Archive for October, 2010

Objet d’Art – Nathalie Vranken

Art lover and head of the Pommery Champagne empire, Nathalie Vranken talks to Urban Life about the upcoming Frieze Art fair.

Art, fashion and film have always been entwined, one creative field inspiring the other, but nowhere is this more evident than at Frieze, the UK’s largest contemporary art fair. Following hot on the heels of London Fashion Week, it’s the most eagerly awaited event on the end of summer calendar. And who better to explore this symbiotic relationship with than the Champagne house which champions contemporary art as one of its most ardent supporters? So, just as LFW finished, I jumped on the first train to Paris for a one-to-one with the ambassadress of Domaine Pommery, Madame Nathalie Vranken; philanthropist and matriarch of the Vranken household.

Sitting in her third floor office tucked away in a courtyard nestled between Avenue Montaigne and the Champs Elysées, Nathalie Vranken greets me with a warm smile upon my arrival. She catches me glancing around her office. “We’re re-decorating”, she assures me with her charming Parisian accent, “which is why the walls are a bit bare so you’ll have to excuse us. It’s a busy time of year with the start of Experience Pommery and the Frieze Art fair coming up and, you know, I’m also a full time mother and wife, so things take a little time” she chuckles. Indeed they do, but I couldn’t spot anything out of place or a speck of dust anywhere to suggest there was any work going on. Sure the walls were a little bare, but there was order everywhere I looked.
We sat down to begin the interview. It was as if we had been talking for hours. A natural conversationalist, she has a charm and effortless elegance that belies the steely business mind in charge of an empire. It was re-assuring to hear her speak with such jovial candour because, given her international status as a major supporter of the arts, she, along with her husband Paul-François Vranken, certainly could have afforded to engage in a different manner. It was this earnest, down to earth nature that I found most intriguing.

The Vranken family have just embarked on their annual six-month long exhibition, the aforementioned Experience Pommery, which is now in its 8th year, and this time they will be celebrating a rich past full of memories. Curated by Régis Durand, a former Director of Jeu de Paume, the event has nostalgically been titled, Nos Meilleurs Souvenirs, and will bring together a stellar line up of artists to honour the many collaborations between Durand and Madame Vranken which started with Printemps de Septembre in Cahors. Pommery have been sponsoring the event for the past 20 years, which has led to a number of other key fairs, such as the FIAC, the Armory Show and, of course, Frieze.
As the conversation flowed I wondered what prompted her involvement in contemporary art. “Well, we are not engaged in contemporary art simply because it’s fashionable. Madame Pommery was a great supporter of art during the late nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, so we have a great tradition in the field. We even have some very important pieces stored in the cellar. What we want to do is to continue with her [Madame Pommery’s] traditions, and to do that we have to have an interest in what’s new and combine that with what she built. This is the view of the Domaine Pommery”.

This philosophy of continuing with the traditions of Madame Pommery is clearly important to Madame Vranken and every year Experience Pommery attracts tens of thousands of visitors over its six months duration. “The opening day is always a spectacle to behold. We commission a special train for Pommery at the Gare de l’Est (Paris East Train Station) and we have artists, families of artists, curators, museum directors and clients – a lot of people all arriving at the Domaine on the same train at the same time. It’s a lot of fun!”
Over the past seven years Experience Pommery has hosted well over two hundred artists, a clear indication of its success. I ask Nathalie how she chooses which artists to invite to showcase their work during the event. “I always find a curator! I am not interested in the choice of artists by the curator. I mean, I have an idea and it starts from there, so I choose a curator who I know will pull in the right group of artists of the right calibre and we go from there. I don’t choose the artists, but of course I keep an eye on them. If one of them decided to paint everything yellow I will say, ‘thank you very much, but it’s not possible’. I am here to be the protector of what’s possible. I am the common sense”.

As we talk about the evolution of the shows our discussion steers back to Pommery’s involvement with Frieze. “We were partners with the Armory Show in New York and the FIAC in Paris. So we thought it would be interesting for us to partner with Frieze as then we would have two of the most important fairs in Europe, in my opinion – FIAC for the French part of the world and Frieze for the English. When you are a Champagne brand it is very easy to make friends and find partnerships”, she says with a smile, “But you need to have a purpose and have an exchange of ideas. You can imagine what can be produced at these shows; it’s out of this world”.

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Monae Love

One of the world’s most original new recording artists? We think so. We talk to Grammy nominated US sensation, Janelle Monae

Recording Artist. Everybody knows what the term signifies but too many don’t understand what it’s supposed to mean. Over the years the transatlantic music industry has been punctuated with a whole host of manufactured acts, style over substance singers and ring tone rappers. Then, sometimes, we hit that exclamation point and suddenly we remember – the Recording Artist is why we love music. Step forward Janelle Monae, singer, songwriter, visionary, artist.

She’s already a rising superstar in the US and the underground buzz on her in the UK is set to carry her to the top of the charts here. Although originally from Kansas she found herself fulfilling her musical ambitions in Atlanta, via a brief flirtation with studying musical theatre in New York. It was in Atlanta she co-founded a creative collective called the Wondaland Arts Society and began to grow into her own style. She found favour with like minded Atlanta Hip-Hop stars like Outkast and it was their Idlewild project that represented her first real break (Wondaland Arts Society produced and featured on two tracks on the soundtrack album to the
movie of the same name). What caught the imagination of the US public is the many eclectic styles and influences that contribute to the Janelle Monae persona. In somebody else it might seem contrived, even disjointed, but here it seems organic and pitch perfect
– a lot of contradictions that shouldn’t work but do. “I don’t think about those things”, she tells me, “I’m always evolving as an artist and this is just the space that I’m in right now”. That ‘space’ also happens to be in the middle of a world tour promoting her new album, The ArchAndroid, the continuation of the story of Cindi Mayweather. First introduced to us with her 2007 EP, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), Mayweather is her android heroine and muse who inhabits a world based on the German science fiction silent movie classic, Metropolis. “The new album deals with self discovery and awakening. Cindi fell in love with a human on the first album and had to run because of it. Now she realizes she’s the ArchAndroid, rising above the division in the world to be the link between the
have’s and the have not’s”.

It’s at this point you realise that Janelle’s music has a lot to say, even if sometimes what she’s saying is not always entirely clear. On ArchAndroid, allegorical themes of perception, discrimination, oppression, hope and freedom are told in songs that range from the James Brown-ian funk of Tightrope (featuring Big Boi from Outkast), the big band sound of BaBopByeYa and the hybrid futuristic trip-hop of my favourite track, Wondaland – all told in a future world based on a 1920’s silent film. Don’t try and map your way through it, it’s better to just sit back, listen and let it all find you naturally. When I asked whether she ever ran into any creative roadblocks when combining so many styles, themes and genres her reply was a simple ‘no’, the kind of reply that tells you this is something she’s living, not marketing…

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Best of British – Under the Spotlight: Holland and Holland

The Shooting Star – Daryl Greatrex, Managing Director of British heritage sporting gun makers, Holland and Holland talks to Urban Life.

Unless the 12th of August each year happens to be the day of your birthday or anniversary, for most of us the date holds no more significance than the day before it or the day after it. For a very well heeled section of the population, however, the day has been extravagantly christened ‘The Glorious Twelfth’ and marks the start of the Grouse hunting season in the UK; a uniquely British tradition that has been strictly adhered to for almost 180 years.

Shooting as a pastime and as a sport is something that has become integral to the rural economy in this country – it brought in over £22 million to Exmoor alone in 2005 – but the image of it had always seemed to revolve around Old Money and Landed Gentry gathering in the bushes away from prying eyes to be rich together. It’s a reputation that is not entirely undeserved but the past few
decades have seen the sport become very popular to a far wider range of people from all walks of life. One of the leading names heading this charge into the wider national conscientiousness is prestigious gun and rifle maker, Holland and Holland. As a company Holland and Holland are almost as old as the British shooting season itself (175 years) and was originally started by Harris Holland, a former tobacco wholesaler in London with a penchant for pigeon shooting, who was later joined by his nephew Henry Holland.

After building on well over a century of excellence and innovation in gun and rifle making the company joined the ranks of other luxury brands like Bentley, Fortnum & Mason and Aquascutum when it received an official Royal Warrant from the Duke of Edinburgh in 1963. But the real surge for the company has taken place in the most recent decades. As the membership base for sport shooting expanded exponentially Holland and Holland sought to capitalise on the boom by adding a full range of associated clothes, accessories and services to its portfolio. Advertising and marketing for the brand is now not merely confined to targeted publications like The Field or the Shooting Gazette, now you will find them speaking to you from the pages of the likes of GQ. “The expansion was
overseen by our creative director, Niels van Rooyan”, explains the fantastically named Daryl Greatrex, managing director for Holland & Holland, “His remit was to develop the clothing ranges and carefully take the brand forward. We don’t like to align ourselves too closely with the fashion industry though, we’re more a lifestyle company with a tremendous heritage in gun making and traditional crafts and we prefer our clothing to mirror that”.

The expansion of the company coincided with the acquisition of the company by France’s Chanel Group in 1989, but that didn’t stop it being the quintessentially English brand it always was and the core business was never diminished. In fact, in terms of business share, gun making still accounts for the larger part of the revenue, especially when you consider that many of the guns sold here are one off, bespoke collector’s items that are either made by the company or re-sold through the company. “Collecting guns can be akin to collecting art”, says Daryl, “Some guns can take anywhere from twelve months to three years to make. This is because gun making involves a lot of specialised processes that can’t be rushed. The wood that you choose, for instance, is treated with a particular oil to give it a protective finish but it can only be applied for ten minutes a day and then it has to be left to dry and set. Once it has set it’s rubbed down and the cycle starts again”. Add to this the care taken to ‘fit’ a shotgun to your personal dimensions and comfort, the manufacture of the various mechanisms, the very high quality of materials used and the highly skilled labour that goes into making them and just dipping your toe in the water can set you back either a cool £35,000 for an entry level ‘Round Action’ model or £66,000 for the standard ‘Royal’, the trademarked Holland and Holland premier over-under gun (both barrels one on top of the other rather than side by side). That’s not necessarily including the extras like precious metals or personalised hand engraving either. Highly decorative commissions can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds…

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