Grounded in Tradition: the Surprising Connection Between Cave Art and Chanel

In 1983, the legendary House of Chanel was in trouble.

The brand had been established in 1909, when Coco (Gabrielle) Chanel opened a millinery shop in Paris. Her timeless designs and fragrances had withstood the test of time for over a century, and sartorially, some of Chanel’s designs derived from the military uniforms made prevalent by World War l. Chanel became synKarlonymous with gorgeous fabrics, simple elegance, and of course, the fragrance Chanel No. 5.

But in the early eighties, Chanel was still languishing in the wake of Mademoiselle’s death in 1971, subsisting largely on sales from its best-selling fragrance, Chanel No. 5. Faced with the challenge of reinvigorating the house, chairman and part owner of Chanel,  Alain Wertheimer, made an unexpected move – he offered the job of chief designer to Karl Lagerfeld.

Lagerfeld showed promise as a designer from the age of sixteen, when he submitted a series of sketches and fabric samples to a design competition. He ended up taking first place in the coat category.  Soon, Lagerfeld had full time work with French designer Pierre Balmain for the next three years.  Lagerfeld became known in the fashion industry for his innovative, in-the-moment styles. But Lagerfeld also had an appreciation for the past, and he often shoped in flea markets, finding ld wedding dresses to deconstruct.  By the 1980s, Karl Lagerfeld was a major star in the fashion world. He was a  favorite among the press, who loved to chronicle his changing tastes and social life. Lagerfeld kept company with other major stars, including his good friend Andy Warhol.

Lagerfeld had plenty of other options, and his friends and advisers told him to steer clear of Chanel. He recalled:

“Everybody said, ‘Don’t touch it, it’s dead, it will never come back.’ But by then I thought it was a challenge.”

 

And he seized the challenge with both hands: he swiftly began to reinvigorate the brand by sifting through the house’s archives, incorporating such signature Chanel details as tweed fabrics, pearls, gold chains, and the double-C logo, but showing them in a sexy, youthful, and—most importantly—irreverent way.

In his revival of Chanel, this most innovative of designers succeeded by blending the old with the new, not by abandoning tradition, but reinvigorating it.

An Almost-Lost Art

glassblowingThe art of blowing glass by hand is an almost-lost art.
The costs of producing handblown drinking glasses and other objects are so high that collecting them is left to those who have disposable income. Most of us purchase glassware that is mass produced; because of that, it is an “almost-lost” art, along with hand lettered invitations and hand-engraved stationery.

Two modern masters of glassblowing, Paul Marioni and his son, Dante Marioni are continuing from a tradition that dates back to 37 BC, as they create vessels of uncompromising quality and beauty.  Paul has passed down the tradition to his son and now Dante teaches the art around the world.

Paul Marioni

 

Paul Marioni has been an internationally recognized glass artist since the 1960s whose work is about human nature and is often inspired by his dreams. His son, Dante Marioni, first blew glass at the age of nine when, along with his father, he visited Jay Musler’s studio, where he was given a pipe and a small “gather” of glass. The rest, as they say, is history.

Dante MarioniIn 2004, as a glass artist, I attended Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington. Pilchuk was founded in 1971 by legendary glass artist Dale Chihuly. I had the distinct privilege to watch Dante Marioni blow glass, and  saw him destroy a number of drinking glasses he was unhappy with; many would accept his work as beautiful, but it was not up to his level of artistic craftsmanship. He was poetry in motion!

My own relationship with artistic traditions

Reflecting on my own art, I realize that I am part of a lineage of painters dating back centuries, but more recently, to work by artist Hans Hofmann. Hofmann’s art work is notable in the way he creates structure using spatial illusion and color relationships. In my work, I investigate the division of space using contrasting colors and edges that overlap and bleed into each other.

His completely abstract works date from the 1940s. Hofmann believed that abstract art was a way to get at the important reality. He famously stated that “the ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” To learn more about Hans Hofmann, go here.

Terpsichore   Hans HofmannRipe 36x24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hans Hofmann, Terpishore, 1958                                                           ©Aryana B. Londir, Ripe, 2014

 

Many of my influences come from the artists of the Abstract Expressionist and Color Field movements, as evidenced in the above piece. The bright patches of vibrant color and how they are arranged create so many opportunities for personal expression.

Chavet
Those connections were really brought home to me after viewing a documentary by Werner Herzog on the hidden cave paintings of the Chauvet caves of Southern France, discovered only ten years ago. Those paintings are from over 30,000 years old, yet are in pristine condition. Even then, humans were expressing themselves and documenting their feelings about the world surrounding them!

 

chavet horsesIt was quite exciting following the first footsteps of the group as they explored the cave.  To conserve the integrity of the cave, they were allowed to only walk on metal walkways put in place prior to their viewing, along with hand held cameras lighting. The pathways were so narrow that it was possible for them to through in a single line.  I had no idea that I would be following in the footsteps of pioneers when I settled in to watch what I thought to be a simple, possibly boring documentary. What a lovely surprise to discover the cave as these explorers did!

 

Your relationship with tradition

How do you relate to the past?

Have you carried forth any traditions in your work?

In your family? In your personal life? Please let me know in the comments!

Aryana B. Londir is an abstract painter who has been fascinated by style in all of its incarnations throughout her life. For more of Aryana’s thoughts on the origins and impact of style on our lives, and to be the first to see her new art, please sign up here.

 

2 thoughts on “Grounded in Tradition: the Surprising Connection Between Cave Art and Chanel

  1. Sandra Palmer Ciolino

    I read several books about Coco Chanel several decades ago and remember being fascinated by the elegance and simplicity of her designs. I stitched several garments using Vogue Designer Patterns and enjoyed wearing them. Regarding your new Color Block paintings . . . I see real conviction in this new body of work, and the vibrant colors are magnificent!

    Reply
    1. Aryana B. Londir

      Thank you, Sandy, for taking the time to read the article and leave a comment.
      I appreciate your kind words about my new work too! I believe that, through my connection to painters of the past, I am able to move forward in my own work. I bet you can say the same about yours!

      Reply

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