The Japanese fashion house Comme des Garçons have once again eschewed the now-traditional realms of ‘fashion film’, preferring to commission the Paris-based British artist Katerina Jebb to realise a documentary-style short for their participation in The Film Project, an initiative by London’s Selfridges department store. Celebrating the opening of their new designer womenswear floors, the century-old retailer invited seven designers to express their aesthetics and ethos through the medium of film.
Rejecting the obvious springboard of Comme des Garçons’ SS12 womenswear collection – a provocative oeuvre filled with eery references to the female cycle of birth, death and marriage – Jebb looked beyond fashion, shaping a tender portrait of a 97-year-old French pianist with a weakness for Bach. “My own approach is intuitive, I make things based on my desires and curiosity,” states Jebb.
Seated at the grand piano in the salon of her Parisian apartment, the grand dame Madeleine Malraux illuminates the screen, embarking upon a philosophical monologue on movement and the human body, musing on the cerebral connection between thought and action. “The project was not advertising, the subject was not clothing . The subject was really about the spirit of a woman who has obviously lived a rich and diverse life, and still plays concerts and practices the piano for three hours every day,” Jebb explains. Madeleine’s serenity betrays an illustrious past – having abandoned a promising career as a concert pianist to play another role: that of the diplomat’s wife to her late husband, the celebrated novelist and French Minister of Cultural Affairs André Malraux. Having spent decade after decade amongst the crème de la crème of Parisian intelligentsia, one can only begin to imagine Madeleine’s stories, however a glimpse at her agile and weathered hands upon the ivory keys begins to paint the picture. “A pianist should have hands that are a little abnormal, whether one likes it or not” she states, before launching into a deft, jangling melody – visually intertwined with the fading scenery of her eclectic surroundings – photographs of gentlemen, the forms of marble statues, and the imperfect reflections of passing vehicles and strangers.
The crux of this remarkable short film is neither its finality nor a sweeping, aesthetic statement – but simply the portrayal of a vibrant spirit and the abandonment that exists within passionate creativity. It’s the lack of fashion context rather than a passing relevance that drives this work. Malraux is no celebrity or fresh-faced beauty, yet it is with confidence and passion like hers that fashion is brought to life.
Words by Dan Thawley