Chanel has just paid a tribute to the Belle Epoque by replicating the Eiffel Tower in Le Grand Palais, two of the most emblematic Art Nouveau buildings of Paris, to ornament its Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2017-18 collection.
Built for the 1889 Universal exhibition of Paris, and commemorating 100 years of the French Revolution, the Eiffel tower was the symbol of modernity and of the beginning of the industrial era.
“With the discovery of metals for construction materials, engineers challenged themselves. A worldwide competition was launched to build a 1,000 feet tower. The country that would succeed in realising such technical prowess would be considered as the most technically advanced country”. (1)
France eventually won the technical race, but:
“As a symbol of modernity and avant-garde, the Eiffel Tower has always been a source of inspiration for artists”. (2)
And amongst which, Karl Lagerfeld himself, in fashion but also in photography with his Eiffel tower series. In the same year of the Universal exhibition, the famous perfumer Aimé Guerlain created Jicky, the first French perfume incorporating synthetic ingredients such as vanillin.
As it usually happens with disrupting novelties, women who were used to floral bouquets first rejected the unusual smell of the fragrance, but English dandies adopted it.
Such scent was made possible, thanks to advances in organic chemistry that revolutionised perfumery by isolating and then synthesising molecules of plants. Laboratories in Europe and in the United States enabled new combinations that changed deeply the way perfumers worked until then. Ingredients from the new industrial technology entered into the pallet of perfumers, next to the traditional ingredients of artisanal origins.
If perfumery initiated an evolution from figurative perfumery to abstract perfumery with Jicky, the same happened in photography in that same period.
But while Aimé Guerlain was using synthetic ingredients to reach abstraction, the objective of the pictorialism movement was to reach artistry by erasing the mechanical nature of photography.
“Works of art start where you recognise the hand of the artist. (…) While subject is nothing, interpretation is all. (…) Photography can only be considered as an art expression if it is capable of creating beauty regardless of the beauty of the subject.”
Art has no imaginary boundaries. I personally blend past and present to deliver my own vision. I love Belle Epoque styles I capture with my modern camera. Maybe I can say that I am quite obsessed with the up close detail of curves and lines. The intention is to feel the movements of the hands of the artists that made these works of art. The abstraction I reach makes me disconnect from reality and enter into my dreamy and emotional world.
I cannot agree more with the vision of Constant Puyo, one of the photographers that founded the Pictorialism movement:
“Since his main idea was beauty, it seems Puyo tried to reproduce as much as possible of the plastic equivalent of the emotion he felt in front of beauty (of a landscape, of a woman or of a rural scene), instead of the idea itself."