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Danseur Étoile The Opera Ballet of Paris Philippe Starck Design Phenom Katrin Thomas Living Fashion















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DANSEUR ÉTO LE The Oper a Ballet of Paris

STORY BY CLIVE BAR NES ▪ PHOTOGR APHY BY GÉR ARD UFER AS When nearly forty years ago I switched (overnight and a subsequent lifetime) from being a native Londoner to become an immigrant New Yorker, I knew that one of the things I would miss most about London would be Paris, and what is nowadays their tunnel-blessed proximity. What I didn’t know was that one of the things I would miss most about Paris was the Paris Opera Ballet. And this is not simply because I am a Francophile, although I am; it’s more a reflection of the important place the Paris Opera Ballet occupies in world classic dance.



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No, the repertoire is not as fascinating as New York City Ballet’s, or even as individual as The Royal Ballet’s— for one thing, the Paris Opera Ballet has for centuries not had a major choreographer to call its own. Its traditions are not as securely preserved as the Royal Danes’, nor are its male dancers as strong as those of American Ballet Theatre or its women as strong as the Kirov’s. But the Paris Opera Ballet is a fantastic company. It was not always so. I first encountered the company on my first trip to Paris, in 1949. I was already not young—well, not that



young. And I was already a sophisticated dance aficionado (actually, over-sophisticated) and emerging dance critic (although, armed with industrial-strength binoculars, I was still paying for my own tickets in the farthest, cheapest reaches of theaters). The company did not impress me overmuch—it seemed infinitely less interesting than the various independent troupes of Roland Petit and Boris Kochno. In fact, apart from my first sight of Symphony in C (with the original Paris East minus Tamara Toumanova) under its French nom

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de guerre of Le Palais de Cristal, and with those fancy Leonor Fini designs, I was totally underwhelmed. I stubbornly remained so on many later occasions. Even a two-week immersion season by the company at Covent Garden in 1954 (my diaries note that I saw eighteen ballets, mostly by Serge Lifar, spread over fourteen performances) did nothing to make me a fan, despite the presence of both the wondrous Yvette

Chauvire and the lustrous Nina Vyroubova, two of my most beloved ballerinas of the twentieth century. Subsequently, when in Paris I would go to the company as a mild evening relaxation. Journalistically I at least made copy out of, say, John Cranko’s 1955 La Belle Helene (underrated, by the way) or Gene Kelly’s 1960 Gershwin piece Pas de Dieux (Claude Bessy was divine, but Jerry Lewis could have done better choreography) or A U G U S T 2 0 13




Pierre Lacotte’s 1972 adequate reconstruction of La Sylphide (not as good, I thought, as Victor Gsovsky’s earlier attempt for Petit), but my rating of the company among the majors was pretty much the lowest of the low. By now the troupe was involved in a succession of directors. There were fine dancers, but no company. I caught the occasional “event”—Helgi Tomasson’s guest debut as Albrecht in Giselle, for example, or the revival of Yuri Grigorovich’s Ivan the Terrible, with the marvelous Jean Guizerix (a great Robbins interpreter, by the way), Dom-

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inique Khalfouni and, also a favorite at ABT, Michael Denard. Yet I still didn’t take Paris’s dancers as seriously as its cooking until I had an awakening in October 1977. Every year the Paris Opera holds promotion examinations for its dancers--apart from the etoiles and the senior soloists—with a jury consisting of the Paris Opera administration, a delegation of dancers, and a few foreign outsiders, who in 1977 consisted of Kenneth MacMillan, Asaf Messerer, and myself. I realized that since Bessy had taken control of the ballet school some



five years earlier, the standard of the younger dancers had risen. But seeing them en masse was an extraordinary experience. Bessy and her teachers had formed a troupe to reckon with—an instrument for dance. It is Rudolf Nureyev who, rightly so, is given the credit for pushing the POB into the first rank. His inspiration, with his prescient promotions and his inculcation or a sense of style but even more aspiration, was vital. But the dancers were there before Nureyev took command of the company in 1983, and they re-

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mained after his resignation in 1989. And they are there today, even though the school, to judge from its appearance in New York last year, is not currently producing dancers of the quality of Bessy’s earlier years. No real matter—the students will improve again. And the company, as I saw in Paris at the beginning of the year, catching two performances of Lacotte’s pallid restaging of Paquita at the Palais Gamier, and at the Opera Bastille a strike-struck, virtually scenery-less, revival of John Neumeier’s imaginative Sylvia (but bring back the Ashton and give it to the French!), is still that same marvelous instrument. I’ve never been much enamored of Ag-

nes Letestu and Jose Martinez, but their alternates in the leading roles in Paquita, the glistening Clairemarie Osta and the elegant Jean-Guillaume Bart, were superb. In Sylvia, Eleonora Abbagnato, Delphine Moussin, Nicolas Le Riche, and Manuel Legris showed just that style, spirit, and sheer technique that has made today’s Paris Opera Ballet one of the wonders of the dance world. I miss Paris—and nowadays the dancers as much as the city. Senior Consulting Editor Clive Barnes, who covers dance and theater for the New York Post, has contributed to Dance Magazine since 1956.

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etting Katrin Thomas to explain her own photographs is a daunting task, nonetheless, everything that she needs to say about her work is deftly woven and crisply realized. Asked how she would describe her photography to the average person, she answers, “I would have to say that it is related to movies I’m creating at

that particular moment. I’ve always been inspired by the films of Godard, Antonioni and Truffaut. They are very real, yet they are not. Like the way all these directors use simple but profound language in an abstract, humorous, romantic way. In my photography, I try to explore in a similar way.” Thomas’ photography re-enacts slices of everyday life and

trends, to create a poetics of glamour, misery, ambivalence, attitude, ennui, etc. A 1997 photograph that she shot in Los Angeles shows two young girls—each barely twenty years old—exquisitely decked out in fetching single-breasted, Chanelinspired plaid suits. Their bodies are crisscrossed with lemon-yellow and A U G U S T 2 0 13




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ochre chalk-bands beside a gleaming blue swimming pool, accentuated by the girls’ pale nude legs partially immersed in the pool. The alluring saturation characteristic of the California sun is evident, with its attendant aura of leisure, but the ironic subtext of chic boredom underscored in this picture, and not least punctuated by one of the girls’ yawning, exemplifies the care that Thomas took in elucidating and, in effect, demystifying the everyday life of privileged Beverly Hills girls. Fantasy and desire have a clear purpose in fashion: people want to look through and not at, fashion photographs. They want to be entertained, amused, comforted and, hopefully, live vicariously through glossy photographs of beautifully posed, manicured models. But in celebrating these iconic, spoiled girls, Thomas also betrays the limitations of luxury that under-privileged girls—unaware—long for. The edginess of Thomas’s photography is derived not from its casualness, but from its cinematic urgency, which stirs the viewer while retaining a photographic stillness that invites contemplation. The urgency of the cinematic style captures fleeting moments. Looking at (not through) Thomas’ sepia-toned portraits of impressionable young boys and girls one by one, we find that, a touch cruel, she catalogues all the pretenses of “cutting-edge” fin-desiècle: from punk grimace, homeboy-wannabe, Rastafarian anti-coif, to Soho pseudo-downtown art scene. Gone are the days when bohemia, underground, cutting-edge or rudeboys meant something. Nowadays



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faking it succeeds more than being it. A pose, a look, an attitude or a style can be bought or sold in a second. In a five-minute makeover, a suburbanite can be transformed from a pale young thing into the It girl of the moment. “Escape from reality” is no longer necessary; reality has become an escape, and perception the only reality. Our life has become as real as cloning, test-tube babies, breast implants, nose jobs, face-lifts, sexchanges, race-changes, spin doctors, clever lawyers or sexgate. What are we left with but our true picture, a silhouette whose true color is greenback? Hardcore capitalism com-



modifies everything and anything. In Puff Daddy’s words, “It’s all about the Benjamins”. As the popularity of fashion as a worthy cultural phenomenon grows in learned circles, so the role of fashion photography will progress from a mere decorative medium to a demanding one with critical framework that can enable us to see beyond our glamorized decorum. Fashion is not only contagious, it is also worth catching, regardless of cultural, religious or gender homogeneity. Perhaps playing, for instance, with the homogeneous trope and stereotype of what it means to be Asian, female,

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and probably Buddhist, Thomas photographed a young Asian girl in two frames. In one frame, dressed in a Maoesque revolutionary white suit against a background horizontally banded in green, white and black, this young girl sits leaning on a white



table, her back slightly bent with anxiety, peering in enigmatic contemplation at her white plate of food. Clearly Kate Moss, not the Buddha, is the icon of faith and salvation in the picture: faith and self-starvation, salvation in thinness. The charged

symbolic analogies of sanitation and purity, anorexia and thinness, bulimia and ambivalence, fashion and body, culture and nature bear witness to the collective psychological damage we are suffering from. As if to drive her point home, Thomas’ second frame freezes her subject’s evident expression of mea culpa. Those who glibly dismiss fashion as harmless and irrelevant should think again. The pervasive tyranny imposed by waif-chic, epitomized by Kate Moss’ well-orchestrated fashion campaigns, is omnipresent, day and night, throughout the world; whether Buddhist, Christian or Mohammedan, none can escape the contagion of fashion. The dilemma between feeding one’s self and possibly getting fat on the one hand, or starving herself to desirable thinness on the other. This tragic depiction of the ambivalence of fashion and beauty is one you will not see soon in Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar: it is too real. At times, the acute transparency encountered in Thomas’ work is every bit as damning as it is intense. In a “bathroom” the photographer depicts an uninvolved blonde wearing tights, her left hand partially clasped over her mouth and nose, her right forearm resting on a glass shelf for support and balance. A second girl,

a brunette, is standing in the middle facing away from the viewer, her left arm bent at the elbow with the palm of her hand cupped, and her head bowed. Her unseen right hand could be touching the middle of her face. Half-emerging from the toilet and half standing, the third, also a brunette, is leaning against the door with both arms raised, her left hand at an angle, that once again, covers her mouth, her nose, and an eye. All three girls are, to a greater of lesser degree, preoccupied with their noses. This picture entertains multiple readings, including the recreational use of cocaine by these three girls, who look as if they may be dancers or something similar. It should be borne in the mind that cocaine is reputed to undermine the appetite for food—a necessary evil for dancers. By realizing this “bathr­ oom” picture without any suggestion that her subjects are posing, Thomas succeeds in capturing an emblematic moment of decadence, guilt, shame, and the alltoo-familiar insatiable consumption that characterizes the so-called Generation X. This is not a rehashed, trendy photograph of, say, heroin-chic, designed to affect a cutting-edge gesture in order to shock the bourgeoisie. Like Edouard Manet, who insisted that “We must accept our own times and paint what we see,” Thomas fully embraces her own time and photographs what she sees. The eldest of three children, Katrin Thomas was born in Bonn, Germany on January 5th 1963, at the start of a decade that was marked by anti-bourgeois values, sexual promiscuity, “free love” and unashamed drug-abuse; hence, in many ways, it created a template for the continuing moral decay of today’s Generation X. At the age of seven, she left Bonn

for Frankenthal, where she spent the rest of her childhood. Later she studied Visual Communications and Graphic Design at Darmstadt. In 1991‑1992, she attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena California, on a Fulbrightscholarship. For as long as she can remember, she has been a child of the arts: she was an actress for a while, and from the age of fifteen to twenty-five, she sang and studied opera. Throughout these formative years, she also studied modern dance, which explains her evident agility. Faced with her competing

talents, she increasingly turned to still and motion pictures. Occasionally, fate or providence dictates that an impresario will discover a great and lasting talent. Carmen dell’ Orefice, the ageless American beauty who is still working as A U G U S T 2 0 13




a fashion model at the age of sixtyseven, was discovered one day in a Manhattan cross-town bus. Iman, the enduring Somalian beauty, was discovered as a fashion model while attending college in the United States. Likewise, Katrin Thomas was “discovered”—a thorny term—as a photographer by Thomas N. Stemmle, President and Publisher of Edition Stemmle, in Photo News, a Ger-

man photography magazine, when one of her photographs adorned the cover. His curiosity aroused, Stemmle determined to meet Thomas and see more of her work; impressed by what she showed him, he offered to publish her photographs—a decision based on the strength of her work rather than on her apparent lack of celebrity. But of course, Thomas had been working for at least the past ten years; and like all “discovered” heroines and heroes, her discovery owed as much to the eye of the discoverer as to her untapped talent. Where Thomas delves squarely into fashion photography, the obviousness with which she does so suggest deliberate parody. She portrays girls in black wigs, seated back to back against a burgundy wall; they are separated by two shoulder-high couch backs, with fake-looking bouquet—a tawdry attempt at flower arrangement—wedged exactly into the center, where the curved arms of the two couches join in an embrace. At first glance, the atmosphere of this lounge suggest sheer abandonment and luxury, but the underlying hypocrisy of glamour that Thomas captures in this photography betrays the “escape from reality” epitomized in the cult of supermodels and their wannabes. Trapped in contradictions, these girls also mirror the malaise of fashion-victimhood, suffered by millions of girls the worlds over. “I do not rely on or need beautiful models, or a photo studio, in order to create a strong picture. In fact, although I’m not against the use of beautiful models, I’m confident that my vision and artistry can always suffice. I’m more interested in taking an interesting picture from a seemingly uninteresting situation. It’s always important for me to not only

realize beauty but also its attendant consequences.” For most leading fashion photographers, Gallagher Paper—a New York City store specializing in second-hand and sought-after outof-print fashion magazines—has become a sort of Harvard. Boasting an inexhaustible collection of magazines—Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Vu, Look, and some dating as far back as the 1900s—Gallagher Paper inspires “fresh” ideas in as many fashion photographers, who only have to look at and copy the past work of Cecil Beaton, Erwin Blumenfeld and others. Take Cecil Beaton and Horst, for instance: there can be no doubt as to their exceptional mastery of lighting effects, costumes, props, and celebrity subjects, a synergy that yielded superbly lasting photographs. But there is an undeniable coldness in their work. Edge and surprise in photography today can only be realized with a certain spontaneity, or at least a smartly wrought casualness. The cold, august aura of erstwhile masters like Beaton or Horst is—today, when “anything goes”—generally irrelevant and too quaint. Yet, ironically there is a great insight embodied in the ancient Chinese belief that the amateur is the true artist; un burdened by the weight of reputation, he is open to chance, willing to take risks with nothing to lose, and hence free to constantly explore and chart new territory. True to post-modernism, with its attendant parody, irony, metafiction, ambiguity, open-ended or not-yet future, Thomas confidently seeks to imbue her photographs with an ineffable freshness that is immediate, and deceptively unrehearsed. Katrin Thomas’ debt to motion pictures is manifest in a picture of A U G U S T 2 0 13




six young women, scantily-clad in swimsuits with their backs to the camera, walking away from the viewer in single file towards what appears to be a freight elevator or loading dock. The girl in the foreground has her arms wrapped around her in an apparent attempt to ward off an uncomfortable draft; the second girl, a considerable distance behind, is walking with a defiant poise, while the remaining four girls seem to be in varying stages of psychological preparation for their exit. Poll after poll has shown that the average young woman’s dream job is to be a fashion model. With religion in rapid decline, faith lost with one hand is regained by the other. Today, the fashion magazine is the young woman’s bible, the fashion designer, her god, and the fashion model, her supreme goddess. Using the fleeting nature of fashion as a trope, Katrin Thomas has summarily articulated the vernacular and pernicious ideals of beauty of today’s young girl.

Throughout Katrin Tomas’ work, there abound the aura and fetching beauty epitomized by the breeziness of Francoise Hardy’s voice, the disarming dissonance of Billy Holiday’s phrasing, the Dionysian wantonness of Prince or Madonna, or the savory melancholy of Tricky, say, infused with the pop irreverence of Bjork. Thomas’ grasp of her photographic composition always manages to delineate the complex and quotidian with such rare musical breadth, such artistic restraint and poetic immediacy that it is able to surprise the jaded retina of even the most hardened cognoscenti. Whilst any definition of what constitutes a masterpiece is relative, work like Thomas’, which unfailingly engenders a sensation of passion, holds eternal sway. The fuel of passion that fires and lovingly stirs Katrin Thomas’ photography will always reward us with its warmth. ¢

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tarck recalls spending his childhood underneath his father’s drawing boards; hours spent sawing, cutting, gluing, sanding, dismantling bikes, motorcycles and other objects. Endless hours, a whole lifetime spent taking apart and putting back together whatever comes to hand, remaking the world around him. Several years and several prototypes later, the Italians have made him responsible for their furniture, President Mitterand asked him to change life at the Elysées Palace, the Café Costes has become Le Café, he has turned the Royalton and Paramount in New York into the new classics of the hotel world and scattered Japan with architectural tours de force that have made him the leading exponent of expressionist architecture. His respect for the environment and for humankind has also been recognized in France, where he was commissioned to design the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, the control tower at Bordeaux airport, and a waste




recycling plant in Paris metropolitan area. Abroad, he continues to shake up both the traditions and cultures of the major cities around the world, with the decoration of the Peninsula Hotel restaurant in Hong Kong, the Teatron in Mexico, the Hotel Delano in Miami, the Mondrian in Los Angeles, the Asia de Cuba restaurant in New York, and a whole clutch of projects under way in London and elsewhere. His gift is to turn the object of his commission instantly into a place of charm, pleasure and encounters. An honest and enthusiastic citizen of today’s world, he considers it his duty to share with us his subversive vision of a better world



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MAC GEE 1977



which is his alone and yet which fits up like a glove. He is tireless in changing the realities of our daily life, sublimating our roots and the deepest wellsprings of our being into his changes. He captures the essential spirit of the sea for Béneteau, turns the toothbrush into a noble object, squeezes lemons but the “wrong” way, and even makes our TV sets more fun to be with when he brings his “emotional style” into Thomson’s electronic world. He also takes time out to change our pasta, our ash-trays, lamps, toothbrushes, door handles, cutlery, candlesticks, kettles, knives, vases, clocks, scooters, motorcycles, desks, beds, taps, baths, toilets… in short, our whole life. A life that he finds increasingly fascinating, which has brought him now closer to the human body with clothes, underwear, shoes, glasses, watches, food, toiletries et al., still determined that his designs shall, as ever, respect the nature and the future of mankind. The world’s museums are unerring. Paris, New York, Munich, London, Chicago, Kyoto, Barcelona - all exhibit his work as that of a master. Prizes and awards are showered on him: designer of the year, Grand Prix for Industrial Design, the Oscar for Design, Officier des Arts et des Lettres, and many more. Always and everywhere, he seems to understand better than any other our dreams, our desires, our needs, and our responsibility to the future, as well the overriding need to respect his fellow citizens by making his work a political and a civic act. Crazy, warm yet terribly lucid, he draws without respite, out of necessity, driven by a sense of urgency, for himself and for others. He touches us through his work, which is fine and intelligent indeed, but most of all touches us because he puts his heart into that work, creating objects that are good even before they are beautiful.


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COSTES, 1984




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Q & A



SO: What is the best moment of the day? PS: When you make love to the person that you love.

be? PS: Nothing.

SO: What kind of music do you listen to at the moment? PS: Everything is good.

SO: Where do you work on your projects? PS: Anywhere in front of the sea.

SO: Do you listen to the radio? PS: Bollywood radio. SO: What books do you have on your bedside table? PS: So many… I read 12 books at a time… ‘Europeana’ by Patrik Ouředník (a brief history of the twentieth century). It is very important to read. SO: Where do you get news from? PS: I live like a monk, so there is no news. I read only the scientific magazines. SO: Do you have any preferences on how women dress? PS: Ehh… yes. I like the dress that is like a double skin. SO: What kind of clothes do you avoid wearing? PS: Cannot say. SO: Do you have any pets? PS: No. SO: When you were a child, what did you want to

SO: Who would you like to design something for? PS: Nobody. There are already thousands of really, really good chairs. There are thousands of good lamps. There are thousands of everything. SO: Do you discuss your work with other designers? PS: Never. I am not interested in designers. SO: Describe your ‘style’, like a good friend of yours would describe it. PS: Freedom. SO: Which of your works has given you the most satisfaction? PS: The next. SO: Among the most recent work is ‘collection guns’ lamps for FLOS. PS: The guns collection is nothing but a sign of the times. We get the symbols we deserve. P.S.: Light, functional, affordable and elegant, with over 100 million copies officially produced to date, the Kalashnikov is one of the industrial design success-stories of our age. Mr. Kalashnikov has never received any royalties for this design. He often complains A U G U S T 2 0 13


about it. Thus, I intend to pay him a commission for the sales of the model that replicates his invention. Poor guy. The remainder will be donated to ‘Médecins Sans Frontières’… SO: Can you describe an evolution in your work from your first projects to the present day? PS: More honest. SO: Do you design for the masses? PS: I have been trying for 20 years now. How I make life better for my tribe. SO: You once said that it is your dream to make the world a better place… is it beauty you are looking for? PS: No, not for beauty. We have to replace beauty, which is a cultural concept, with goodness, which is a humanist concept. SO: The beauty of intelligence? PS: Yes. Of intelligence. The elegance of intelligence and the beauty of happiness. SO: You design shoes, eyeglasses… is your approach to fashion design different to that of industrial design? PS: I have no reason with fashion but am inter-




ested to make clothes for my friends. SO: And you have designed hotels, clubs and restaurants … again, a different approach? PS: It is the same thing. Just the scale is different. SO: Is there any architect or designer from past you appreciate a lot? PS: I am not interested in architects or designers. I no longer wish to talk about design. SO: Any advice for the young? PS: Advice? Make a job useful. SO: What are you afraid of regarding the future? PS: The loss of civilisation.

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