SAINT-PAUL-DE-VENCE — Fifteen years ago, critics proclaimed Simon Porte Jacquemus’ aspiration to the upper echelons of Paris fashion a case of square peg, round hole. But today, in the airy halls of the Fondation Maeght — a sanctuary of mid-century art history in the hills above Nice — the designer pushed the Jacquemus proposition upmarket once again.
Inaugurated by the French cultural minister André Malraux in 1964, the Fondation Maeght is one of France’s cultural jewels and its first private art foundation, with a collection of works by the likes of Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miró, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder. It has been an obligatory pilgrimage for art-lovers on the Côte d’Azur for decades, many of whom stop for a night (or at least lunch) at Colombe d’Or, a storied hotel nestled in the mediaeval township of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, just metres away.
More so than the grandeur of his last collection Chou Chou (shown on the Grand Canal of the Château de Versailles), Jacquemus’ decision to show within the Josep Lluis Sert-designed foundation is a pointed gesture towards the favour of the French art world, a milieu where discreet taste and privilege reign and that has often shied away from fashion’s more mercantile concerns. So without LVMH’s spending power at his back, unlike Nicolas Ghesquière, who showed a Louis Vuitton cruise collection in the foundation’s garden maze in 2019, Jacquemus’ collaboration with the Maeght family today spoke more to a kind of soft power display than blunt corporate sponsorship, though the decision to show in a cultural setting fit for the world’s largest luxury brand was not lost on insiders.
Creatively, he took cues from the French and American bourgeoisie and the firmament of European artists who have frequented the region for over a century. When sat on a wrought iron Diego Giacometti stool facing a primordial Pierre Soulages canvas from 1971 and Ellsworth Kelly’s monumental Red, Yellow, Blue (1963), there’s no doubt that Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” hit different, as Gigi Hadid strode into the Salle Giacometti wearing a cream-coloured coat stamped in padded, pebbly leather. Its sleeves were curved like the Provençal costumes of the ‘Santons’ dolls that Simon first explored nearly seven years ago, in one of the first runway collections that put his brand on the map. Where once that sleeve bedecked a soft cotton peasant blouse, today he applied it to smooth leather jackets, cool bonded jersey suits and speckled jacquard tailoring that drew the eye not so much to details, but to the pure, gestural proportions of each outfit. In black, plaster white, Miró red and the odd glimpse of leopard or sandstone, silhouettes circled around the foundation’s priceless art collection in a relatively solemn parade that ping-ponged between bourgeois codes and a sculptor’s clothes and his creations, namely those of Alberto Giacometti.
As the likes of Julia Roberts and “Sex and the City” star Kristin Davis watched on, Jacquemus riffed on his own codes as much as those of mid-century sculpture, injecting a subtle surrealism into monochrome ensembles by way of such follies as double stacked kitten heels à la Meret Oppenheim, trompe l’oeil twin-sets knotted off the shoulder on boys and girls alike, and an arching convex peplum that extended above the waistline turning smart pleated trousers into subtle armour for cocktail hour. He called it ‘pop luxury’ backstage.
In nods to Cocteau’s “Testament of Orpheus,” switches of silk embroidery sprouting from a twisted chemise and a spaghetti-strapped camisole were Simon’s answer to horsehair or ostrich feathers, whilst a wavy brick pattern on a boat neck sweater held a mirror to the foundation’s wavy paved floors. One could ascertain a touch of Pierre Cardin’s modernism in the tailoring, particularly in the flat jackets without lapels or visible buttons, yet it was a portrait of Francis Bacon visiting the Fondation Maeght that inspired the show’s opening menswear look featuring a white shirt and striped tie popping out from beneath a nipped waist leather jacket. There was a whiff of Yves Saint Laurent, too, in the bride’s plastered carapace, moulded directly on the model’s own form and veiled in white chiffon.
After the show, a press conference metres from Miro’s colourful bronze La Caresse d’un Oiseau (1967) proffered a board of show looks and another pasted with images of Isabelle Adjani in “Subway” and Catherine Deneuve in “Belle du Jour” alongside artistic references that helped join the dots between fashion and art, such as the designer’s jersey column dresses and the sculptures dotted around the foundation.
Explaining how his artistic obsessions have evolved, Jacquemus cited the prescient nature of his Autumn/Winter 2019 show, Les Collectionneuses. “Maybe it was too early, but now I want to really show you the person I am,” said Jacquemus. “This is my DNA. This is what I love. I wake up in the morning and look at Francis Bacon, at Jacques Grange’s interiors. It’s really the person I’m becoming.” Back in Paris, he’s installing an original Aristide Maillol statue in his new 1,500 square-metre headquarters in the 8th arrondissement, one that will house over 350 employees before year’s end. “Maillol was the king of sculpture. He introduced modernity. In a way he was the father of the sculptures that you see here around us. And it is important to link these passions more and more with my collections.”