The art of color by Jerry Stafford
This month Rizzoli Editions publishes 'The Art of Color', a sumptuous reference book which charts the history of cosmetics at the house of Christian Dior through the prism of its four creative directors who between them conjured up the products and photographed the campaigns for four decades : the designer Dior himself, the flamboyant photographers Serge Lutens and Tyen and Peter Phillips who is now at the creative helm of the cosmetics giant.
The book has been written by Premiere Heure art director and author Jerry Stafford and designed by Marc Ascoli and Atelier 32.
Here in an interview conducted by La Maison Dior, the author talks about the book’s genesis and its ambition.
How did the book come about? How did you decide on its construction?
JS : Marc Ascoli and I, along with everyone at Dior who contributed to making this book happen, wanted to avoid academicism.
The key word of the book is audacity. It's the fundamental idea behind the book, both in terms of its design and its mission to reflect the "Dior soul."
And so we decided to create striking visuals by juxtaposing Dior images with contemporary art images.
This book is an explosion of colour in the same way that it literally "explodes" the classical structure of a book. The text exists to add context and summarize what each of these creators inherited from Dior themselves.
Why did you choose 12 colours as the theme of the book?
JS : The notion of the colour spectrum was very important to me. In the sense of a colour palette that was fundamental to the identity of the house of Dior. Lutens was the first one to create a 4-colour palette, then Tyen created the famous 5-colour palette.
The idea of twelve colours as 12 chapters presented us with a challenge, literally. We had to respect this framework and construct a relevant discourse. The summary had to remain elegant, and poetic without being didactic. To that end, we very quickly understood that the text had to be fragmentary in order to follow the artistic dialogues. I really like this approach. The twelve chapters form a Whole, composed of significant fragments.
Was the notion of pleasure a central one for you?
JS : Yes, of course, it was fundamental even!
These visual shocks are aesthetic sparks and an immediate source of pleasure accessible at a glance. But we had to add meaning to this visual pleasure. Having shattered the linear aspect of the book, we still had to keep a global and documented background.
This book contains several levels of reading. The immediate, very "Dior" pleasure, as well as that of a genuinely constructed work.
How did you actually create the book?
JS : The first stage in the process was looking at the extraordinary house of Dior archives. What a wealth of information! Without this fertile heritage nothing would have been possible.
Next came the choice of contemporary artworks. This complex and often time-consuming work, in terms of obtaining copyrights, was a joint effort. We really enjoyed it! We got carried away by our aesthetic idealism, and did some very free-ranging and in-depth research.
What is the meaning behind the juxtaposition of these images with the works of art?
JS : The aim was of course to find whenever possible dialogue and meaning between these associations but sometimes the meaning is voluntarily purely visual and graphic, like for example, the Max Ernst photo, placed opposite Tyen's photo of Susie Bick, an iconic figure of Dior beauty, who is literally radiant. You can see that the shape of her eye reflects the circular shape of the sun in Ernst's image. The echo is purely visual, emotional, and is instant. Like when a Lutens photo reflects a red painting by Rothko. It's an image of pure beauty, which has no need of explanation or historical background.
What do you think Christian Dior, Serge Lutens, Tyen and lastly Peter Philips, the current Creative and Image Director for Dior Make-up, have in common?
JS : These four key figures were all, undeniably in tune with their eras. What they have in common is that they were all able to tap into the vibe of their era, and produce a remarkable reflection of it in their respective creations.
In taking on this book, I wanted to find a way to express this synthesis and shared meaning, which emphasizes the fact that they were all "shaped" by the era that they lived in.
What was your approach to Serge Lutens, the very first creative director of the house of Dior make-up?
JS : Serge Lutens is an immense creator and also a "storybook" character in his own right. He is a genuine dandy and an aesthete – a Proustian soul inhabited by an incredible aesthetic ideal.
In some ways, Lutens is like the Comte de Montesquiou, who spent his entire life trying to revive the elegance of the Duchesse de Guermantes through his creations.
But although he was overwhelmed by the Proustian desire to "recreate" the past, he nevertheless created it in an incredibly modern way. And to prove it, his images are still completely relevant today.
What were his aesthetic influences?
JS : 19th century dandyism as well as German expressionism. The atmosphere of the interwar years, which is portrayed so well in the images from "Cabaret," is fundamental. In fact his universe meets my own personal Glam rock and Punk influences of the 1970s and 1980s, which were inspired by the same imagery.
In his creations he managed to express himself incredibly strongly: a series of formalist reproductions inspired by major painters such as Delaunay, Picasso and the pointillist Seurat, was even exhibited at the Guggenheim in New York. The "Les Stars" photos and films are also extraordinary.
He enjoyed immense freedom and he pushed the boundaries…
Was he cut off from the world?
JS : No, he was steeped in 19th century literary references but he was also in tune with his era. Don't forget that Serge Lutens was radically daring from the minute he arrived at Dior: as early as 1972, he was painting bodies in glitter and applying squares of fabric to faces. He was the bearer of a certain mythology, but he shrouded that in a very dark, rock'n'roll visual. When I looked back at his images for the book, all of a sudden, everything made sense, culturally. There were links between my own experience and his audacity.
How can you explain the fact that these images have remained so modern?
JS : The cinematic and theatrical poetry of these images is underpinned by a very modern, absolutely enduring discourse.
For many, this book will provide the opportunity to discover, or rediscover, these images. His attitude was radical: he saw make-up as a sort of "violence," an aesthetic affront, and a genuine challenge to society. The context was important: he arrived in Paris in 1967, at the moment when society was undergoing huge change and transformation. His creation reflects this anti-establishment spirit. He watched the society around him, in which he lived, very closely.
Moreover, today, he is still extremely aware of this and talks of it openly and very perceptively.
What links Serge Lutens and Tyen? What do they share?
JS : They were both people with extraordinary egos! Two undeniable artists…
Their aesthetic universes have nothing to do with each other, but both of them were truly aware of what mattered to a house like Dior. Each of them, in their way, inherited the "Dior spirit."
How would you describe their creative universes? What changes did Tyen carry out?
JS : Indeed, although Serge Lutens' legacy was immense, Tyen went on to develop his own legend.
To sum up their respective aesthetics, I tend to say that Serge Lutens' universe is a "chlorotic" world whereas that of Tyen is "chlorophyllic."
Lutens' world is an intimate construct, an inner theatre. In the same way that Proust wrote In Search of Lost Time in his bedroom, Lutens presented his photos at home, in his own apartment. He had absolute control over his images in terms of make-up, lighting and photography.
I should also emphasize that at the time, marketing hadn't reached its zenith. The product was part of a Whole in the image and was not yet the dominant feature. As for Tyen, he was extremely striking and modern in a completely different way. And in fact his influence can still be felt today.
His aesthetic was very open to nature, flowers, birds and the outside. His images have an immediacy to them and are incredibly opulent. It's the "what you see is what you get" credo that characterized the luxurious 1980s.
How would you define his work?
JS : Tyen, like Serge Lutens before him, was a reflection of his era. He also developed a very powerful style, and was totally in control of his images.
There is enormous theatrical resonance in his work. Don't forget that he started out at the Paris Opera where, among others, he applied make-up for Rudolf Nureyev in "Afternoon of a Faun." His influences were rich and diverse, an eclectic blend of the lyrical, Noh theatre and Orientalism.
The arrival of Peter Philips in 2014 saw the beginning of a new era. How does he fit into Dior's art of colour?
JS : Peter Philips, like his predecessors, is extremely aware of, and grateful for, this rich legacy. He himself is a great artist who accomplishes magnificent things. He has, in some ways, reinvented his tools.
Like Lutens and Tyen, he is completely in tune with his era, and has a very clear vision of the essential, commercial aspect of make-up today. He has a very keen understanding of Dior in both an intuitive and determined way.
He is fully aware of the identity of the Dior woman, who is "obviously beautiful."
He is immensely talented, but his creations also have a playful side to them, for example when he used the image of the Eiffel Tower in his eye shadow palettes. He has a lot of fun!
What are Peter Philips's influences?
JS : He belongs to that incredibly talented generation that came out of Antwerp. Along with Willy Vanderperre, Raf Simons and Dries Van Noten, they made up a group that was interested in fashion imbued with street culture.
These Antwerp roots are fundamental for Peter who is also a creator influenced by a diverse range of things from punk, via Marlene Dietrich, to horror films!
How does he fit in with his era?
JS : With his talent, and his openness. But his strength lies in the fact that he is very comfortable in the digital era, while retaining his own universe and intelligence.
He is very free and extremely reactive, and is present on social networks, which he uses in a fun and creative way.
What would you like the book's destiny to be?
JS : Above all, this book was made to inspire the younger generation.
It needs to act as a creative breeding ground for all those interested in fashion and images. Many will discover rare images by Lutens and Tyen – treasures to which they might otherwise not have had access. With its juxtapositions and accessibility, the book is a reflection of our era. That was our initial position of immediacy, and a refusal of all academicism. We wanted to procure instant pleasure, like when you scroll on Instagram.
I hope this book will be enjoyed just because what it portrays is beautiful, without any other form of justification.