UNDER THE SPELL OF THE VILLA NOAILLES
“The last touch of elegance is elimination”
Interviews and featured artists, designers by Zoltan Alexander
Michele Lamy, Tilda Swinton, Jefferson Hack of Dazed Media, Sylvie Grumbach of 2e Bureau, Daniel de la Falaise
Villa Noailles - 33rd Festival d'Hyères 2018 / © video by Zoltan Alexander ZOLTAN+MEDIA
Last week, in the South of France thousands, celebrated the 33rd International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Accessory Design at the Villa Noailles. Hidden in the hills above Hyères, guests and celebrities were pouring in and the media was overwhelmed with images.
The Festival each year revolves around an international competition open to young photographers, fashion and accessory designers including a permanent exhibition of de Noailles at the Villa, panel discussions in the garden, exhibitions in town, not forgetting the much anticipated fashion show with thousands of spectators in the Hangar de la Mouture, in the middle of the countryside, just off the road to Salin des Pesquiers.
During five executive days, the Villa Noailles is packed with editors, designers, agents, international models, students and members of the industry, perfectly orchestrated by Sylvie Grumbach and her 2e Bureau team from Paris. This year, the Festival was presided by Haider Ackermann (Fashion), Bettina Rheims (Photography) and Christelle Kocher (Accessories) with the participation of further members of the jury including Tilda Swinton, Lou Doillon, Eli Top, Michele Lamy, Ben Gorham and Jefferson Hack of Dazed Media.
The Festival partners, the House of Chanel, LVMH, Swarowski, Chloé, Première Vision, the Galeries Lafayette Group and the jury of professionals carefully selected the winners in each category, offering them a unique opportunity in their career.
On the top floor, on the glass-covered indoor swimming pool, Haider Ackermann curated a design exhibition with garments by Nicolas Ghesquière, Jun Takahashi and Azzedine Alaïa. For the inner squash court, the walls were papered in large-scale portraits taken by Bettina Rheims for Details magazine in the 90s. The other part of the Villa was occupied by an installation created by Arthur Hoffner and Gregoire Schaller.
With regard to the photographic competition Bettina Rheims, the president of the photographic jury, lined up an army of professionals with Bill Mullen, Jed Root, Ezra Petronio, Charlotte Collet, Jean Colonna, Serge Bramly, India Mahdavi, Saskia de Brauw, Alessia Glaviano and last year’s winner Daragh Soden to select the most innovative photographic works of the ten finalists.
The winner of the prestigious Photography Grand Prix of 2018 went to the New-York-based Eva O’Leary for her series “Spitting Image”. She placed a mirror in front of American teenage girls aged 11 to 14 and recorded the reaction to their reflected images. She presented her photographic work with a video installation showing the girls’ discomfort and anxiety of posing in front of a mirror knowing that they were being photographed. A typical teenage vulnerability that emerges out of these photographs, overlapping with self-representation of the selfie culture, staging a performance and stereotyping of female imagery.
Sarah Mei Herman from the Netherlands won the American Vintage Photography Prize presenting “Xiamen”, a long-term project shot in China. It was the first time that she travelled to Asia and was intrigued by how intimacy and affection are expressed in Chinese culture. She photographed young couples she met on the street and at other public places portraying the nuances of their friendships, relationships, love, solitude and our desperate need to bond.
The Hungarian photographer Csilla Klenyánszki whom I already reviewed for Artlyst a few months ago during my brief visit to Budapest, won the Still Life Prize. She put an imaginative installation together projecting the images in wall-mounted light-boxes. The “Pillars of Homes” is a series of photographic images created in her apartment whilst her baby was napping. The project was a challenge between playing, balancing and meditating. She set 30 minutes, at most one hour to come up with different ideas and installations with all kinds of domestic objects, anything she had available from floor to ceiling, while her son was asleep.
“I often treat myself as a subject and most of the time I am not even recognisable in the pictures. This process allowed me to find concentration in a very limited amount of time."
The other winners were Sanna Lehto of the Public and City of Hyères Award and the Paris-based Allyssa Heuze of Wallpaper Magazine Award. Additionally, in the centre of Hyères, Luis Alberto Rodriguez, who was last year’s winner of the Prix du Public and Prix American Vintage with his mysteriously beautiful photographs in a timeless dimension, presented his work with Daragh Sodenin as two solo exhibitions.
Festival d’Hyères is always a magical experience with beautiful meetings, professional exchange, long walks, beaches, parties, morning coffees at the pool, lunches at Chez Lulu, dinners at the Marais Plage. The history of the Villa is beautifully preserved by Jean-Pierre Blanc, the director of the Festival and the Villa Noailles.
It’s a peaceful evening, sitting on the terrace at the Castel Pierre Lisse with a glass of Ruinart, writing. What else? Being a journalist, more like an investigating one, I am always intrigued by the roots and the background story of a place. Just below the Villa Noailles and the Jardin Remarquable I cannot escape history. Earlier today someone brought me an envelope. I open it. The photographs are faded yet mesmerising. I hear music. Cocteau sits next to me and starts telling me a story pointing at a person on the picture.
We are back in 1923. The Vicomtesse Marie-Laure de Noailles, the direct descendant of a wealthy German banking family and a French aristocratic clan, the pioneer of modernist sensibility had long been at the centre of the Parisian avant-garde style. She has been considered as one of the most daring and influential 20th Century’s art patrons, with her handsome, courteous, well-educated husband, Charles who preferred men and flowers more than anything else.
According to Laurence Benaïm, in her book “Marie-Laure de Noailles: The Vicomtesse of the Bizarre”, the intellectually precocious Marie-Laure was apparently reading Mallarmé and Poe before the age of ten and reciting Baudelaire for family guests. At age twenty, in 1923, she married the Vicomte de Noailles.
Ned Rorem once wrote of her: “Marie-Laure is, first of all, a child, second, an artist, third, a Vicomtesse, fourth, she’s a saint, fifth, a masochist and sixth, a malicious bitch. Above all, she is generous, not to mention crazy.”
On another photo, it is the hôtel particulier at 11 Place des États-Unis in Paris, after a private screening. Champagne is pouring and friends are amusing themselves scrupulously as ever.
The day after is a lazy morning. The cars are waiting for us. While smoking a cigarette, the Vicomtesse is deeply involved with a conversation with her rebelliously young decorator, Jean-Michel Frank. We are almost ready to leave and drive down to the South of France to a small town called Hyères yet Gertrude Stein is still asleep.
The scenery is breath-taking. Orange and jasmine flowers are inescapably everywhere. Standing on the rocks with a book of Hölderlin, someone brings another bottle of champagne. The view is spectacular. The Vicomtesse walks around with the architect Robert Mallet-Stevens and laughs. The moment is perfect and the plan is right in front of us: we all want a villa for the summer on this very spot.
After Mies van der Rohe was too busy and Le Corbusier with his off-putting didactic personality, the summer residence of Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, the Villa Noailles was constructed by the architect Robert Mallet-Stevens on the land offered by Charles's mother for his wedding. It was a ground-breaking, early modernist concrete building looking like a Cubist cruise ship, a strangely obscure labyrinth in which guests constantly lost their way.
Spanning over 1800sqm, the house consists of something like 50 monastic guest rooms, a large salon with no windows just a bizarre geometric skylight, a top floor covered swimming pool, a squash court, an athletic centre to the pursuit of physical fitness, precious artworks and furniture by Marcel Breuer and a triangular Cubist garden designed by Gabriel Guevrekian.
The de Noailles’s art collection was vast and exquisite with works by Max Ernst, Man Ray, Francis Picabia, Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dali, Yves Tanguy, Goya, Mondrian. With far-ranging vision, the Vicomtesse kept the engine of innovation running among the Surrealists.
The Villa is an avant-garde masterpiece of the 20th Century and was an artistic hub for the rich and famous, a perfect meeting place for contemporary art and flamboyant artists.
The interior was created by Jean-Michel Frank, who once said: “The last touch of elegance is elimination”.
The Vicomte and Vicomtesse de Noailles often had film screenings at home. Guests sometimes left socked, sometimes the police had to intervene and confiscate Buñuel’s “L’Age d’Or”. Buñuel said: “Sucking on the big toe of a statue of the Pope and mocking all that is sacred “. At one point, even the bishop of Paris was alerted and Charles’s mother had to go to Rome for a chat with the Pope to save Charles from being excommunicated.
Scandal was the best friend of de Noailles. At the same time, they financed their friends, commissioned paintings, photographs, sculptures, support film projects by Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, Luis Buñuel, Constantin Brâncuși, Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, Balthus, Alberto Giacometti, Francis Poulenc.
The Villa was a constant party with eccentric personalities and bohemians. The de Noailles took exceptional pleasure in shocking people and a good hysterical scene with a choice of audience or lovers, giving them great pleasure.
After a brief affair with Edward James, the twenty-one-year-old composer Igor Markevich, who was also the ex-lover of Serge Diaghilev, became the new lover of the Vicomtesse. Her aristocratic arrogance was immune from most ethical and moral prerogatives.
“Until the age of thirty I was timid and soft-spoken, then one day I began to talk and I’ve never stopped since.” Marie-Laure de Noailles
Pierre Bergé, the business partner of Yves Saint Laurent, said in an interview that Charles and Marie-Laure “found their own equilibrium by exerting a destabilizing influence on other people.”
During the war, the Villa Noailles was abandoned, occupied by the Italian army and used as a hospital. From 1947 until 1970, it was again the summer residence of de Noailles but subsequently, in 1973 the Villa was purchased by the city of Hyères.
In 1986, Jean-Pierre Blanc dreamt big and invented the International Festival of Fashion and Photography with a flair of style and aspiration following the creativity and artistic tradition of de Noailles. In 2006, he broadened the spectrum and added Design Parade to the programme, putting architecture and interior design into focus.
The house of Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles in Paris is now owned by the crystal firm Baccarat, who commissioned Philippe Starck to redesign the Jean-Michel Frank interior.
The Bischoffsheim vault at the cemetery of Montparnasse is silent.
In Hyères, the sun sets slowly and it is always a good time for a walk. Just under the Villa, the Parc Saint-Bernard, the "Jardin Remarquable" offers a perfect view of the town and the distant bay. The garden is designed with narrow paths and terraces filled with exotic plants and rare Mediterranean species well-capturing the Vicomte's passion for gardening.
Cocteau now has left the garden passing his seat to Tilda Swinton. The Festival d’Hyères is ready the take its 34th turn.
Now, you cannot say you didn't know.
Villa Noailles, Hyères
/ Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+MEDIA
FESTIVAL D'HYÈRES 2018
/ published in ARTLYST © 2018
FESTIVAL D'HYÈRES 2018
Villa Noailles Montée de Noailles, 83400 Les Salins d'Hyères, France
/ 26 - 30 April 2018 and open during all summer / tickets: invitation only