JOSEPHINE, IMPERIAL TASTEMAKER



 

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It is by pure happenstance that A-Gent of Style entered the private world of one of France’s most remarkable First Ladies last June when he was in Paris, and discovered a modern woman with an extraordinary destiny and a lavish lifestyle.


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 2014 is the bicentenary of the death of Josephine and on this occasion the Musée du Luxembourg dedicated this spring an exhibition, conveniently on A-Gent of Style‘s doorsteps, called “Josephine”, about the French Empress, which brought together personal mementos and major works from her prestigious art collections borrowed from Malmaison, the Empress’s last residence, and private loans. 



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The exhibition, now closed, retraced and revisited Josephine’s extraordinary life and times, from her native Martinique, her first marriage to Alexandre de Beauharnais who was guillotined during the Reign of Terror and the turbulent years of the Revolution (she narrowly escaped being beheaded too owing to Robespierre’s timely fall), followed by her meeting with Général Bonaparte who propelled his first wife to the top of the empire and made her sovereign (he crowned her himself in 1804; Jacques-Louis David’s famous 1807 painting was notably not on display sadly and was sorely missed), up to her life after divorce (Napoleon divorced her as she could not bear him any heir; he is reported to have mentioned her name in his last breath) in Malmaison where she withdrew and indulged her taste and élan for the arts and gardens. 


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 Her relationship with fashion, arts, travels, music and botany made her a great benefactor of paintings, but especially of applied arts, reflecting the luxury and refinement which she loved (in contrast with the very masculine and military era of Napoleon’s empire). Her influence was considerable and her role in setting the style in the consular and imperial period was crucial, which consequently saw her being emulated throughout Europe. Avid art collector, Josephine contributed to the promotion of the antiquities, but also of the great Dutch masters. She was also a talented decorator judging by the exquisite and tasteful rooms at Malmaison that she created (the paintings of her boudoir and music room are ravishing – see the last photos) and promoted various national companies such as carpentry and textiles. Visitors were given a glimpse of the intimacy of her apartments, her taste for varied collections  – paintings, furniture, antiquities, fashion, paraphernalia, music, and also her passion for gardens, flowers and birds.

Through a beautifully and cleverly curated exhibition, A-Gent of Style was enthralled to see beauty all around and grateful to be allowed to take photos (some unfortunate glares could not be avoided; apology in advance) of the sumptuous objects on display from the ravishing and delicate textiles of Josephine’s wardrobe adorned with superb fabrics, embroideries and beading (A-Gent of Style couldn’t help thinking of Charlotte di Carcaci’s Instagram feed; check it out, it’s magnifique), to the elegant paraphernalia, fine antique furniture and paintings, and last but not least, her incredible jewellery. 

Hopefully you will be enthralled too.


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– All photos by A-Gent of Style




 

 

THE FOX’S DEN by ZIM & ZOU for HERMES





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A friend of A-Gent of Style notified him last week of a new design tour de force – this time from the retail design world – which is not only impressive but also refreshing to see as a leading fashion house has taken the risk to think out of the box and given a new spin on window displays by using traditional, crafty mediums. Enough reasons for a feature on this blog.


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French graphic design studio Zim & Zou (Lucie Thomas and Thibault Zimmermann) have lent their skills once again for fashion house Hermès by crafting a fantasy and whimsical window for their Barcelona store in Paseo de Gracià, with intricately folded and vibrantly coloured paper and leather, all created painstakingly by hand. Some of you might remember
A-Gent of Style‘s feature last Christmas of the not too dissimilar award-winning Winter Wonderland displays at nationwide John Lewis stores made out of plastic, metallic and synthetic household products.

The Hermès-orange and blue hues of this scene tells the story of a small fox who inhabits the rather 1950s-looking space with his own personal objects, giving a glimpse into his life (wait to see the framed photographs!), quirks and personality (so much for anthropomorphism).

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A month and a half, 68 tubes of glue and 144 large sheets of paper later, ‘the fox’s den’ was completed with (human) geometric-ornamented furniture and household objects all made of paper, from the table and stool he sits on and stares at the onlookers to the assemblage of photos hanging on the fanciful floral-and-sylvan patterned wall (yet to be identified by A-Gent of Style). The fox sculpture alone was made from Hermès’ leather remnants and took two weeks to make. Each small piece was cut by hand and then glued slowly together so that the fox could look as realistic as possible. And doesn’t he just look cute!

Hermès accessories such as ties, scarves and shoes are strategically placed throughout the dwelling, uniting the fashion label’s wearable designs and the delicate and complex paper craft work.

In this CAD-saturated world where one can easily OCD on too much digital, how exhilarating to see a tangible, concrete solution that embraces craftsmanship and artistry but also the whimsical, the playful and the adorable.


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– all imagery by Nacho Vaquero, courtesy of Zim & Zou –






THE SECRETS OF FRENCH LACQUER: VERNIS MARTIN at LES ARTS DECORATIFS





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Apologies are in order today. A-Gent of Style is a couple of months late to the party. Today’s feature somehow fell through the net whatwith the intoxicating whirlwind of events of the last couple of months. But, as they say, better late than never.

During his last stay in Paris back in May, A-Gent of Style featured the revelatory Dries Van Noten retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Concurrently, the Parisian museum devoted another major exhibition, now closed, to the secrets of French lacquer which highlighted the widespread passion for a technique and savoir-faire that became the epitome of luxury and refinement in the 18th century.

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A-Gent of Style already expressed last year his obsession for lacquer, particularly its high-gloss treatment, in a special feature chronicling its wonders in 20th and 21st centuries interior decoration. So it made sense he visited this exhibit showcasing the origins, transformations and various manifestations of this decorative finish in its supreme art form in France during the Age of Enlightenment.

Soon after leaving the fashion show (and a postprandial walk in the Jardin des Tuileries), A-Gent of Style returned to the museum, press day pass in hand, but turned right this time to walk up the imposing staircase flanked on each side by a replica of a 1770 wood panel representing a Chinese figurine, adorned with exquisite blue and yellow lacquer, that announced the entrance to the exhibition. Designed by the architect Philippe Pumain and produced in collaboration with the Lackkunst Museum in Münster, this spectacle brought together some 300 exceptional and rare objects from private collections that were nothing short of ravishing.

 

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Towards the end of the 17th century, the increasingly high cost of lacquer production in Japan and the inferior quality of lacquer imported from China prompted Europeans to seek to master this technique themselves. The study of lacquer enabled skillful artisans in Germany, England, Holland and France to recreate its deep, velvety sheen masterfully imitating oriental lacquers. In Paris, a host of gilder-varnishers’ workshops sprang up in the Saint-Antoine quarter alongside those of the cabinetmakers and joiners already established there, thereby linking them with the furniture industry from the outset.

Amongst the most famous were the Martin brothers, Guillaume and Etienne-Simon Martin, whose name became associated with their technique, Vernis Martin, and who were instrumental in its development and refinement. The ornamental elements adorning coaches – highly sought after by European royalty – brought acclaim to Vernis Martin. The tightly guarded chemical compositions differed from workshop to workshop and generated new colours such as blues, greens and yellows (incredibly stunning especially the teal desk you will see below) in addition to the more ubiquitous Asian reds and blacks. This specificity of French lacquer and its use on all kinds of materials and objects ranged from the imposing to the most discreet; furniture, woodwork panelling, decorative objets (the Chinoiserie barometers with their pagodas were utterly ravishing), jewellery, musical instruments, caskets, horse-drawn carriages, sedans and sleighs trace the history of a passion shared by Parisians and a pan-European clientèle and transcending the passion for all things Chinese for which it originally catered. This innovative mode of lacquering was representative of the Enlightenment, an age curious about the arts and sciences, and the exhibition aimed at demonstrating the full range of that interest, thanks to a wealth of historical, iconographic, and scientific research that was undertaken.

This post and also the accompanying book will hopefully compensate for the late feature and delight you with the wondrous qualities, intricacy, mastery and pulchritude of the age-old decorative finish that is plaster.




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