“...he [Jean-Paul Goude] wanted me to be perfect. He could make me perfect by turning me into an illustration, a sculpture, a video, a special effect, a record sleeve, a stage show, a car commercial. He could create, and constantly modify, an illusion, plant me in a flawless phase of glamour midway between machine-ness and she-ness. He wanted me to be perfect. He wanted me to represent An Ideal.” ~ Grace Jones
Melissa Anderson of The Village Voice, in her February 2016 preview of the Grace Jones video vehicle, A One Man Show—the 1982 Jean-Paul Goude-directed film—which was then about to be screened, on February 8th, 2016, at The Kitchen in Chelsea (one of New York City’s oldest non-profit spaces for the performing arts as well as lecture series, founded in 1971 by Woody and Steina Vasulka as an artist collective), aptly described the forty-five-minute-long video/film as “Maximally spellbinding”. (Quote: Anderson, A., The Village Voice, February 2016)
Produced by Eddie Babbage with (New York) footage by Michael Shamberg, A One Man Show is an amalgamation—part-live concert footage, part-extended music video, part-experimental art performance film excerpted from some of Jones's performances in London and New York City—comprised of various songs (ten, to be exact: beginning with Warm Leatherette, Walking In The Rain, Feel Up, La Vie En Rose, Demolition Man, Pull Up To The Bumper, Private Life, My Jamaican Guy, Living My Life and ending with Libertango/I've Seen That Face Before) gleaned from three of Grace Jones's early 1980s albums: Warm Leatherette (1980), Nightclubbing (1981), and Living My Life (1982), all three of which were produced by Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records. After a flash introduction of a series of seemingly biographical images of Grace Jones (from Jamaican girlhood in Spanish Town, standing on the porch of what appears to be a small ramshackle house, immodestly lifting her skirt, to international fashion icon and pop-music superstar on the cover of record albums and magazines), shot—or illustrated—by Jean-Paul Goude (the photographer, graphic designer, illustrator, and film director of note; the two had met in August of 1977 and were romantically as well as professionally involved, even if their relationship was, at times, a volatile and temperamental one), Jones makes her appearance garbed in a gorilla costume (an introduction—and image reference—very much reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich's similarly seductive unveiling fifty years earlier in the 1932 film, Blonde Venus, also costumed as a hirsute gorilla, albeit a devastatingly glamorous one), standing atop of an oversized staircase, back-lit and rhythmically beating a drum. After finally revealing her true, Armani-suited identity to the sound of a cheering audience, the few, distinct opening notes of Nightclubbing are shortly—and abruptly—superseded by Warm Leatherette, properly launching the film. Save for a multitude of Grace Jones clones in Feel Up—in which the ‘Jones clones’ steadily multiply into a set of seven band-mates—and a marching phalanx of glossy-lipped clones in Demolition Man, no other musician or figure appears in A One Man Show (which was also the title of Grace Jones's first world tour and from which some of the live concert footage is culled; during her early-1980s tours as well as in A One Man Show, Jones eschewed with the use of a band, relying solely on playback instead).
“Grace let me make her over completely, use any effect I could find to turn her into what I want her to be.” ~ Jean-Paul Goude
At the 26th annual Grammy Awards held in Los Angeles, on February the 28th, 1984, A One Man Show was nominated in the Best Video Album category, the first year that début category was presented. Jean-Paul Goude and Grace Jones did not win, however (having missed his Concorde flight from Paris, Goude was unable to attend the ceremony and Jones, after several possible escorts had been proposed for her by the Grammy publicists, who settled on O. J. Simpson as their choice but, in the end, she was finally accompanied by her friend, the actress Sarah Douglas, one of the villains from the 1980 movie Superman II); the award went to Duran Duran (for Duran Duran Lyrics). (Other nominees in that category included Alice Cooper for Alice Cooper The Nightmare, Olivia Newton-John for Olivia in Concert, Rolling Stones for Rolling Stones: Let's Spend the Night Together, and Toni Basil for Word of Mouth Lyrics. Grace Jones, on stage with Alice Cooper, was also a presenter that night, for the category of Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal; The Police won that category with their 1983 album, Synchronicity.) In her book (as told to Paul Morley), I'll Never Write My Memoirs (2015), Grace Jones recalled the aftermath of a disappointing evening in which, adding insult to injury, she had been refused admission into the Grammys after-party due to the fact that she did not have the right pass to enter: “I sat [in a taxi, greatly upset and frustrated by the events of the evening] with my Lagerfeld hat on my knee, miserable because it had all gone wrong. A One Man Show lost to Duran Duran, enough to make me scream and scream.” But Grammy award winner or not, time, ultimately, is the incontestable judge of merit: thirty-four years after its release (and especially when viewed within the context and confines of its time period), A One Man Show remains a brilliantly executed piece of (music) film—a tribute to the creative energy and artistic partnership between Grace Jones and Jean-Paul Goude.
(Quote: Jones, G. & Morley, P., I'll Never Write My Memoirs, 2015:268)
“Of course, I had seen Grace Jones before, because she was the diva and disco queen of the whole Paradise Garage scene. But I really, really want to paint her body, because she's the embodiment of everything that's both primitive and pop.” ~ Keith Haring
Acknowledged and celebrated as the ‘Queen of Gay Discos,’ Grace Jones began her musical career—after relinquishing, it must be added, a very successful modelling career in Europe, and Paris in particular—with the launch of her first album, Portfolio, in 1977; it was successively followed by Fame (1978) and Muse (1979), all first three albums having been produced by Tom Moulton. In 1980, Jones, working with the Jamaican production duo Sly and Robbie, further broadened her appeal by the release of her rendition of Warm Leatherette, a 1978 single originally by the electro-punk band The Normal (the pseudonym of Daniel Miller, the British music producer). The dawn of the 1980s thus marked the transformational phase of Grace Jones—or the persona and image of Grace Jones: gone was the disco-diva chanteuse of the decadent Studio 54 or Roseland Ballroom days, replaced by the more enigmatically aloof and magnetically-charged, flat-topped androgyne, inscrutable (and intimidatingly unapproachable) in dark, reflective sunglasses. (In Walking In The Rain, Jones pointedly alludes to her newly formed persona with the lyrics, “Feeling like a woman / Looking like a man”.) This new composite identity, this new personality situated somewhere between the archetypal male and female, between masculine and feminine, had a huge gay following; while some heterosexual men (not all) may have found Jones's (blurred) visual image-identity difficult to fathom or even unattractive and perhaps a bit threatening (an empowered, dominant Black woman adamantly refusing to abide by conventional racial stereotypes, cultural norms and gender roles and identities may not quite be the average man's ideal), gay men adored—and still adore—Grace Jones. (In a 1979 interview with People Magazine's Lee Wohlfert, Goude succinctly phrased Grace Jones's appeal to a broad spectrum of people: “Men think she's sexy. Women think she's a little masculine, so they're not jealous. Gays think she's a drag queen” [Quote: Wohlfert, L., People Magazine, April 23, 1979, Vol. 11, No. 16].And in The Frog And The Princess—a track on the 1985 Slave To The Rhythm album—British actor Ian McShane reads an excerpt from Jean-Paul Goude's account of his initial encounter with Grace Jones in his 1982 book, Jungle Fever, which adverts to the vagueness and irony of her appearance and gay men's adoration, reading in part: “The first night watching her in Les Mouches, I had already decided to work with her. That night, she was singing her hit song ‘I Need A Man’ to a room full of shrieking, gay bobby-soxers. The ambiguity of her act was that she herself looked like a man: a man singing ‘I Need A Man’ to a bunch of men. I could see how the average guy could get a little scared by her physical appearance. It was so powerful.... I thought she was great.”)
“Grace is modern because she is new and yet reflective of what she has been all along. But now even more so. The androgyny of her body, combined with the darkness of her skin and the power of her morphology (the sum of which would be considered by most bizarre if not unattractive), has been stylized and turned around to her advantage.”
~ Jean-Paul Goude
The propagated ‘Grace Jones myth’ has been discussed and analysed ad nauseam. Hand-in-glove with the mythologization of Grace Jones are the motivational factors and (proposed and supposed) racial undertones of Goude's compelling images of Jones (as well as the imagery of much of his photographic body of work with other African-American muses and models, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s). (In the same 1979 interview with People's Lee Wohlfert, Goude readily admitted to his long-standing fascination—since watching the 1961 movie West Side Story as well as the Alvin Ailey dance troupe perform—with ethnic women and Black women in particular: “I had jungle fever... Blacks are the premise of my work.” [Quote: Wohlfert, L., People Magazine, April 23, 1979, Vol. 11, No. 16]) But one thing is clear: willingly or unwillingly, co-operatively or coercively, the ‘Grace Jones myth’ could not have been realised without the influence, direction and aesthetic sensibilities of Jean-Paul Goude—or at least it (most likely) would not have achieved the spectacular impact or been as effective as it was.
Grace Jones photographed by Jean-Paul Goude ~ New York, 1979
As influential and persuasive as Goude's demanding aesthetic vision may have been, every director, every Professor Higgins needs a malleable, willing and trusting Eliza Doolittle; or, more realistically, every Von Sternberg needs and relies on a Dietrich to realize that which his mind envisions, and Jones was and did that: she was, it could be rightly said, a vehicle for Jean-Paul Goude's ideas. The evolution of what eventually came to be the quintessential ‘Grace Jones image,’ therefore, was the result of a creative collaboration involving partnership, contribution and discussion from both parties—the creation, after all, is only as great as its creator; vice versa is also true. Grace Jones intimates as much in I'll Never Write My Memoirs: “He transformed the story of my life into a series of visions and fantasies. Talk would lead to him thinking, ‘I will do you like this.’ There was a lot of talking, and then the idea. It was collaborative, never only him doing me. I was not a model. I was a partner in design. An idea is worth so much. It's beyond money. Jean-Paul has a store of ideas that could last a thousand years. ... This combination of his memory [of seeing the Nazis passing through Goude's village as a child] and mine [a reference to Jones's memory of her mandatory school uniform and the rigid adherence to the importance of its appearance] led to me goose-stepping in a video [Demolition Man (1981)].” (Quote: Jones, G., & Morley, P., I'll Never Write My Memoirs, 2015:247)
As a true and rare original, it can also be similarly asserted that there is nothing stereotypical about Grace Jones. After nearly forty years in the music industry and eleven studio albums, Grace Jones has earned her rightful status as one of popular culture's most inimitable icons. Her great luck was to have met and worked with a creative genius in the shape of Jean-Paul Goude; his great luck was to find the perfect instrument through which to express his creativity in the fearless (and fearsome) form of Grace Jones. For anyone in doubt and in need of proof, peruse any of the collaborative Goude-Jones photographic images, album covers, and videos; or, better yet, look no further than A One Man Show.
“...and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.”
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”
“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
In 2011, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto commissioned, along with an accompanying fifty-minute documentary film—Passage #5—a Christian Dior haute couture ensemble for its 2012 exhibition ‘BIG.’ A one-piece tulle-and-silk faille coat-dress originally modelled by Olga Sherer, ‘Passage 5’ was the fifth garment—in a collection of thirty-two pieces—in what proved to be John Galliano's last haute couture collection (Spring-Summer 2011) for the House of Dior; it was also, by Galliano's own admission, his most technically challenging collection to date.
Based on a loose re-configuration of the epoch-defining ‘New Look’ silhouette (cornerstone of the House of Dior), the creation of ‘Passage 5’ alone required 166 meters of fabric and five-hundred hours of labour to complete by a multitude of ‘petites mains’—not only those of the Maison Dior ateliers but also other attendant craftsmen and women of satellite ateliers. These other ancillary ateliers involved Ateliers Gérard Lognon, one of the last remaining (and celebrated) plisseurs in Paris(member of Paraffection since 2013—an assemblage of several Chanel subsidiary ateliers, which currently include: Maison Lesage, master embroiderers and beaders; Maison Massaro, the bespoke shoemakers; Maison Desrues, button-makers and costume jewellers; Marcelle Guillet, makers of artificial flowers; Maison Lemarié, featherers as well as creators of flowers; Goossens Paris, jewellers; and in 2012, the Scottish cashmere manufacturer Barrie Knitwear), and Maison Hurel, embroiderers and designers/manufacturers of luxury textiles who were responsible for the design and execution of the beadwork for ‘Passage 5’. (Sources: ROM Collections: Dior Gown, Royal Ontario Museum, undated; Blanks T., Style.com, January 24, 2011) The Christian Dior Spring-Summer 2011 Haute Couture collection was Galliano's homage to the artwork—and career—of René Gruau, a close friend of Dior's and for whom Gruau was artistic director of Christian Dior Parfums advertising. (A little-known fact is that at Central Saint Martins, John Galliano had originally studied fashion illustration, fully intending to become an illustrator; he is even alleged to have signed a contract to work as an illustrator in Manhattan, New York City.) The collection was specifically inspired by ‘Dior Illustrated: René Gruau and the Line of Beauty,’ the 2010 exhibition—curated by Vincent Leret—held at London's Somerset House (for which Galliano personally selected an assortment of Dior haute couture dresses, including one especially designed by Galliano for the exhibit) and was based on Gruau’s illustrations for Christian Dior in the late 1940s and 1950s. Galliano's interpretation of Gruau's work for Dior—which certainly contributed to the House's iconic imagery—took the ambitious and difficult form of translating the impressionistic, two-dimensional free-form strokes of an illustrator's pencil or chalk to the three-dimensional forms of thirty-two ensembles. As Tim Blanks of Style.com, in his review of Galliano's collection for Dior, noted: “The graphite smears, pencil strokes and scribbles, erasure marks, and gouache washes of Gruau's illustrations were duplicated in cloth and embroidery, used, said the designer, ‘in an illustrative way.’ ... It was remarkable that such extravagance managed to capture the speed, the spontaneity, the airiness, even the economy of the illustrator's work.” Mr. Blanks goes on further to state: “The most dramatic effects were chiaroscuro—the interplay of light and shade, duplicating the wash of Gruau's watercolors and the shadows of Irving Penn's classic couture photography. Where it seemed that hand-painting fabric would have been the simplest way to achieve the desired result, Galliano and his studio used seven layers of tulle to create a shimmering depth of dégradé. ... Embroidery was used on one side of the fabric only, so it cast a subtle relief shadow. Ostrich feathers made swooshes of ink on a huge ball gown, pencil lines were picked out in sequins. And Stephen Jones was in his element—his hats were trompe l'oeil strokes of paint, soaring heavenward.” Viewing the video of the collection, the mind reels at the concerted efforts necessary—not to mention the inordinate amount of time, patience, and scale of the astounding skills of the combined ateliers—to achieve such effects (“in an illustrative way”) and make them seem so decidedly effortless. (Quotes: Tim Blanks, Style.com, January 24, 2011)
As a fashion illustrator par excellence, René Gruau (1909-2004)—born Count Renato Zavagli Ricciardelle delle Camminate, in Rimini, Italy, to an aristocratic Italian father and a socialite French mother, Marie Gruau de la Chesnaie (whose maiden name he later adopted, after his parents' divorce when he was three, and following his mother's relocation to Paris where he subsequently lived and worked)—was considered to be one of the 20th century's finest (his work is “characterized by his fluid, expressive, and seemingly effortless lines, and by his ability to distill his subjects to their essence for maximum effect – a mouth, a coiffure, a gesture, the structure of a garment is each described so convincingly, and with such graceful economy of means” [Quote: René Gruau: Master of Fashion Illustration, Christie's, 2013]); his long career, begun at a very early age, encompassed work for such prestigious American and French fashion magazines and newspapers as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Flair, Femina, Marie-Claire, L’Officiel and Le Figaro, as well as some of fashion's most illustrious names of the mid-20th century (these ranked Balmain, Fath, Molyneux, Givenchy, Balenciaga, Lanvin, and Schiaparelli among them). But Gruau's output was not confined solely to fahion, producing commercial posters for the famed Parisian cabarets Moulin Rouge and Lido de Paris, advertising campaigns for Air France and Martini, and the cinema poster for Federico Fellini’s 1959 film, La Dolce Vita, for example, thereby reaching a far greater audience. His name, however, is most intimately associated by his creative collaboration with Christian Dior. (Gruau's early work is distinguished by his signature, ‘Gruau,’ topped by a star, later simply reduced to the distinctive cypher of an elegant capital ‘G,’ also surmounted by the same star.) It was René Gruau's close association with and understanding of Christian Dior—a relationship begun in 1947 with the débutof Dior's eponymous collection, in February of that same year, and the advent of his ‘New Look’—and Dior's distinctive post-Second World War aesthetic that allowed Gruau to perfectly and graphically capture the momentous spirit of the Dior brand. (Sources: René Gruau: a new look at the influential Dior illustrator, Beyfus, D., TheTelegraph, October 23, 2010; Blanks T., Style.com, January 24, 2011; René Gruau: Master of Fashion Illustration, Christie's: 3436, 2013;René Gruau, Fashion Illustration Gallery, 2015)
“[Gruau] captured Dior's style and spirit better than any other because he understood his long-term friend... for me a Gruau sketch captures the energy, the sophistication and daring of Dior, and equally is testimony to an enduring friendship.”~ John Galliano
For centuries, as a genre, fashion illustration (in the form of ‘fashion plates’—engravings, paintings, sketches, and even dolls that were sent travelling abroad) was the primary means of disseminating new developments (and changing attitudes, changing styles) in fashion; it was not until the 20th century that fashion illustration was inevitably and finally usurped by a more immediate medium: photography. Still, illustration survived (“...a reminder of what the brush, pen and ink achieved before the camera took over” [Quote: Drusilla Beyfus, The Telegraph, 2010])—albeit in a much narrower, less extensive margin than before. That said, there have been other illustrators of note (some, perhaps, better known than others) who have sustained the art of fashion illustration—Antonio Lopez, Thierry Perez, David Downton, Kenneth Paul Block, Joe Eula—all of whom are/were immensely talented in their own right and have/had reached the apogee of their respective careers. But it was by virtue of Gruau's enduring, sixty-year-long career—a rare longevity—and his adaptability (by way of broadening his work, outside the confines of fashion, for commercial purposes) that set him apart from his peers. To this day—and most likely well into the future—the name and work of René Gruau continues (and will continue) to abide and be inextricably linked, and with good reason, with the golden era of haute couture. It is only apt, then—if somewhat ironic—to conclude by borrowing the introductory line from Christie's 2013 online auction of Gruau's prints (René Gruau: Master of Fashion Illustration, Sale no. 3436): “The art of René Gruau is a timeless expression of style, elegance and sophistication.”
Complementing ‘Cartier: Le style et l'histoire’—the exhibition held at the Grand Palais in Paris from December 4th, 2013 to February 16th, 2014—‘Cartier: La Petite Boîte Rouge’ (a 2013 film by Marie Brand and Minou Azoulai for ARTE France and RMN [Réunion des musées nationaux] - Grand Palais) traces the history, as well as the iconography, of the House of Cartier—long acclaimed to be the ‘King of Jewellers’ and ‘Jewellers to Kings’—that made it the quintessential brand of Haute Joaillerie the world over. Drawing on Cartier's extensive design archives, the film delves into the shifting social, historical and cultural influences that have shaped the firm's design evolution over its long, prestigious history. The film also takes into account some of the personalities who have played an integral role in that history—the creative direction of the indomitable Jeanne Toussaint (nicknamed ‘La panthère’), being foremost among them, the influence of whose aesthetic sensibilities cannot be underestimated. (It was Madame Toussaint who popularised the ‘Tutti Frutti’ jewellery—a palette of coloured stones comprised of emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, onyx and rubies all mixed together in one piece—in the 1920s, first introduced by Pierre Cartier in 1901 when he was commissioned to create a necklace for (the regal) Queen Alexandra of Great Britain (consort of Edward VII, a devotee of Cartier's—a devotion inherited by his grandson, Edward VIII, who abdicated his monarchical duties in December of 1936—for a life in exile—and henceforth became known as Edward, Duke of Windsor), “to be worn with three Indian gowns given to her by Mary Curzon, wife of the Viceroy of India. The master jeweler’s necklace succeeded in blending the sumptuous curves and dazzling colors associated with the perceived exoticism of India with the techniques of modern craftsmanship perfected at the House of Cartier. The necklace opened the door to future Royal commissions and became the basis for the firm’s most celebrated foray into jewels of Eastern inspiration.”). Indeed, as the quote (and film) makes clear, the savvy designers at Cartier had a unique talent for translating cultural developments and events—(the new Egyptian Revival that followed upon the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in November of 1922, for instance)—and exotic ethnic proclivities—(such as the Indian- or Mughal-inspired jewellery based, as it was, in Eastern motifs and techniques, in the manner of carving gemstones, for example)—or new technologies—(in the way of deriving inspiration from modern-age machinery and streamlined industrial designs of the Art Moderne period)—into (at times) whimsical and fantastically stylish designs—coveted by those with the available means necessary—that proved its relevance and demonstrated its viability in rapidly changing times; it is precisely Cartier's adaptability, backed by its willingness to cater to the caprices of its customers, however fanciful or eccentric the request may be and in whatever form it may assume, which has always set them a bit apart from other fine French jewellery Houses of the era. And underlying its versatility and dedication to sterling customer service is Cartier's unrelenting pursuit of perfection: the finest materials possible, excellence of craftsmanship, and the elevation of jewellery technique and design to the level of Art. (Quote source: Nadelhoffer, H., Cartier: Jewelers Extraordinary, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York,1984:172)
But just as influential—and perhaps just as closely associated with Cartier—as Madame Toussaint were some of Cartier's more memorable clients who left their own imprint on the brand and its image: Bhupinder Singh, the Maharajah of Patiala (photographs of whom invariably portray him resplendent in his magnificent Patiala Necklace); the Duchess of Windsor (with her penchant for Toussaint's panther-motif rendered jewellery); Elizabeth Taylor (and her famous Taylor-Burton 69.42 carat pear-shaped diamond); Gloria Swanson (and the notable pair of rock crystal-and-diamond bangles she sported in the 1950 film ‘Sunset Boulevard’); María Félix (notorious for her fully articulated crocodile necklace) and Jean Cocteau (for whom Cartier custom-created an Academician's sword—following Cocteau's own design and with a square-cut emerald provided by Coco Chanel—for his election to the Académie Française in 1955)—all of whom, including such celebrated demi-mondaines as Liane de Pougy, make appearances, however fleetingly, in ‘Cartier: La Petite Boîte Rouge’.
Platinum & diamond olive-wreath tiara created by Cartier ~ Paris, 1907
(Commissioned & owned by Marie Bonaparte, great-granddaughter of Napoleon's younger brother, Lucien,
for her marriage to Prince George of Greece and Denmark in 1907)