the iconic Australian band the Go-Betweens in the eighties. Now a senior lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology's School of Creative Practice, his Spanish trip to revisit his favourite building was derailed by the pandemic and the ensuing travel restrictions

The fairytale Nativity facade 
of the Sagrada Familia 
with its soaring spires
WE hadn’t packed bags yet, but it was about all that was left to do. I had compiled playlists to keep me diverted, amused, energised on the long flights. We’d pored over pictures and hopeful descriptions of poky little apartments in the right places, or spacious, sleek pads too far away from the action. 

It took us three months to get the accommodation and the flights just so. The right amount of layover; the right seats for me and the kid and my sweetheart; the menus, the access options for my travelling companions and their idiosyncratic needs. 

 All the while, Antoni Gaudí’s dream cast its evening shadow over the park across the Carrer de la Marina. Darkening the playground, the streets of the Eixample and their endless cars; blurring the faces of the crowds that ebb and flow past and through the structure, dwindling at day’s end and disappearing into the larger tide of Barcelona at night. 

Since builders broke ground for the Basílica de la Sagrada Família under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar in 1882, the site has seen several architects and project managers. But Antoni Gaudí remains its creative heart. 

An otherworldly mix of styles 

When Gaudí turned his attention in 1909 to del Villar’s original neo-Gothic design, he mixed it with the organic flow of the Art Nouveau. Using intricate upside-down models, with weighted strings tracing parabolic curves, reflected in mirrors, Gaudí created his own style. 

 Gaudí sculpted rather than drew, creating apartments and parks and public buildings whose undulating lines and unexpected textures weren’t really seen again until Frank Gehry’s iconic structures, such as the Olympic Fish Pavilion and the Bilbao Guggenheim, both in Spain. Like the Sagrada Família, these buildings are otherworldly, seeming to exist outside both time and gravity. 

 A stop on tour 

Standing in the transept,
looking at the stained glass windows
The first time I saw the Basílica, it was a grey afternoon in late August, 1988. I was on vacation from touring as bassist with The Go-Betweens and fled London with a dear travelling companion to saunter/stagger through southern Portugal, then Lisbon and Spain. 

Brisbane friend Peter Loveday was “our man in Barcelona” and graciously led us through the town, cracking open each day as a fresh delight. I loved a wine, back in those days, and a beer. Prawns, vodka, gin and mussels. Barcelona was made of such treats, but the greatest treat was Gaudí. 

We lingered in the wonder of Park Güell, where architecture and nature entwine, and the view stretches south across the city to the blue of the Mar Balear. 

On the clearest of clear days you can see the mountains on Majorca. We were tourists visiting Casa Milà and Casa Batlló, dumbstruck by the extraordinary colours and finishes (lots of murals and tiles, cool to the touch on a hot afternoon), the bespoke furniture and fittings, and the opulent, sensual design of the facades and interiors. 

Towering scale 

A 2021 model showing the parts in brown
that have yet to be built
The Sagrada Família stood apart from these architectural treasures. On that August afternoon, the scale of the cathedral was staggering. Not just in size, towering over this five-storey city, but in the depth of detail. 

 The Basílica is based on a crucifix, with the two facades — the Passion and the Nativity — at the ends of the transept or crosspiece. Each of these facades is dense with sculpture — flowers, plants, animals, angels, saints and scenes from the Bible — and from each rises four belltowers. 

The spiral staircase inside the eastern belltower of the Nativity facade was worn smooth, a fractal path tracing the interior of a Nautilus shell. The towers are just over 100 metres tall (the central tower will top 170 metres when completed sometime after 2026). With little room for passing on the stair and no handrail, the experience was dizzying. 

We emerged into the afternoon high above the city, on a little bridge between the towers; the beginnings of the cathedral below us. We saw colourful glazes of the cimborio (domes or cups) capping the belltowers. The sight, as I later noted in my diary, brought tears. I’d been triggered by the vastness of the idea, the astonishing detail and the knowledge that Gaudí didn’t live to see it finished. 

God’s architect 

Gaudi's otherworldly basilica rises up 
amid the ordered streets of 
Barcelona's Eixample district
In June 1926, at the age of 73 and after almost two decades of working on the Basílica, Gaudí stepped into the path of a tram a few blocks from the cathedral. 

“God’s architect”, the Catalan Modernist, was buried in the underground crypt of the Sagrada Família below the Basílica he designed. I have returned to Barcelona a couple of times over the years but never to the Sagrada Família. Much has changed since the 31-year-old me climbed those stairs

The nave has been built, with towering columns and stained-glass windows. More bell towers rise above the street, with more to come. It is within a handful of years of being completed, hopefully by the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death.

Our carefully laid travel plans would have seen us arrive in Barcelona early in July 2020. The pandemic put those plans (and much else) on hold. I enjoyed the quiet but ache for the trip we had imagined. I think I’ve waited long enough for a second visit to my favourite building.

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Wednesday, 2 June 2021

French Impressionism Exhibition Opens at the National Gallery of Victoria

One of the highlights from the French Impressionism show, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's Carmen Gaudin in the artist's studio (1888). Cover picture: Claude Monet, Grand Canal, Venice (1908). Photographs: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 

Melbourne's extended lockdown delayed the opening of the National Gallery of Victoria's major new exhibition of French Impressionism from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts collection. Now launched, the show features works by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro and Mary Cassatt, including paintings that have never been exhibited in Australia, reports Isabelle Lante Della Rovere

Claude Monet, Camille Monet and 
a child in the artist's garden 
at Argenteuil (1875).
Photo: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
BOSTON'S Museum of Fine Arts is well known for its rich holdings of Impressionist paintings. The loans for the National Gallery of Victoria's new show are from the American institution's celebrated collection and provide an opportunity to see many Impressionist masterpieces that have not been seen in Australia. 

Called French Impressionism, the exhibition will examine the late-nineteenth century artistic movement, highlighting the milestones and key figures at the centre of this period of experimentation and revolution in modern art. 

The display of more than one hundred paintings and works on paper showcases the breadth of the Impressionist movement and evokes the artistic energy and intellectual dynamism of the period. The show aims to present some of the thoughts and observations of the artists themselves and look at the social connections, artistic influences and personal relationships between them. 

 ‘Paintings by the Impressionists are beloved world-wide for the artistic innovation and visual curiosity they represent, as well as for their breath-taking use of colour,'' said Tony Ellwood, director of the National Gallery of Victoria. 

"This exhibition will give audiences the extraordinary opportunity to study more than 100 masterworks up-close, including Monet’s radiant scenes of the French countryside, and to discover the truly revolutionary origins of this important moment in modern art history. "

Paintings and works on paper showcase the breadth of the Impressionist movement and evoke its artistic energy and intellectual dynamism 

Claude Monet, Meadow with poplars (c.1875).
Photo: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Presented thematically across ten sections, the exhibition will open with early works by Monet and his forebears, Eugène Boudin and painters of the Barbizon School, illustrating their influence on Monet’s use of the then radical method of painting outdoors en plein air (‘in the open air’) to capture changing conditions in nature. 

The growth of the movement is examined by exploring the key subjects and ideas of the Impressionists. 

"The Museum of Fine Arts' collection of Impressionist paintings has the unique capacity to narrate the history of French Impressionism with nuance, depth and flare,'' comments Tony Ellwood. "This is the first time the MFA Boston has lent such a large selection of works to Australia. A thematic presentation of this calibre and breadth will not be seen here again for many years." 

Designed as an immersive exhibition, the audience will be able to see the distinctive brushwork and use of colour along with places important to the artists, such as Paris, Fontainebleau Forest, Pontoise, Giverny, the Normandy coast and the South of France. Artists were also interested in exploring new ways of painting movement and the changes in urban and domestic settings at the end of the 19th century. Still life paintings, intimate interiors and street scenes by such artists as Manet, Renoir and Gustave Caillebotte are featured too. 

The broader themes of the exhibition are mixed with looking at how the artists work, including Renoir and his experimentation with pictorial effects in the 1880s, as well as Pissarro and his role as mentor to a number of other artists. 

"This is the first time the MFA Boston has lent lent so many works to Australia. A show of this calibre and breadth will not be seen here again for many years." 

Claude Monet, Water Lillies (1905).
Photo: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
A highlight of the show are sixteen canvases by Claude Monet, curated like the dramatic gallery Monet helped design for his famous Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie, in Paris, between 1922 and 1926. 

Painted over a thirty-year period, these paintings depict many of Monet’s most beloved scenes of nature in Argenteuil, the Normandy and Mediterranean coast and his extraordinary garden in Giverny. Together, these paintings demonstrate the full scope of the artist’s contribution to the Impressionist movement. 

 MFA Boston’s collection of French Impressionism benefitted from the collecting efforts of individual Bostonians, some of whom visited the artists in France during the movement’s height. Mary Cassatt, an American-born artist integral to the French Impressionist movement and whose work is featured in the exhibition, encouraged fellow Americans to buy the works of her French colleagues, ensuring that many great Impressionist paintings found their way into important American collections. 

The Museum of Fine Arts was founded in 1870 and stands on the historic homelands of the Massachusett people, a site which has long served as a place of meeting and exchange among different nations. The museum finally opened its doors to the public in 1876 at its original location in Copley Square. 

A highlight of the show are sixteen canvases by Monet depicting his most beloved places in Argenteuil, his garden at Giverny and the Normandy coast

Vincent Van Gogh, Houses at Auvers (1890).
Photo: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
In 1909, the MFA moved to its current home on Huntington Avenue. Today, the museum houses a collection of 500,000 works of art, from the ancient to contemporary. For the past fifty years, the museum has shared its remarkable collection and curatorial expertise with audiences around the world through traveling exhibitions.

"We are delighted to share these iconic works with the people of Australia, so that they may experience this transformational moment in the history of art," said Matthew Teitelbaum, the director of the Museum of Fine Arts. 

"French Impressionism highlights artists and their relationships, their shared ambition and mutual support, ideals that are reflected in our relationship with the National Gallery of Victoria," 

"Our mutual endeavor has been one of vision, creativity and collaboration. This exhibition is a joyous celebration of our connections and a reminder that individuals and institutions thrive through reciprocity and generosity. "
French Impressionism is open at the NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne, Australia. 

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