"Colors have power", stated Matisse. "They are excellent natural healers", might add Parisian artist Philippe Model, who has always made his fortune through color whether in interior decoration or with the big names of fashion. His style puts the focus on harmony, imagination, simplicity and serenity. We rediscover him in his new Parisian boutique in 65 rue Condorcet. A theatre, a deliberately rough behind the scenes where his mutating vision of interior design and scenography and his colorful and refined view of life effortlessly take the stage. His use of color is the connective thread that acts as the ecstatic remedy and aesthetic medicine to elicit good humor. With a "free and egoistic" selection of unique objects: furniture, cushions, blankets, ponchos, re-editions of design objects, lamps and much more, by international artisans and artists. A group of friends who participate in his creative adventure, adapting their products to Model's multi-colored touch. We went to visit him to talk about his extraordinary career.
What environment did you grow up in and when did you start creating?
I started as a kid. My father was the owner of an industrial tannery but I didn't want to follow in his footsteps and I was lucky enough never to have to work in the factory.
My mother owned beautiful gowns and fashion magazines from the 50s, 60s and 70s. I inherited from her a passion for classical music of the 17th and 18th century as well as opera.
I was not a child that spent a lot of time playing with friends in the courtyard, I preferred staying at home and dreaming, drawing, making miniature models.
What exactly were you making?Costumes and theatrical garments, but also buildings, fountains, small theatre stages made of cardboard, paper, leather, fabric and pieces of wood. I did everything with attention for the smallest detail, studying perspectives. I built them with Meccano pieces, wood and fabric. It was the most natural and fun thing, and I absorbed the history of theatre and opera, without ever having actually studied them.
How did you begin working in the world of fashion?At 12 I was already creating accessories on my own: high heel shoes, hats and vests that I would try to sell. I would make them in my free time from school, with scrap leather from my dad's tannery, where I would ask for advice on dyeing.
At 16 I went to the 16th arrondissement in Paris, where I met Yves Saint Lauren, to whom I personally gave some leather flowers I had assembled with wire. He immediately took them for his haute couture collections and wanted to buy a small stock. "I'm still at school, can I make them for next week?", I asked. That's how I started, without ever having been to fashion school.
Apart from YSL with whom else did you collaborate?I sold to Victoire, Biba, Galeries Lafayette, Dorothée Bis and Issey Miyake in Paris, to Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Liberty in London, to Bloomingdales in New York or to Luisa in Florence. In Rimini to Penelope Brescia and also to other nice Italian boutiques.
What was the turning point for you?One day I met a press agent for Bon Marché who presented me to Jean-Paul Gaultier. I told him I was up for anything and started working in their team. In the same period I founded my maison: it was 1978. I did my first runway shows, I opened my store and on Vogue France an article was written about me. The journalist of Vogue France, Marylene Delbourg-Delphis, had discovered that some hats that had been presented at a very theatrical runway show of Claude Montan and mistakenly attributed to Madame Paulette, had actually bee made by a twenty-year-old called Philippe Model. Madame Paulette, who was 84, was the greatest milliner of the time and all the aristocracy, which no longer exists now, were turning to her for hats. Following that article she was almost forced to take me as an intern.
So you were contemporarily working as a freelancer and as the designer of your own maison?Correct, I was collaborating with various important Italian companies, like Casadei, Sergio Rossi, Bottega Veneta and later some less prestigious American brands. At the time you could earn amounts that are unimaginable now. So in 1983, at just 22, I was able to open my first boutique in Place du Marché Saint-Honoré. Since my father's company was going bankrupt I had lots of liquidity available for me to transfer into the maison. I managed to have up to 47 employees and a chain of Italian manufacturers that worked for me.
Who was your muse?My elder sister, Laurence Model, one of the most elegant women in Paris, who unfortunately passed away 13 years ago. Following a career as a model she took on the role of press agent for my boutique, which she carried out with much character. She was friends with the Hermès family, so I worked considerably, especially making hats for the renowned horse races of Chantilly.
1991 was a crucial year for the Model maison, why?Philippe Model had become a leading brand in the field of accessories. Louis Vuitton bought it to develop it, at the same time giving me the artistic direction of Ines De La Fressange, together with the former model, and the artistic direction of all the women's/men's accessories of Maison Lanvin.
How did that go?Everything revolved around marketing and money: numerous internal wars exploded between various directors, all of whom lacking in experience and only interested in the astronomical salaries. After nine months I bought my maison back. I am perhaps the only case of a designer getting rid of financiers, often it's the contrary. Luckily it happened before the big economic crisis and I was saved.
Apart from fashion, what other fields of creativity have you worked in?In that period it was tough from a financial standpoint. I had to rebuy my stores, among which the one in Place Marché St. Honoré. Nonetheless, I had full control of my creativity and my clients were loyal. I went to the head of human resources at LVMH who put me in charge of artistic direction for women's/men's footwear and two of their maisons: Christian Dior and Kenzo. At the same time I was also collaborating with other Italian maisons such as Sergio Rossi, Mario Valentino and an American group.
Yet, at the time, I became famous for interior decoration, which I have always explored. I had rented and renovated the noble floor of a 17th century hôtel particulier in rue Danielle Casanova, a few steps from place Vendôme. Without knowing it, this place had become a leading venue tor agencies to rent out for cultural events. Today, in spite of the crisis, I'm still there and can do my experiments, even though the space has been reduced.
What are you doing now?I work on various fronts. Given the success of the hôtel particulier apartment, I have become one of the creators of Ressource, the manufacturer of the most sophisticated paintings for interiors in France. I design the wallpaper patterns for various French, English and Swedish companies. In addition I have written cooking and decoration books (Metamporphoses, Les Couleurs, Papiers Peints). At the moment I am working on the image of a historic French company, Faïencerie de Gien. In recent years I have been designing the interiors of restaurants, cafés, patisseries, hôtel particulier and castles. Today I am on my own, but I feel free and often do consultancy work.
How did your collaboration with Paolo Gambato come about?He phoned me. We had met on the Riviera del Brenta, where I was making shoe forms and heels. He asked me if he could license my brand for sports shoes because he liked both the image and the name.
What inspired the image of the shoes Gambato made?The walls of the apartment in rue Danielle Casanova, with their seasoned and faded colors. It's an image I really like, quite elegant, even though from a creative standpoint not extraordinary. At least not for the shape of the shoes, which is standard for athletic shoes, but it is for the interpretation of the materials and patinas.
What gives you the most creative satisfaction today?Everything that is related to the creation of theatrical and artistic scenography, particularly in restaurants, where I can transform elements.
On the subject of transformation, you wrote a book called Metamorphoses: what does this word mean to you?To bring curiosity and grace effortlessly, to improve our view of the world. It's a battle against standardization. It's a perspective that is needed to highlight the character of a person, a place, a theatrical piece or an opera.
What is elegance?An effortless harmony, the same that exists in music, without demonstrative or shock-inducing pretenses. It's present in France in general and particularly in Paris, not just in high fashion. If we look at it from a historic point of view, in France there's a sense of balance, while in Italy there's a sense of quality. In Italy now there's a tendency to collect too much information and follow trends, it's a bit too framed and commercial. Sometimes, when it's crazy... it's too crazy. In France creativity has more freedom, we're not that conditioned by the overabundance of information and by gratuitous excess. These elements block character. There should be more lightness.
How would you define your style?I am a Frenchmen of the Ancien Régime, born in the wrong moment. I am a man of the 18th century that has never gotten over the Revolution of 1789. Today we're ashamed of displaying wealth, but elegance is not a question of money, you can be elegant with very little, whether more or less rich, for example with a balanced lifestyle or with a hat.
What is femininity according to you?It's in the way a woman walks, the way she carries herself, in her poses, in the way she sits or turns her head. It's like observing a small bird, a surprising little animal. But femininity can also be found in men and I think it consists of an intelligent lightness.
Do you think fashion can still influence society?Women's fashion ceased being influential in the 80s. Since then it has no longer been so important to civilization. The reason? Business and marketing govern the world so fashion, unfortunately, no longer has any power. Today fashion is style, expression, personality, but its function is mostly to make money: it's a lens through which to understand the world. Its influence on people, on their way of thinking and on social change – like the miniskirt for example – is now lost.
Up to the 90s styles were clear-cut. But today?Today we dress with collages of déja vus, accelerated and sometimes refreshed by the filter of the internet, but it's difficult to find a true invention. Not because fashion designers have stopped being innovative, but because marketing and distribution tend to castrate originality.
What are the biggest difficulties for a fashion designer?Having a site where you can express yourself and sell is important, but it's not enough: you need a store to show your product in person. If we look at big cities though, the majority of spaces are in the hands of multinationals. In addition, there's a deficit of visibility and expressive space for a great number of eager talented creatives. The internet is not sufficient and traditional media remain fundamental. Emerging is an uphill battle.
What are your next projects?I'll open a store for athletic shoes at rue de Condorcet 60, called Magasin Bleu. Perhaps I'll open an interior design store in rue de Martyrs, called Philippe Model Maison. This would be a renaissance, now that all my stores are closed. Paolo Gambato and I would like to open stores in Paris, London and Milan, because shoes need to have an address.
Let's end with some advice you would give a young talent entering a creative field.Don't ask yourself cerebral questions, because if you begin to think too much you get blocked. What matters is to do. I know it seems difficult, but it's necessary to free the mind from useless questions. It's important to observe, be curious and work. In one way or another our path eludes us, so we have to be organized to grasp it: with time it will become clear.
Photos © Lancia TrendVisions