A French Fashion Institution and Photographer Philippe Jarrigeon Take a Twisted Look at Women's Ready-to-Wear

Philippe Jarrigeon, "Stripe," 2012
(Courtesy the Artist)

PARIS - Fashion is sacred in Paris, but even industry leaders in France know that humor can be found in almost everything. In that vein the French Federation of Women’s Prêt-à-Porter is taking an irreverent turn with a new show called “Iconorama,” which offers a playful, teasing look at women’s ready-to-wear designs. The institution, which was founded in 1929, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Elans de Mode fashion awards, and curator Marie-Ann Yemsi brought in photographer Philippe Jarrigeon to reinterpret 30 icons of style through his skewed, baroque, and subversive lens. The exhibition runs through July 6.

After getting noticed at the Hyères Festival of Fashion and Photography in 2008, Jarrigeon worked with Dries Van Noten and Maison Martin Margiela, and his photos have graced the pages of Wallpaper, Libération, and Le Monde. He soon set the tone for a certain kind of fashion photography, playing with the trivial and the grandiose like a tightrope walker, paying no heed to sacrosanct good taste. Through his lens, Louis Vuitton logos were painted onto firm naked buttocks, a pile of Cleopatra soaps became a pyramid of gold bars, and white asparagus stalks wore Dior rings.

Now, in “Iconorama,” Jarrigeon tells the story of the last 10 years in fashion, while questioning the role of objects, icons, and the image of fashion itself. “Working with Philippe Jarrigeon was almost self-evident,” Yemsi said in a statement. “It was not about celebrating these last 10 years with candlesticks on the table, or falling into a somewhat vain self-celebration, with beautiful fashion photos on the wall. It was time to stop and bring some humor, a certain distance, a look at what is left of icons.”

Starting with a pre-defined vocabulary, Jarrigeon worked within the parameters of the premise. Taking a little black dress, or Sonia Rykiel stripes, a white shirt, or a trench coat as elements of a new alphabet, Jarrigeon redistributed his favorite themes — grating glamour, hybridization, the accessorizing of the living being, and the still life coming to life — within a series of images that speak to each other. Upon entering the show, the visitor sees two mannequins in a totally striped ensemble wearing a striped jacket and pants as turbans. They stare at you with an emotionless, almost stunned look. You’ve been warned: these hostesses are not here to guide you, but to lose you. Throughout the exhibition, the human aspect fades, giving way to a bizarre plastic beauty. Bodies become elastic, tearing apart an oversized sweater, being dislocated around mountainous furs, and finally disappearing altogether. A short film focused on a mannequin in a trench coat smoking a cigarette has a feel of classic Hollywood glamour, but her hat ends up catching on fire when the cigarette won’t go out.

For Philippe Jarrigeon, this little lesson in phantom-like elegance is a way to define new forms of beauty while also playing with the illusions that belong to the fashion system. “An icon is not necessarily an object, it’s an image, therefore it is a question of representation,” he said in a statement. “When you want to take a theoretical look at photography, fashion is a very rich playground, because it is very open. Photography is really seen by fashion as a cross-section, it’s both artsy and commercial. I am very happy to be able to work in the luxury market, while still keeping this joker’s hat, the king’s jester.” 

Click on the slide show to see Philippe Jarrigeon images from “Iconorama.”

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