Tuesday, August 18, 2015

1990 Azzadine Alaia Paris

Looking back, one can see how Fashion had a special Clubhouse feel. Before the mega brands established a new commercial world order by going corporate and trading in their free spirited personalities for Mega Mega world domination.
It was the Height of Supermodel Mania with Linda and Christy hamming it up for the cameras and their adoring fans. Together they created Magic in the air.Wherever they landed, they defined Fashion Joy and Sexy Mischief. There was a Party feel in the air....Alaia created a unique "home" atmosphere for the girls...the super glam sisterhood. Fashion was alive, full of glamour and sizzle.

90's couture runway sensation: Indian Model Gurmit Kaur




I grew up in Singapore in a very conservative Indian family. Like many adolescents, I had low self esteem and it took me a while to build up my confidence. I suffered from dyslexia and child epilepsy, and I remember having attacks while waiting at the bus stop. When you have those experiences at an early age they shape the way you interact and are perceived by individuals. In a sense I never wanted to feel different from anyone else, I just wanted to be accepted and be part of a group.
Living in places as diverse as Toronto, Brussels, Paris and New York over the years, taught me how to embrace different cultures. In a sense those experiences of balancing East and West reflect who I am today, and inevitably inform my creative process.
My career as a model happened by sheer accident. To make extra money I tried doing some modeling on the side, but it was tough finding jobs in Singapore because they were always looking for Chinese girls. But I saw modeling as a means to make money so I could do the kind of work I was passionate about.
Being dyslexic it was very difficult for me to write, but I was very visual and acquired the ability to look at things three-dimensionally from a very young age. I loved creating with my hands and knew I could make a living out of it someday, so I decided to enroll in some sculpture courses.
In 1986, the American architect John Portman was in Singapore designing the Pan Pacific Hotel, and he had commissioned the well known Belgian sculptor Olivier Strebelle to do a monumental piece for the lobby. John asked Olivier to speak to our sculpture class. Although he was much older than me, there was an instant attraction and not long after meeting, we married and moved back to Brussels. It was there that I really began to gain an appreciation for art and sculpture. Olivier exposed me to a world of artists and creative individuals that provided the best education a young person could have.
Gurmit Runway 1
Not long after moving there, I enrolled in a jewelry design course in Brussels, which has a long history of the craft. During the 1920’s and 30’s most of the big Paris couture houses used to have their costume jewelry created by its famous workshops. Robert Goossens made jewels for Balenciaga and Chanel, while Lina Baretti made pieces for Elsa Schiaparelli.
After living in Brussels for two years, a modeling agent I knew suggested I go to Paris to do a “go-see” at Yves Saint Laurent. It was 1989 and I was only 19, but I went on my own to try out for his autumn ready-to-wear show. Although I was nervous, I told myself this would be my first show and not my last. When you’ve experienced difficulties from an early age, you become fearless and take more chances in life.
There was a woman at Saint Laurent named Nicole Doré, who was the “gate keeper” of the house. No one saw Monsieur Saint Laurent unless you were approved by her first. Thankfully I passed the test. When I walked into Saint Laurent’s studio I remember the first words out of his mouth were “Ah comme elle est belle! Je vais vous appeler Jezebel!” For some reason he loved the name Jezebel, so that’s what he called me from that day.
By the time I came to Saint Laurent, the designer was already under heavy medication and the atmosphere around the couture salon was tightly controlled by his people, trying to anticipate any mood swings he may have. Yet despite this he was a very cool and sweet person.
There is a synergy that often occurs between a model and a couturier, that’s almost a spontaneous spark of inspiration. Saint Laurent loved exploring other cultures, and I think he saw in me the exoticism of India. I remember one day after we had completed a fitting for a show, he took me by the hand and lead me to a corner of his studio. He unraveled a bolt of beautiful silk-chiffon printed with vibrant floral patterns, and began to drape it around my body like a sari; even creating a turban to go with it.
Gurmit Runway 2
Right after I did that first show for Saint Laurent, Colleen Firth, the fashion editor, booked me for an Italian Vogue shoot with Steven Meisel. It was one of the most exciting moments in my career. Meisel and Steven Klien were the two photographers I loved working with. They were both very difficult and demanding because they were such perfectionists. But at the end of the day they produced these extraordinary images.
After that shoot with Meisel, Colleen took me straight to Azzedine Alaia to meet the designer. He worked and lived in this historic building that once served as a storage space for the Bazar de l'Hôtel de Ville, the Parisian department store. Alaia was very different from other designers in that he conceived every aspect of his creations from developing the fabrics to the final stitch on a leather belt. He was a master couturier in every sense of the word.
He also designs specifically for the female body, and because of that he was very inspired by the models who worked with him. Where most couturiers would have one fitting model, Alaia liked to work with different girls. All of us used to cry to do a fitting with him, because it was such an extraordinary experience.
Although he is a perfectionist, there is also a side to Alaia that is very coy and boyish. He’s someone who loves a good joke, and to us he was a father figure, a teddy bear and confidant all rolled into one. To this day I still wear Alaia most of the time, mixing vintage pieces I’ve had for years with recent purchases. Even when I got married again, I asked him to do my wedding dress.
Working with designers such as Saint Laurent, Versace, Lagerfeld, Lacroix and Alaia over the years was an education, as it gave me insight into their design process. I’ve taken those lessons with me into my next career as a jewelry designer and artist.
Gurmit Runway 3
In the mid-90’s I went through a painful separation from my first husband, and although I still cared for him deeply, I decided to move to New York. I loved living there, but after a year I decided to quit modeling and returned to Brussels to complete my studies in jewelry design with a goldsmith. I could have studied anywhere, but in Brussels they take an old school approach to the craft of making jewelry. As a designer it was essential for me to understand the properties of materials and construction, before I could truly feel free to innovate.
After I finished my studies I moved back to New York 1995 to launch my jewelry line at Bergdorf Goodman’s. I stayed for five years until I married again, had two boys (7 and 6) and moved to England, where my husband is from. Today I still design jewelry for private clients, and have traveled to places in the Middle East like Dubai and Bahrain.
More recently I decided to return to sculpture, and enrolled at the Chelsea College of Arts. I think it is my love of objects that attracted me to sculpture and jewelry design in the first place. Yet both mediums present different challenges. With jewelry you are not only dealing with objects at a smaller scale, but you also have to work with the human body which imposes certain limitations. Sculpture offers fewer constraints on the other hand in terms of where it can be placed in an environment.
When I decided to go back to school and get my BA from the Chelsea College of Arts, I challenged myself to re-examine the way I approach art. I’ve always thought and worked three dimensionally, but for the last 3 ½ years I trained myself to think in two dimensions. I explored film, painting and even light, but ultimately I came back to what I love best, which is sculpture. In a sense that process was very liberating for me as an artist. For my final degree show this summer I created a sculpture that turns the body inside out. I’m also thinking more about where I place sculptures, especially in places where we wouldn’t expect to find them.
Currently I’m searching for a metal smith to fabricate a ring I designed in silver and titanium. It’s based on a Turkish puzzle ring, but the fingers literally act as a lock holding the pieces in place. The moment you take it off, it falls apart and transforms into another object. I love this idea of creating a conversation piece that brings people together. For me the secret to what I do is having fun.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Decadent and ORIGINAL legend Marchesa LUISA CASATI

"I want to be a living work of art."

"Women of the world today all dress alike. They are like so many loaves of bread. To be beautiful one must be unhurried. Personality is needed. There is too much sameness. The world seems to have only a desire for more of this sameness. To be different is to be alone."
- The Marchesa Luisa Casati
No woman in the early half of the twentieth century was as decadently eccentric as the Marchesa Luisa Casati, the most notorious Italian heiress that has ever lived. Arguably the first true female dandy, Casati famously proclaimed that her life's goal was to become "a living work of art."
Born Luisa Adela Rosa Maria Amman in Milan in 1881 to a wealthy Italian family with royal heritage (her father was made a Count by King Umberto I), her parents death at age 15 left Luisa and her older sister Francesca the wealthiest women in Italy. She wed Camillo Casati Stampa di Soncino, Marchese di Roma in 1900. After the birth of their only daughter, Luisa left her husband and daughter in 1914 in order to reinvent herself as a patroness of the arts.
Standing at a near six-feet-tall and dressed in flamboyant European fashions, the Marchesa both delighted and horrified the aristocratic belle epoque. With her fiery red hair teased to a halo of curls and large, overwhelming green eyes - which she exaggerated with both thick rings of kohl and belladonna drops to enlarge her pupils to appear like emeralds - Luisa was like no other woman Italy had ever seen. She was deathly pale, with a cadaverous bone structure, and always kept her lips painted in her signature deep vermillion red.
After separating from her husband, the Marchesa moved into the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, a semi-ruined mansion along the Grand Canal in Venice that would play house to all her future exploits. Tales of her wildly eccentric personality are notorious. She wore live snakes as necklaces. She had male servants wear nothing but a sheet of gold leaf in her decaying Venetian mansion, which was decorated with wax mannequins which she placed in seats at the dinner table, and Chinese lanterns throughout the vast property. Infamous for her late-night walks, the Marchesa would stroll around the city with her two pet cheetahs on diamond-studded collars and leashes, while she wore scant more than a fur coat. Around the Palazzo roamed her exotic pet cheetahs, monkeys, peacocks and birds. In Venice she threw extravagant parties - masquerade balls, gothic black masses, and performances of the Russian ballet. Rumors of her party time attire still swirl - once the Marchesa was said to have worn a freshly-slaughtered chicken as a stole. Another party had her dressed in nothing but white feathers streaked with blood dried on her arms.
During the three decades that she mesmerized the Venetian society, she had affairs with both men and women, but her constant love was writer Gabriele D'Annunzio. A celebrity among the literati set, she was painted by Augustus John, Giovanni Boldini, Romaine Brooks, Kees van Dongen, and Picasso, photographed by Cecil Beaton and Man Ray, sculpted by Paolo Troubetzkoy, sketched by Drian and Alastair, and the inspiration of Erte, Jean Cocteau, Robert de Montesquiou, and Jack Kerouac. Some 200 portraits, sculptures, and drawings were made of her, as she wished to "commission her own immortality." She was also a patroness of fashion designers Poiret and Fortuny, and served as muse to Umberto Boccioni, Fortunato Depero, and F.T. Marinetti. Her affinity for exotic animals and jewels directly inspired Cartier's panther design.
By 1930, Casati's passion for couture, expensive jewels, and other extravagancies left her virtually penniless, in debt for $25 million. An auction of her personal collections drew many bidders, including Coco Chanel. Casati then moved to London, where she resided until her death in 1957. In those years, the fallen heiress was rumored to be seen digging around Mayfair trash bins for plumes of feathers to wear in her hair. After her death, she was buried in her finest black leopard skin piece, a pair of false eyelashes, and her taxidermied Pekinese dog. On her gravestone in Brompton Cemetery is a quote from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety."
Despite living her final days in poverty, the enigmatic persona of the Marchesa lives on and continues to inspire. She is the namesake of the fashion house Marchesa, and is a personal icon of the house's designers Georgina Chapman (who recently posed as Casati in the March issue of Harper's Bazaar) and Keren Craig. Of Casati, Chapman has said, "Perhaps if she were alive today, she would be a designer. She squandered all of her money. Millions and millions. It's a good take on what's happening now. Her life was one of complete excess; then she had to reassess everything." Other designers, such as John Galliano and Karl Lagerfeld, have looked to the late Marchesa for inspiration. Dita Von Teese has cited her, as well as Anna Piaggi and Isabella Blow, as a key style influence. She has also inspired many film characters, including Isabella Inghirami in Forse che si forse che no, La Casinelle in Dans la fete de Venise and Nouvelle Riviera, Ingrid Bergman's character in A Matter of Time, as well as Vivien Leigh's performance in La Contessa.
The life of Marchesa Luisa Casati was remarkable, and, at times, almost unbelievable. I adore her because she was truly an individual and became her life's wish: a living work of art. She lived for her self and her pleasure, and dared to do things that few others could even dream of.
I am eager to purchase the biography of her life, Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati, and learn more about this fascinating figure in history.

Quotes about the Marchesa:
  • "The story of the Marchesa Luisa Casati's life resembles a fable for our times ... The story of Italy's richest heiress at turn of the last century, whose married aristocratic life and progeny were cast aside to indulge in a dramatically theatrical existence ... She emerged a heroine, living the fantasy, all the way to the end." - Glass Magazine
  • "Her carrot-coloured hair hung in long curls. The enormous agate-black eyes seemed to be eating her thin face. Again she was a vision, a mad vision, surrounded as usual by her black and white greyhounds and a host of charming and utterly useless ornaments. But curiously enough she did not look unnatural. The fantastic garb really suited her. She was so different from other women that ordinary clothes were impossible for her." - Catherine Barjansky
  • "The Marchesa lived partly as a slave to her dream world. She had two venues; her palaces and her aristocratic circles. They served as stages where everyone was usually an actor, but when she made her entrance, they automatically became spectators or background extras." - Alberto Martini
BIANCA JAGGER in the decadent 70's was among the IT GIRLS who created the JET SET glamour often associated 
with life as Mick Jaggers wife....perhaps a modern day Casati?!