Bus Couple, C-type Print, from Young Dubliners, 2014
Hop in our 1980 Mercedes-Benz, open the windows, let the warm summer breeze in, Semaine is going to take you down memory lane. Quite literally. As the internationally renowned Festival of Fashion and Photography in Hyères opened its 32nd edition, Semaine in collaboration with Mercedes-Benz decided to celebrate the past finalists. What better excuse to take a road trip down the sunny sinuous roads of the South of France, to meet with the lady who knows everything about them. Since the 1930’s, she embodies the avant-garde - and hosts the best parties, let us introduce you to the lady in white, other wise known as the Villa Noailles.
You see, there are iconic structures, buildings that have been granted a soul. Filled with memories, their walls hold a vital force. Nestled in the sunny hills above Hyères, La Villa Noailles, the modernist villa built by Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, with its beautiful white walls and its unrivaled views of the islands of Port-Cros and the Levant, holds something of that magic. As the crowd of the Festival International de la Mode et de la Photographie gave way to the sound of the crickets, Semaine was there too, and this week we celebrate La Villa Noailles and the Festival in an exclusive film in collaboration with Mercedes-Benz. Zoé Le Ber, who by no coincidence was the face of the festival in 2008, wrote, directed and stars in the film.
The Villa Noailles holds so many secrets that Semaine is caught dreaming, if walls could talk, what would these walls have to say…
La Villa: “I’m generally referred to as the Villa Noailles but my first owners, Marie-Laure and Charles de Noailles called me: Le Clos St Bernard. The real Villa Noailles is in Grasse, a few kilometers away from Hyères, just to make things clear.”
Semaine: Yes, she is quite square.
La Villa: “You know, I’ve had multiple lives since I was built.”
Semaine: Well, can you start from the beginning?
La Villa: “The land I am built on was offered to the couple as a wedding gift in February 1923. She was 20 and he was 31. Marie-Laure Bischoffsheim, as she was called at the time, was born in 1902, in a wealthy family. She was only seven years old when her father Maurice Bischoffsheim died, inheriting most of dizzying fortune and the remarkable collection of paintings - among which Goyas and Rembrandts. She was edgy...a bit like me... Charles also came from a noble family. The lineage of the Noailles goes back to the Crusades. I always thought he was an old soul. He was very modern, took interest in decorative arts, architecture, and plants. Have you had the chance to stroll through my gardens? The cubist triangular gardens were his idea and were designed by an Armenian called Gabriel Guevrekian. He is one of the best examples of the influence of Art Deco in gardens. Nature an intrinsic part of me and so is modernism.
As for the design he wanted, ‘an infinitely practical and simple house in which everything would be combined from the point of view of utility alone’. I am, you could say, practical, but don’t mistake my simplicity for austerity, I’m extensively elaborate. I am not a modest holiday home, I am ‘steady liner of 1800m2’. I am the celebration of a certain ‘Art de Vivre’. I am not constricted by conventions but I am “juste pour le plaisir” as I say in French.
Semaine: Who designed you?
La Villa: “Robert Mallet-Stevens, but everyone called him Rob. He is the one who imagined me. It was his first complete work, the first modernist villa in Europe. He implements the founding precepts of the rationalist movement: functionality, purification of decorative elements, roofs, terraces, light… The clocks connected to a central system, the bays that retract or the mirrored windows contribute to the modernity of the place. I’m one of a kind.
Semaine: Was it a natural process?
La Villa: It wasn’t. Charles and Rob didn’t agree on everything and I witnessed so many fights. I used to have a tour, which the Noailles decided to destroy. ‘Simplicity’ he kept on repeating. The way in which I am constructed “questions all the certainties of the modern movement. Unexpected extensions appeared, and, if the experiment were conclusive, they would continue. Otherwise, they would demolish." summarized Stéphane Boudin-Lestienne, co-curator of the permanent exhibition and I must agree.
I like to think of myself as a surrealist castle. A staircase can lead you to an impromptu garden; you never know what to expect.
I was finished in 1924 but I am a never-ending project. They added different terraces connected with striking staircases, added magnificent gymnasium where I remember Charles and Diego Bunuel playing squash and a pool where Marie-Laure loved to bath for hours. Jean Prouvé thought about this ingenious system of sliding windows. It is one of the first private pools in France and was built in the heart of my structure. The International Exhibition of Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925 proved to be a source of inspiration not only for my gardens: the suspended bed of Pierre Chareau, the stools of Mrs. Klotz, and the "simultaneous" fabrics of Sonia Delaunay were directly transposed here… I wanted to be on the forefront of modernity.
Semaine: What do you remember from those times?
La Villa: What do I remember? I remember a lot of joy. My owners didn’t have “bourgeois” boundaries. They were patrons of the new and the Avant-garde and showed real originality in their choices. They were so proud of me. They bought one of the first Mondrian, met with Alberto Giacometti, supported Brancusi, installed a monumental sculpture from Jacques Lipchitz in my garden. They embellished my walls with Pierre Chareau, covered my floors with carpets from Eileen Gray, installed seats from Jean-Michel Franck.
Semaine: Was it a celebration of life?
La Villa: My walls hosted many long evenings. I remember Cocteau and André Breton, Balthus and Cesar. I remember dancers and musicians. Charles and Marie-Laure only wanted to surround themselves with “interesting” people. There was a lot of laughter. Andre Gide, the famous French writer, even noted: "Really, I do not remember having taken, even in my youth or my childhood, a more ardent, purer and more complete pleasure."
Semaine: You even became a movie star?
La Villa: Yes, the first film I starred in was Biceps and Bijoux in 1928 by Jacques Manuel. Then there was Man Ray in 1929, who gave a spectacular homage to my cubist walls in Les Mystères du Chateau du Dé. A year later, the Noailles financed Jean Cocteau’s first film, Le Sang d’un Poète and L’age d'Or by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali.
There was a cow on a bed, the foot of a statue of marble passionately embraced, a bishop thrown out of a window, and a very sexual Christ. It was a real scandal. The movie was censored to be shown for fifty years. But I guess that’s the risk of modernity, you can’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
Semaine: What happened after the death of Marie-Laure?
La Villa: It’s a time I would rather not dwell upon. It’s not that easy to be such an experimental construction. I suffered a lot. Everyone remembers the poor state of the waterproofing on the terrace roof that left me soaking…
But I am not a nostalgic. In the 70’s, I was sold to the municipality of Hyères and while I was restored, my grounds opened to the public. Starting in 1986, I started a rejuvenation work thanks to Jack Lang’s government department for culture and heritage and as early as 1990, I was holding exhibitions: The Noailles and the Modernists, Alix Grès, The Russian Ballets, Karl Lagerfeld… Since then, it’s the new wave of youth that has come to give me life. I’m an old lady but I pride myself in having a timeless beauty and a lot of energies.
Jean-Pierre Blanc, who started taking care of me in 1996, insufflated a new life by taking The International Fashion and Photography Festival de Hyères and his artist inside my walls. Thanks to his festival my small monastic rooms once used by the guest of the Noailles become places of exhibition of the work of young stylists and photographers. Jean-Pierre doesn’t abide by the rules of the markets. He reminds me of the Noailles in so many way. He made it his mission to support the young, foster talent and support the bold. His manifesto is political, and he supports diversity. He is edgy. Just like me…
Semaine: Do you consider yourself as provincial?
La Villa: I don’t envy Paris with its tight space and architectural rules. I am happy that some people enjoy the freedom that Hyères allows. It is still a very progressive move to think about the decentralization of the arts. So still today: Vive la province!
Semaine: Can you tell us about the new crowd that walks inside your walls?
La Villa: Since it’s inception, the International Competition for Young Stylist has revealed Belgian, Dutch, and Portuguese talents. On the short list of famous designers that emerged in Hyères, Viktor & Rolf won the competition in 1993…but I don’t like to name drop. It’s not about fame it’s about the creation. I hope my walls create this intimacy in which people create a familiar bond. The winners come back and we try to emulate creation through these connections. I also celebrate all forms of arts, photography, design, fashion…as long as it’s interesting, I’m in.
Semaine: What’s your favorite memory?
La Villa: Well more recently, the former President of the Republic, Francois Hollande, said he acclaimed my dynamism as a villa, that has managed to keep its innovative spirit and openness to the arts, as Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles initiated it. He stressed my regional, but also national and international influence. And described me as being unique art center in France that brings together fashion, photography, design, and architecture. Congratulating the festival, which has become “a must for the professionals in all sectors."
So what if my walls could talk? Well, they would have so much to say... You see, I still think the future is Hyères.
By Marie Winckler for Semaine.
Mercedes-Benz has been one of the main partners of the festival since 2012 and is proud to continue the commitment to art and emerging fashion designers. To learn more about Mercedes-Benz Fashion Engagement check out @MBFW on Instagram.
Driving in Style
As a festival known globally for giving a platform to new designers, we didn’t want this week’s ‘Get the Look’ section to be any different. The styling of the shoot is created exclusively from the collections of previous recipients of the festival’s prizes, including Amsterdam based designer, Liselore Frowjin, Damien Ravn and Sophie Harand.
We love the FW17 Cosmos collection of Amsterdam based designer Frowjin, winner of the Prix Chloé in 2014. The collection was inspired by Dutch sculptor Alfred Eikelenboom. Also included are the designs of Damien Ravn, a finalist of the 2013 festival, who was the first ever Norwegian to graduate from the Antwerp Fashion Academy with a masters; and Sophie Harand, a Paris based accessories designer, who was also a finalist at the festival in 2015. Your look defines the experience, and now, as you choose what experience and what journey to embark upon, it’s time to pick out that defining look.
“We built these adventures from the heart, with the love of people and of life. We never said we’ll put flowers on the counter because it will produce some particular effect. Everything was done at the mercy of chance and encounters...this is what gives the whole thing its beauty, no doubt, but also its immense fragility.” -Jean-Pierre Blanc
“In a simple and small local organization, things were accelerated by a story of friendship, trust and life.” - Jean-Pierre Blanc
“The AW17 collection was inspired by the Belgian cult cartoon ‘Les Cités Obscures’ by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, which laid the foundation for the colours, volumes and intricate constructions. Raw-cut and bonded, the fabrics arrive in hues of gloomy pastels through hammered stretch velvets, metallic lurex, flock neoprene and a stark contrast black latex.” - Damien Ravn
"Through collaboration, in this F/W17 collection "COSMOS", I'd like to show that by joining forces, we can transcend to a whole new level, forming an army of positive energy to conquer the madness we're facing in the world today” - Liselore Frowijn
“La Chute D’Icare, my first collection presented at the 2015 Hyeres Festival, was all about adrenalin and takings risks. It was the beginning of an ever expanding journey, leading us to create our own creative studio in 2017 named AMPLR” - Sophie Harand
The Photographer’s Gallery
This week’s art gallery has technically been selected by a prestigious panel of experts, including the likes of Tim Walker, as all artists included are recipients of prizes from Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography, 2017. Included is work from Daragh Soden who was presented with the Photography Grand Prize for his photographic series of a mixture of street photography and portraits depicting ‘Young Dubliners’, which is what the series is named. It also features work of Luis Alberto Rodriguez whose photography depicts models incorrectly wearing garments, in an arid landscape, turning themselves into ambiguous figures.
C-Print on matt paper
DIN A3 29,7 cm x 42 cm
Inside Villa Noailles
Step inside the iconic modernist structure, built in the 1920’s by Robert Mallet Stevens, that has certainly seen a few sights. From the days of Salvador Dali to the frivolity of her modern day visitors, we are sure that if her walls could talk, they would be telling us some interesting tales…
Sometimes Jean-Pierre Blanc takes himself off to the Île du Levant to escape the noise of the everyday and to strip down to basics (literally) on the island renowned for nudism. Whether it is Chigalou park or Île du Levant, where would you choose your next experience to be? Would it include clothes? And would it include X?
Since 2006, the MIDI festival has been held every summer at the villa. This year we thought we'd give you a taster of what is to come at the 2017 edition of the festival, where the likes of DRUGDEALER and Frankie Cosmos will be performing.
Before Semaine entered the grounds, in a Mercedes Benz filled with with camera gear, La Villa Noailles has had a starring role in many films, Biceps et Bijoux in 1928 by Jacques Manuel, Les Mystères du Chateau du Dé Man Ray, 1929 and, a year later, Jean Cocteau’s first film, Le Sang d’un Poete and L’age d'Or by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali. There was the time with a cow on a bed, when the foot of a statue of marble was passionately embraced, when a bishop was thrown out of a window and that time with a very sexual Christ... all in the name of modernity. Can you identify where the scandalous activities took place in these film picks?
“L’AVVENTURA” BY MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI, 1960