A talk

So I titled this as "a talk" as to avoid confusion with the other interviews I conducted. For this occasion, even though it is on a talk in the style of an interview that took place at FIAF last night that I am writing to share with you.  The guest of honor was Carine Roitfeld, however when the interviewer happened to be the Director of MoMA PS1 and the Curator-at-Large of MoMA, Klaus Biesenbach, one instantly knew that it was not going to be just a talk about fashion.  For this reason, last night's event stumbled some audience as they moaned and complained about Biesenbach's interview style.  To me, it turned out to be a far more interesting night than what I had anticipated.  As Biesenbach decided to treat the interview as a "studio visit", also by inserting personal anecdotes during the conversation to highlight the connection or lack-of-connection between fashion and art.  Too bad, for those audience who felt disappointed last night when they only expected to be given a straight-forward interview of which should only focus on Carine Roitfeld and the "superficial world" of fashion.  What annoyed me was how many people really missed the point, the point of by pairing Biesenbach and Roitfeld together it actually helped to enrich the conversation of fashion and its relationship with the notion of beauty.  Otherwise, it would have been an abysmally dull evening of a vain contemplation on a plainly shallow subject.  It was astounding and dismal to see how the public only expected to be given the same old story over and over, even though it might appear that they were trying to learn something new by their participation last night in the audience.

Carine Roitfeld and Klaus Biesenbach
Art de vivre: Creative Leaders series at FIAF
Image source ARTINFO
For those who are not familiar with Carine Roitfeld, she was Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Paris from 2001-2011.  Since leaving Vogue and Paris, she has been named Global Fashion Director for Harper's Bazaar by Hearst Magazines.  For the moment, she has mostly been working and living in New York, perhaps just wrapping up a fashion shoot in Brooklyn right now (as she mentioned last night). 

To begin last night's talk, Biesenbach set up a make-believe scene as he approached the "door" of Roitfeld's "studio".  But to establish a "location", he asked Roitfeld where she liked to work or would mostly prefer to be working. Roitfeld replied that she takes her work everywhere as fashion is in fact a very physical work and it involves constant movement.  But a compromise was very soon reached, Roitfeld was going to be found in her home as she often worked from there during the other hours. 

While I will not be able to provide a full transcription of last night's interview, nor think that you would be very interested here since you could probably just via Google or Youtube land on some kind of a video clip if you really felt so inclined.  What I would like to do is to highlight these parts of the conversation of which provided glimpses to each of their personalities as well as glimpses to what they do in their own professions.  

First of all, what fashion and visual art have in common and more traditionally is to address the notion of beauty.  On this similarity, there are some dissimilarities between the two.  Beauty in art as Biesenbach pointed out by using Michelangelo's David as an example, as to present eternal beauty, to carve out of stone, bronze and other types of heavy material in order to preserve and immortalize a certain symbol of the ideal and beauty.  Even though this example is very classical and do not cover or reflect the intentions for works produced later. But, for the sake of last night's interview, Biesenbach asked that this kind of permanence of eternal beauty did not seem to exist in fashion, as it seemed to be more about the next new trend or the next new fresh look.

Michelangelo's David
Image source Google
Roitfeld replied that, to her, beauty is everywhere even though fashion seems to be something that constantly changes but the real beauty lies in oneself.  In other words, no matter what length of the skirt the season deems it to be the most fashionable, it is the woman who wears it that brings about a sense of beauty and glamor.  I take this as beauty is within. As individuals, if we each work from within ourselves to define our true characteristics, then it results in some kind of an exterior appeal to the outside existence.

Today is election day, as it is also just the end of Halloween.  Biesenbach gave a funny little story that took place about one year ago around the same time as now; when his friends from Germany thought it would be a funny costume to dress up like Obama.  To this suggestion, Biesenbach immediately showed his disapproval and insisted that it would not have come off as funny as his friends imagined.  When hearing the sighs and some small rude remarks, I presumed that some people in the audience did not get what he was really trying to say with that little side-story.  Before leading to his next question about fashion, Biesenbach used the story to say that in America, it is severely frowned upon for any white person to paint themselves as a black person no matter the intention is to support Obama rather than to make any kind of a racial comparison. The same kind of unintentional political- incorrectness often occurs in fashion.  As Roitfeld told of a time when she put Laura Stone (a British fashion model) in a magazine wearing white paint on one side of her body, then black paint on the other side of her body as to play with the depth of field while present a minimalist aesthetic.  The picture received a lot of negative reaction as some people read it as being racist by presenting a white woman with black paint on her body. 

Halloween brings up the idea of a masquerade ball, in which everyone puts on a false show and then trying to top one and other on pretenses.  I sensed that by bringing up how close the time it was to Election Day, Biesenbach insinuated the masquerade aspect of election speeches and the phenomenon of trying to put on the best show in order to win popularity.  Then the question went back to fashion, to which he asked Roitfeld whether she thought that fashion was like a "permanent Halloween" or masquerade.

To this, her reply did not seem entirely clear to me.  While on one hand, Roitfeld did admit that at some point fashion is about putting on a show and to stun peers and audience.  However, she also went on to say that pieces that looked outrageous on a runway show could also be paired down or made more suitable for "real-life" (I put that in quotation marks because real-life implies an ambiguous assumption, depending who is talking).  Then again, I understood it as that it was about striking a balance.  The ability of knowing when to show off, how to show off and to whom you are actually showing off to becomes essential in striking that balance.

Caravaggio, a film by Derek Jarman
Image source Google
Despite my previous Biesenbach praises for making the talk more interesting, and for bringing more depth to the evening talk of fashion and art, he did make one slip.  Toward the end, he recommended Roitfeld to see Caravaggio, a film by Derek Jarman.  I have seen the film and I understood why he made this recommendation and was surprised to know that Roitfeld had not seen or know of it.  But the slip happened when Roitfeld tried to sing her praises to Caravaggio (the painter) for the way he treated light and darkness in his paintings, she asked for Caravaggio's first name.  To this, Biesenbach surprisingly could not respond but simply said that "Caravaggio is Caravaggio", and that one easily forgets the full name when the artist has become a "brand"... or what I think he meant was when the person becomes known for the work he produces rather than anything else.  In any case, for an art curator to not be able to think of Caravaggio's full name, that was a little bit embarrassing.  In case you are wondering, the full name is Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.  Perhaps it slipped his mind or confused himself when he had already used another Michelangelo (Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni) as an example earlier. Therefore to think both of their first names to be Michelangelo might have been a bit too many coincidences all in one night.

Qui ĂȘtes vous, Polly Maggoo?, a film by William Klein
Image source Google
One other similarity between the fashion world and the art world is that in both worlds people are trying to make something new by looking to the past.  As Roitfeld also recommended a film for those that wanted to know about the fashion, Qui ĂȘtes vous, Polly Maggoo? (a satirical movie about the fashion world made in 1966 by William Klein)Also applicable is that both in fashion and art, the creators are nonetheless trying to make something that would reflect the current views and cultural tendencies. Now my question is what about originality?  Or is it just a myth, since everything we seem to be doing now always tends to be some sort of a reinvention of things from the past. 


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