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La Prairie Invites: Audemars Piguet

For its first edition of La Prairie Invites, the premier luxury skincare brand talks to Audemars Piguet about the beauty of timelessness.
Apr 19, 2021

Just like La Prairie, Audemars Piguet has been inextricably linked to art from its very beginnings. With a shared vision for audacity, unparalleled aesthetics and timelessness, both luxury Swiss brands have a partnership with Art Basel — the world's premier modern and contemporary art fair — which has shows in Basel, Hong Kong and Miami. 

Audemars Piguet, one of the world's most celebrated luxury watch manufacturers, has mastered the art of perfection with rule-breaking innovation.

In 1972 — 97 years after its birth — the Swiss brand dared to do the unthinkable. As part of an eternal quest to combine artistic excellence and technical expertise, Audemars Piguet launched a watch that rocked the tranquil waters of horology. It transcended the inelegant confines of the average sports watch to produce a masterpiece of opulence and engineering. 

The Royal Oak was both sporty and infinitely beautiful. Treated with the reverence of gold, its steel case had an astonishing lustre. The bezel was a groundbreaking octagonal shape and the dial’s tapisserie pattern captivated with its ability to reflect light. With its audacious design and breathtaking craftsmanship, the Royal Oak entered the elite club of timeless classics.

 Based in the Vallée de Joux, known as the cradle of fine watchmaking, the brand continues to be revered for its innovation and sophistication. It still inspires the Royal Oak’s devoted followers with regular updates and produces a limited 40,000 watches per year to ensure exclusivity across all its collections.

“I believe that luxury products have almost become a philosophical refuge from the pace of today’s world,” asserted Chadi Gruber, Audemars Piguet’s head of product development. “Luxury means taking your time in a world where everything is too fast. We are proposing a slow perfection.” 

Luxuries not only make time appear to stand still — they can also produce a poetic resonance. 

“The creativity of our designs and movements, and the painstaking precision and rarity of our materials, provide an escape from pure vital needs,” stated Chadi.

“We create objects that allow you to travel internally, like art does. We’re here to create emotions and make people travel outside the purely material and technological world.  You can see the artist’s soul in its work and for me it’s the same thing for our watches. They include a part of the artisan’s soul. I often make the analogy between our watches and art because, for me, a watch is a painting that you wear on your wrist.”

The birthplace of the brand, Switzerland has become synonymous with luxury, elegance and precision because of its centuries-old culture of embracing seriousness, refusing to compromise on quality and valuing hard work, Chadi stated.

The industrious character of the Swiss, along with the harsh weather, helped them to become world leaders in horology, as farmers with a penchant for precision turned to watchmaking during the long winters. 

Today, Audemars Piguet continues to create timeless elegance by never forgetting its rich past and having a vision for the future.

How does it manage to keep ahead of time?

“I would say we’re perfectly on time. We just know it before others,” declared Chadi.

Audemars Piguet, Time, Luxury, Swiss Watches, Art Basel, Royal Oak

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The Masterpiece Defined

Fascinating. Surprising. Timeless. From creative work to masterpiece.
Apr 19, 2021

What disparate threads, insights and ingenuity come together in the making of a masterpiece? Be it a painting, viewed by millions through the centuries, a work of architecture that reimagines what a functional structure can be or a sculpture that alters the way in which a society understands itself, what are the elements necessary to elevate a creation to a masterpiece?

"It became evident that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to articulate a definition of masterpiece that could be accepted universally," former Louvre director Henri Loyrette wrote, in the catalogue for "The Louvre and the Masterpiece," a 2009 exhibition at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Certainly, a precise summary may be hard to grasp. But we know that they are gifts to us all, objects which live beyond the limits of time. They are different anything that has come before. They teach us something new, they speak of a place in time and culture, they communicate with us in a unique way.

The Mona Lisa is the example that comes most quickly to mind. There are countless Renaissance portraits. And yet, the mystique of the seated, dark-haired woman’s smile has rendered Leonardo da Vinci’s work one which has intoxicated experts and mere observers alike. According to Louvre Curator Jean-Pierre Cuzin: “The entire history of portraiture afterward depends on the Mona Lisa. If you look at all the other portraits… if you look at Picasso, at everyone you want to name, all of them were inspired by this painting.” 
This influence and intrigue, refracted through the centuries, is surely a mark of a true masterpiece. From questions of her true identity to revelations of the original brush strokes hidden under the painting’s many layers of pigment, the Mona Lisa has never ceased to surprise. But this intriguing quality alone is not enough to make a masterpiece. 

One could argue that a masterpiece begins by breaking the mould. The convention-shattering Bauhaus School of Design, for example, with its stark focus on the removal of all but the necessary, favouring minimal lines and clean finishes – so very different from the other, grander architectural and decorative conventions of the early 20th century – resulted in ground-breaking structural design, as seen in the iconic minimalist Villa Tugendhat in Brno, in the Czech Republic. 

The aesthetic principles of the Bauhaus movement’s first director, Walter Gropius, as well as those of his successors, Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, reverberate around the globe today. They are evident in the 20th-century tower blocks of Europe, with their lack of adornment and dedication to simplicity. And yet, in the beginning, the Bauhaus school of faced persecution by conservative political powers, fearing its radical innovation and commitment to new ways of thinking. 

Perhaps the most startling paradox of a true masterpiece is the way in which it is both iconic - endlessly depicted and referenced - and yet forever mysterious. Imagine the infinite replications of symbolist Austrian artist Gustav Klimt’s 1912 Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, also known as ‘The Lady in Gold’ - forever followed by questions as to the exact nature of the painter’s relationship to his muse. 

In this case, the curiosity stems – at least in part – from the resplendent use of shimmering tones: 

“The golden image of Adele Bloch-Bauer I cast a spell over me even as an art history student,” said Dr. Tobias Natter, Vienna-based art historian.

It could also be due to the unique historical context in which the piece was produced when women were striving for educational and social freedom. 

“Gustav Klimt’s brilliant artistic career coincided with a period of profound cultural, social and political ferment that witnessed fundamental changes in the position women occupied in society,” notes writer and curator Dr. Jill Lloyd, in Natter’s 2016 book Klimt and the Women of Vienna's Golden Age, 1900–1918. 

This curiosity about both the techniques used and the social context in which the work was produced highlights its status as a masterpiece.

Be it through its mystery, its influence, its beauty or its context, a masterpiece above all tells a story – of what has been and what is now. It draws lines from those who came before to us in our present world, from each individual to the other, through shared values and appreciation for the timeless. 

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907 (oil, silver & gold on canvas), Klimt, Gustav (1862-1918) / Neue Galerie, New York, USA / De Agostini Picture Library / E. Lessing / Bridgeman Images

 

Art, Masterpiece, Gustav Klimt, Bauhaus

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Majestic Matterhorn: Behind the Lens

A symbol of eternity and audacious beauty, the Matterhorn is the iconic image of Switzerland — one that represents La Prairie.
Apr 19, 2021

Such is the mountain’s breathtaking allure, it has been an inspiration to countless artists for centuries. John Ruskin, the great Victorian art critic and social commentator, declared it “the most noble cliff in Europe”. He not only painted the Matterhorn, he also took the first photograph of it in 1849.

The majestic mountain continues to captivate artists and audiences today.

Nenad Saljic’s haunting black-and-white photographs of the mountain have earned him two National Geographic Awards, and resulted in the honour of being named Professional Landscape Photographer of the Year at the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards.

Nenad, who was born in Croatia, became enraptured with mountaineering on a school hiking trip when he was only 12 years old. Seven years later, he climbed Mont Blanc. But it wasn’t until his 40s that Nenad first set eyes on the bewitching Matterhorn Mountain.

“That was love at first sight,” admitted Nenad, who now lives in Zermatt, which boasts arresting views of the mountain. In 2009, he first began photographing the Matterhorn, a project that lasted several years until 2015.

The fulfilling endeavour resulted in several thousand portraits and his book "Matterhorn: Portrait of a Mountain." It features 43 black-and-white duotone photographs accompanied by a timeline of the most significant events in the Matterhorn’s history.

Photo credit: Nenad Saljic

“There are several aspects of the Matterhorn that have attracted me,” Nenad pronounced. “Artistically, it is one of the world’s most magnificent mountains – with its pyramidal shape and solitary position it could be considered an ideal mountain. The Matterhorn even produces its own banner clouds due to the special atmospheric conditions.” 

Nenad is also attracted to its rich history. The Matterhorn had long been deemed inaccessible, and it remained unclimbed long after most of the other great Alpine peaks had been reached. Edward Whymper finally conquered the mountain in 1865, marking the end of the golden age of Alpinism.

“The triumph and tragedy of this feat mark the epitome of our human desire to explore and venture beyond our limitations, simultaneously reminding us of how great and how small we are,” asserted Nenad. “The Matterhorn is a product of geological processes that transcend human beings and our concept of time.”

Photo credit: Nenad Saljic

A trained mountaineer and caver, he has never climbed a mountain that has had such a pull on him. “I think there is a Buddhist saying that the best view of a mountain is not from the top, because once you are on the summit you cannot see the mountain itself. This is a nice philosophical excuse, at least,” he stated.

Eternally captivated, Nenad finds that time gradually slows down when he is working, and eventually seems to stop entirely.

Matterhorn, Switzerland, Photography, Artist, Nenad Saljic, Art

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THE HOUSE OF WORTH AND THE ORIGIN OF HAUTE-COUTURE

Audacity and rarity at the root of a legend.
Apr 19, 2021

The world of fashion is a complex, cyclical, and ever-evolving one, a patchwork of influences, iconic figures, changing tastes and trends. However, unpick the historical thread of haute-couture and follow it back through the decades, it would eventually lead to a singular, forward-thinking figure: one whose bold ideas and unique vision laid the groundwork for the world of fashion as we know it today.

Charles Frederick Worth is widely referred to as the father of haute-couture and the founding figure of fashion as an industry and artform. Through his creations, his concepts, and his entirely new ways of approaching dressmaking, Charles Frederick Worth was able to define the image of his own era and provide inspiration for a multitude of designers that followed. Taking inspiration from the glories of times passed, while fixing his sights firmly on the future of his industry, Worth crystallised the flamboyance and beauty of the present. In doing so, he created ripples which are still felt today in the world of haute couture, which will continue to influence and inform our concept of luxury as the future unfolds.

From Humble Roots to Haute-Couture

Born in 1825 into an impoverished family in Lincolnshire, England, Charles Frederick Worth’s entry into the world of fashion was established at a young age. He spent much of his youth working as an apprentice at two different textile merchants in London. 

During his time away from the workshop, he would gaze for hours at the wonders of the National Gallery, fixated by the beauty of the dresses captured in oil paintings of historic queens and aristocratic ladies. It was in those echoing halls that Worth’s unrivalled sense of style and artistry first began to take shape, and from the billowing gowns, exquisite trimmings, and masterful artistry of previous eras, he started forming an eye for detail that would define his own future, and which would play a key role in shaping the world of fashion as we know it. 

Portrait of Charles Frederick Worth by Nadar Félix. Credit ©Ministère de la Culture -Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Félix Nadar.

Worth’s insatiable appetite for new ideas was forged in the heat of an art scene rediscovering the purity of a past, one which was free from the increasing mechanisation of England’s industrial revolution. Medieval masquerades were all the rage in London’s high society, and Romanticism and Neoclassicism were en vogue during the designer’s formative years. Worth’s path, which would combine the brilliance of regal history with the ever more flamboyant demands of high society, was being paved ahead of him. It was a path that would see his work raise fashion to the status of an unquestioned art form, and naturally, it led from London towards the glittering streets of Imperial Paris. 

Upon arriving in Paris at age twenty, Worth quickly found work with Gagelin, a major textiles company which refined and furthered what he had learned during his apprenticeship. Ever the ambitious social climber, Gagelin allowed the young artisan to open a dressmaking department as an extension of their business. It was not long before his eye-catching, distinctive work became the talk of the town; so much so that his trailblazing gowns and creations were featured in the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, and the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1855. This rapid ascendency allowed the young Worth to make a name for himself in Paris’ most fashionable circles, yet his star was still to rise considerably further.

Capturing the Essence of the Bespoke

Paris in the 1850s was a city in the midst of an entirely new cultural dynamism, led by the restoration of the royal house, and with Napoleon III crowning the city as a show home for new European ideas and fashions. When Napoleon wed Empress Eugenie, her exquisite fashion sense set the template for the women of high society in Paris to follow. The demand for luxury goods, especially luxurious items of dress, soared to new, dizzying heights.

In 1858, Worth was able to open his own store to showcase his creations and his new approaches to high fashion, and once Empress Eugenie began regularly stepping through his doors on rue de la Paix and commissioning works from Worth, his reputation exploded. Such patronage, such runaway popularity, and such a privileged position allowed him the full freedom to follow his instincts and passions, and realise what he once dreamed of whilst sitting on the viewing benches at the National Gallery. 

Portrait of Empress Eugénie, wearing a Worth dress, by Jean Marius Fouque, after Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Credit ©RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Michel Urtado.

Charismatic to the core, Empress Eugenie and her court were deeply charmed by the Englishman, and they were keen to show off the talents of their new favourite dressmaker at various state functions. Society balls at court, the intimate receptions at the Tuileries, and events like horse races in Longchamp became the 19th century equivalent of today’s fashion shows. The Parisian ladies of high society would display their latest items of haute-couture, which would be admired by figures from throughout the Second Empire and the wider world. 

While Worth’s eccentric, flamboyant and heavily elaborate designs borrowed extensively from a quasi-imagined past, his reputation and the flurry of excitement surrounding him was founded on entirely new practices which had simply never been seen before. He was, on the one hand, committed to meeting the ever-more luxurious demands of his clientele. On the other, he broke new ground by dictating the terms on which his dresses were designed, fitted and created. Prior to Worth’s arrival as a fashion designer par excellence, ladies would have selected  fabrics themselves, and their clothes would have been made from pre-existing templates. Worth’s vision, however, was based upon the uniqueness of each silhouette and fit, and from reimagining design features from prior centuries, acting as flourishes for thoroughly modern designs. In such practices, his clothing would epitomise the essence of the bespoke. Through his singularity of artistic expression, and his unshakeable belief in his talents, ideas, and creative drive, the notion of haute-couture was born.

Inventiveness to Echo Through the Ages

True artistry in any discipline rarely comes about as a result of following the crowd, and Worth was a man destined to lead with his unending roster of industry-defining ideas. Forever working by his own rules, The House of Worth was the first of its kind in many ways. His pioneering showrooms used live models rather than mannequins to display his dresses, which then would be customised and fitted to the client’s unique body shape or personal style. Furthermore, nobody prior to Worth had entertained the notion of the seasonal collection, nor had they explored bringing their designs and ideas to a truly international market. Worth was keen, from as early as 1855, to export his most original models to London and elsewhere in Europe, and by the 1860s, Worth creations were being purchased from the most luxurious department stores of New York, and beyond.

Originality, boldness and inventiveness were the core principles to which Charles Worth was committed. It is often claimed his designs were the first to ever be recognisably masterpieces of their creator. It is not easy to imagine just how groundbreaking that must have been; for the very first time, the craft of dressmaking and fashion had been elevated to the status of a high art, driven by innovation, inspiration, and with the vision of the artist taking precedence over the whims or wishes of the client. The essence of putting an individual stamp onto his work was not merely metaphorical, either, as Worth was also the first to add a signed label to this clothing. While the labels were originally printed onto the interior of the waistband, his name was so renowned that the ladies wearing his clothes would reverse the waistband, in order to display the label as a key feature of their bespoke dresses. The designer label, in the most literal sense, was thus brought into being.

Etiquette : Worth, 7, rue de la Paix, Paris Vers 1875. Localisation : Etats-Unis, Philadelphie (Pa.), Philadelphia Museum of Art. Credit ©The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image Philadelphia Museum of Art

The heady, extravagant, and opulent years of the Second Empire were, of course, not to last, and Worth lived long enough to see its collapse and the disappearance of the Parisian royal court. However, due to the new paradigms in fashion dreamt up by Charles Worth, the days of traditional dressmaking had by this time disappeared forever. As with the dawn of every great artistic movement, the world of fashion had been utterly redrawn, and the demand for bespoke items, conjured from the hands of singular artists, would never waver thereafter. Haute-couture had well and truly arrived, and in the creation of this artform, Charles Worth tore up the rulebook, and  wrote one anew on pages of velvet, lace, and silk.

Worth, High-Fashion, Rarity, Haute

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BLANCPAIN AND THE ORIGIN OF HAUTE-HORLOGERIE

Innovation as the core of Savoir-Fare.
Apr 19, 2021

To measure and mark the passage of time is a uniquely human endeavour. Since our earliest ancestors recognised the lengthening and shortening of shadows across the day, we have attempted to quantify the passage of one moment to the next. Vast stone circles, hoisted into place to frame the solstices and equinoxes of the year, gave way to rudimentary candle-clocks. Sundials of varied size, shape, and accuracy led to tolling pendulums, which in turn gave rise to mechanical timepieces, quartz watches, and the digital displays of today.

Since 1735, the Swiss watch company Blancpain has upheld a dedication to the heights of excellence in timepieces creation and, as the oldest operating watch brand in the world, it continues to capture the imaginations of watch collectors everywhere. Across more than two centuries, Blancpain has demonstrated that innovation and tradition can sit hand-in-hand, and lead to results which defined—and then redefined—the watchmaking industry as a whole. Ever committed to their dedication to the handmade, the bespoke, and the exemplary, Blancpain has never produced a quartz or digital timepiece. Despite this, or maybe thanks to it, the House has remained a consistent vanguard in the world of watchmaking, and continues to set the standard for so many others to follow.

Where Time Began: Jehan-Jacques Blancpain and the Founding of a Legend

The origins of Blancpain were humble in nature. The company founder, Jehan-Jacques Blancpain was a schoolteacher from a farming family in the Swiss municipality of Villeret, whose eclectic interests led him towards a fascination with watchmaking. In the early 18th century, he converted the upper floor of his farmhouse into a horology workshop, and began building mechanical watches while horses, cows, and other livestock bustled and brayed downstairs.

The year 1735 saw Jehan-Jacques Blancpain register himself as a horloger on an official property registry in Villeret, and it is from this date that the brand’s activities are considered to have been founded. Assisted by his wife and son Isaac, Jehan-Jacques began producing timepieces for local buyers and travelling merchants, and an upward trajectory was set which would continue for several generations. It is something of a tragedy that so few examples of those first watches have survived the eras; the Blancpain family did not originally trademark their creations under their own brand name.

From those earliest days, tinkering with pocket watch components among straw bales and farmyard equipment, all the way through to the flawless reputation that the Manufacture upholds today, Blancpain has proven to be pioneer in the truest sense of the word, constantly combining the classic with the forward-looking. One only has to look at popular timepiece series such as the Villeret Collection, which demonstrates an anchoring in haute horlogerie tradition juxtaposed with a contemporary face and technicality, to see these principles in action. 

The running equation of time, the most mythical of ‘’complications’’ innovations in the history of haute-horlogerie. Here represented in the Villeret piece. Credit: ©Blancpain

Blancpain was a company founded on the principles of passion, craftsmanship and long-term vision. As such, Jehan-Jacques Blancpain was able to lay a foundation, which led to some of the most significant horology innovations and inventions the industry has ever seen. 

Sharpness, Complexity, and Changing Times 

In 1815, Blancpain was headed by Frédéric-Louis Blancpain, the great-grandson of Jehan-Jacques. Frédéric-Louis was a man of considerable foresight and ambition, and he transformed Blancpain from a small-scale craft workshop into modern, industrial timepiece producer, embracing new machinery, methods, and approaches. Frédéric-Louis’ spirit of innovation and adaptation is what led to the development of ultra-flat movements for Blancpain’s Lépine-style pocket watches. These movements allowed for the construction of slimmer, more elegant timepieces, and opened the door for higher levels of complexity and accuracy than ever before. The ultra-flat components created by Frédéric-Louis paved the way for a feature that is still central to many of the house’s watches today.

Just like the 19th century, the one which followed led to a long and impressive list of ‘firsts’ for Blancpain. In 1926, Frédéric-Emile Blancpain, along with his trusted co-manager Betty Fiechter, joined forces with the British watchmaker, John Harwood. Together, they pioneered the creation of the first patented automatic wristwatch, whose design involved a thick winding rotor as well as a rotating bezel for setting the time, instead of the traditional crown that has been entirely removed from the watch. Their collaborative creation is a most beautiful item, and utterly remarkable for the fact that it so clearly set out the blueprint for every mechanical automatic wristwatch which followed. 

Following the unexpected death of Frédéric-Emile, the helm was taken by Betty Fiechter and Frédéric’s sales director, André Léal. The new owners were more than aware of the importance of the Blancpain family heritage, and expressed a deep commitment to maintaining the company’s ethos of perpetuating authentic and sophisticated watchmaking techniques combined with a constant quest for innovation, which are both driving forces of the Manufacture.

By 1953, this commitment came to powerful fruition with the launch of the Fifty Fathoms, the world’s first modern diving watch, followed in 1956 by the world’s smallest round watch, Blancpain’s Ladybird model, to name just two key achievements. Later decades saw no slowing in the House of Blancpain as far as innovation was concerned, and no shortage of other record-breaking and industry-defining moments.

The legendary Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronograph. Credit: ©Blancpain

The Blancpain philosophy for paying tribute to the past while celebrating the future of their craft can be seen in a renowned high point of the company’s recent history. The revival of the one-minute flying carrousel came about in 2008, and immediately sent ripples of wonder through the industry and the hearts of collectors alike. Abandoned by even the most ambitious of watchmakers over a century ago as a result of its unrivalled complexity, Blancpain’s master horologists brought back this rare and unique complication, designed to counteract the effect of the natural gravitation of the earth. 

Handcrafted Innovation, from the Ocean to the Moon Phases

Blancpain, perhaps more so than any other fine watchmaker, is known for balancing the most exquisite and beautiful designs with the most complex and visionary innovations. Few timepieces in their extensive history exemplify this quite as splendidly as the Fifty Fathoms diving watch; a timepiece which pushed further the limits of the exploration of new realms in the underwater world, and which was championed and worn by those—professional divers, scientific explorers, underwater photographers, as well as several military combat swimmers corps around the world—who shared the brand’s passion for the exploration and protection of the oceans.

The Fifty Fathoms timepiece sprung from the depths of the imagination of Jean-Jacques Fiechter, Head of Blancpain from 1950 to 1980. He was a man of twin passions; of fine watchmaking, and of uncovering the hidden wonders of the sea. 

From the very beginning, the Fifty Fathoms model was designed with professional usage in mind: an unidirectional rotating bezel with clear time markings, a dark dial with contrasting white luminescent indexes and hands for a better legibility, a double sealed crown system and special sealing system for the caseback to enhance water resistance, an automatic winding movement as well as an antimagnetic protection for the movement. Result of a collaboration with the two founders of the French Navy’s combat swimmers corps—Captain Robert “Bob” Maloubier and Lieutenant Claude Riffaud—the Fifty Fathoms model was adopted by the French and US navies, and thanks to ongoing collaborations with world-class divers, later models were made to withstand depths of up to a thousand meters. 

Blancpain has mastered the art of watchmaking since the beginning of the 18th Century. Credit: ©Blancpain

Another significant jewel in the house’s crown came about some forty years after the launch of the original Fifty Fathoms. Demonstrating that honouring the past by no means dilutes a passion for innovation, the year 1991 saw Blancpain release the most complex automatic wristwatch ever made at this time: the “1735” Grande Complication. The list of elaborate and deeply impressive features on this timepiece is a lengthy one, and it includes a one-minute tourbillon regulator, perpetual calendars with a stunning moon phase indication, a chiming minute repeater, a flyback chronograph, and much more besides. Its accuracy, scope of vision, and the sheer attention to detail demonstrates an almost miraculous realization of design and technical skill, especially when one considers that these timepieces are made entirely by hand, by a single craftsman over the course of a year.

Robert Burns wrote in Tam o’Shanter that “No man can tether time or tide”. True as this may be, Blancpain and their innovative watches have shown that with artistry, craftsmanship, and a dedication to precision, it is possible to inch ever closer to what at first appears to be an unreachable goal. Tradition and innovation, far from being opposites, in fact ebb and flow as the tides beneath the moon, coming together to give rise to exemplary and pioneering creations, like luminescent pearls from the depths below. 

The beauty, prestige, and quality of Blancpain’s timepieces have seen the company survive the centuries. It is by placing innovation and savoir-faire at the core of their craftsmanship, and by preserving tradition while envisioning bold futures, however, that makes their watches truly timeless.

The one-minute flying carrousel: a unique technology brought back to life by Blancpain in 2008. Credit: ©Blancpain

 

Blancpain, High-Watchmaking, Innovation, Haute

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THE ORIGIN OF HAUTE-REJUVENATION

The fusion of savoir-faire values with exceptional skincare benefits defines the very essence of haute-rejuvenation.
Apr 19, 2021

The world of fashion is a complex, cyclical, and ever-evolving one, a patchwork of influences, iconic figures, changing tastes and trends. However, unpick the historical thread of haute-couture and follow it back through the decades, it would eventually lead to a singular, forward-thinking figure: one whose bold ideas and unique vision laid the groundwork for the world of fashion as we know it today.

Charles Frederick Worth is widely referred to as the father of haute-couture and the founding figure of fashion as an industry and artform. Through his creations, his concepts, and his entirely new ways of approaching dressmaking, Charles Frederick Worth was able to define the image of his own era and provide inspiration for a multitude of designers that followed. Taking inspiration from the glories of times passed, while fixing his sights firmly on the future of his industry, Worth crystallised the flamboyance and beauty of the present. In doing so, he created ripples which are still felt today in the world of haute couture, which will continue to influence and inform our concept of luxury as the future unfolds.

From Humble Roots to Haute-Couture

Born in 1825 into an impoverished family in Lincolnshire, England, Charles Frederick Worth’s entry into the world of fashion was established at a young age. He spent much of his youth working as an apprentice at two different textile merchants in London. 

During his time away from the workshop, he would gaze for hours at the wonders of the National Gallery, fixated by the beauty of the dresses captured in oil paintings of historic queens and aristocratic ladies. It was in those echoing halls that Worth’s unrivalled sense of style and artistry first began to take shape, and from the billowing gowns, exquisite trimmings, and masterful artistry of previous eras, he started forming an eye for detail that would define his own future, and which would play a key role in shaping the world of fashion as we know it. 

Portrait of Charles Frederick Worth by Nadar Félix. Credit ©Ministère de la Culture -Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Félix Nadar.

Worth’s insatiable appetite for new ideas was forged in the heat of an art scene rediscovering the purity of a past, one which was free from the increasing mechanisation of England’s industrial revolution. Medieval masquerades were all the rage in London’s high society, and Romanticism and Neoclassicism were en vogue during the designer’s formative years. Worth’s path, which would combine the brilliance of regal history with the ever more flamboyant demands of high society, was being paved ahead of him. It was a path that would see his work raise fashion to the status of an unquestioned art form, and naturally, it led from London towards the glittering streets of Imperial Paris. 

Upon arriving in Paris at age twenty, Worth quickly found work with Gagelin, a major textiles company which refined and furthered what he had learned during his apprenticeship. Ever the ambitious social climber, Gagelin allowed the young artisan to open a dressmaking department as an extension of their business. It was not long before his eye-catching, distinctive work became the talk of the town; so much so that his trailblazing gowns and creations were featured in the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, and the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1855. This rapid ascendency allowed the young Worth to make a name for himself in Paris’ most fashionable circles, yet his star was still to rise considerably further.

Capturing the Essence of the Bespoke

Paris in the 1850s was a city in the midst of an entirely new cultural dynamism, led by the restoration of the royal house, and with Napoleon III crowning the city as a show home for new European ideas and fashions. When Napoleon wed Empress Eugenie, her exquisite fashion sense set the template for the women of high society in Paris to follow. The demand for luxury goods, especially luxurious items of dress, soared to new, dizzying heights.

In 1858, Worth was able to open his own store to showcase his creations and his new approaches to high fashion, and once Empress Eugenie began regularly stepping through his doors on rue de la Paix and commissioning works from Worth, his reputation exploded. Such patronage, such runaway popularity, and such a privileged position allowed him the full freedom to follow his instincts and passions, and realise what he once dreamed of whilst sitting on the viewing benches at the National Gallery. 

Portrait of Empress Eugénie, wearing a Worth dress, by Jean Marius Fouque, after Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Credit ©RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Michel Urtado.

Charismatic to the core, Empress Eugenie and her court were deeply charmed by the Englishman, and they were keen to show off the talents of their new favourite dressmaker at various state functions. Society balls at court, the intimate receptions at the Tuileries, and events like horse races in Longchamp became the 19th century equivalent of today’s fashion shows. The Parisian ladies of high society would display their latest items of haute-couture, which would be admired by figures from throughout the Second Empire and the wider world. 

While Worth’s eccentric, flamboyant and heavily elaborate designs borrowed extensively from a quasi-imagined past, his reputation and the flurry of excitement surrounding him was founded on entirely new practices which had simply never been seen before. He was, on the one hand, committed to meeting the ever-more luxurious demands of his clientele. On the other, he broke new ground by dictating the terms on which his dresses were designed, fitted and created. Prior to Worth’s arrival as a fashion designer par excellence, ladies would have selected  fabrics themselves, and their clothes would have been made from pre-existing templates. Worth’s vision, however, was based upon the uniqueness of each silhouette and fit, and from reimagining design features from prior centuries, acting as flourishes for thoroughly modern designs. In such practices, his clothing would epitomise the essence of the bespoke. Through his singularity of artistic expression, and his unshakeable belief in his talents, ideas, and creative drive, the notion of haute-couture was born.

Inventiveness to Echo Through the Ages

True artistry in any discipline rarely comes about as a result of following the crowd, and Worth was a man destined to lead with his unending roster of industry-defining ideas. Forever working by his own rules, The House of Worth was the first of its kind in many ways. His pioneering showrooms used live models rather than mannequins to display his dresses, which then would be customised and fitted to the client’s unique body shape or personal style. Furthermore, nobody prior to Worth had entertained the notion of the seasonal collection, nor had they explored bringing their designs and ideas to a truly international market. Worth was keen, from as early as 1855, to export his most original models to London and elsewhere in Europe, and by the 1860s, Worth creations were being purchased from the most luxurious department stores of New York, and beyond.

Originality, boldness and inventiveness were the core principles to which Charles Worth was committed. It is often claimed his designs were the first to ever be recognisably masterpieces of their creator. It is not easy to imagine just how groundbreaking that must have been; for the very first time, the craft of dressmaking and fashion had been elevated to the status of a high art, driven by innovation, inspiration, and with the vision of the artist taking precedence over the whims or wishes of the client. The essence of putting an individual stamp onto his work was not merely metaphorical, either, as Worth was also the first to add a signed label to this clothing. While the labels were originally printed onto the interior of the waistband, his name was so renowned that the ladies wearing his clothes would reverse the waistband, in order to display the label as a key feature of their bespoke dresses. The designer label, in the most literal sense, was thus brought into being.

Etiquette : Worth, 7, rue de la Paix, Paris Vers 1875. Localisation : Etats-Unis, Philadelphie (Pa.), Philadelphia Museum of Art. Credit ©The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image Philadelphia Museum of Art

The heady, extravagant, and opulent years of the Second Empire were, of course, not to last, and Worth lived long enough to see its collapse and the disappearance of the Parisian royal court. However, due to the new paradigms in fashion dreamt up by Charles Worth, the days of traditional dressmaking had by this time disappeared forever. As with the dawn of every great artistic movement, the world of fashion had been utterly redrawn, and the demand for bespoke items, conjured from the hands of singular artists, would never waver thereafter. Haute-couture had well and truly arrived, and in the creation of this artform, Charles Worth tore up the rulebook, and wrote one anew on pages of velvet, lace, and silk.

Haute-couture, haute-horlogerie, haute-joaillerie – those métiers that elevate craftsmanship to a high art – exist in a world apart, one which revolves around the stellar constellation of daring creativity, masterful savoir-faire, the most exquisite materials and an exclusive encounter with the extraordinary. 

In the creation of its skincare, La Prairie applies the same principles as those of maisons, from the painstaking selection of its raw, precious ingredients to the expert formulation of its products and the sublime design of its vessels. Perhaps the La Prairie collection most exemplary of these values of artisanry, the Platinum Rare Collection offers a splendid experience synonymous with pleasure, with a dream spun out of desire – just like the most decadent creations of a true luxury house. 

The Platinum Rare Collection
The Platinum Rare Collection

The fusion of luxury savoir-faire values with exceptional skincare benefits defines the very essence of haute-rejuvenation – La Prairie’s high art of reigniting a youthful appearance. Through this philosophy, the Platinum Rare Collection redefines rejuvenation as we know it. Haute-rejuvenation not only embodies the traditions of savoir-faire unique to La Prairie – audacious innovation, bespoke craftsmanship, the use of the most precious, rare ingredients and a refined, enchanting experience – it propels them to the next level.

The Platinum Rare haute-rejuvenation experience starts with the latest innovation to come from the Swiss laboratories of La Prairie: Platinum Rare Celluar Life-Lotion. A new beginning for your skin, it offers an unparalleled formulation drawn from the source of life. Inspired by the eternal beauty and strength of platinum, it is where haute-rejuvenation begins.

Platinum Rare Cellular-Life Lotion

“THE ONLY METAL FIT FOR KINGS”

Louis XVI of France declared that platinum, with its subtle sheen and sophisticated colour, was to be the only metal used at Versailles to decorate the tables and coiffeuses of the court. Ever since, platinum, brilliant and refined, has been the ultimate emblem of exclusivity. It is this very exclusivity – this rarity – that has made of it the chosen symbol to convey the pinnacle of excellence. It is the ultimate choice to express taste, elegance and grace.

The scientists at La Prairie, however, have discovered that its beauty goes beyond its inspiring appearance. A powerful enhancer of rejuvenating peptides, it rests at the heart of every Platinum Rare product, selected like a raw gem to be transformed in the hands of the expert artisan. 

 

THE ORIGIN OF REJUVENATION LIES WITHIN

Like the other products of the collection, Platinum Rare Cellular Life-Lotion is infused with the eternity of platinum. The result of years of research – the time required to create a true piece of haute-artisanry – it offers the essential first step in the Platinum Rare haute-rejuvenation skincare ritual. Platinum Rare Cellular Life-Lotion is a complete essence-in-lotion that helps to boost the skin’s rejuvenated appearance by supporting key cellular detoxification processes – for skin that is detoxified, renewed, reset: optimally prepared to benefit from the rejuvenating treatments that follow. 


EXQUISITE DESIGN

Like all the products in the Platinum Rare Collection, the design of the Cellular Life-Lotion decanter conveys a fastidious attention to detail, echoing the values of haute-artisanry. Conceived in deep amethyst tones, each line of the tall, sleek vessel angles into another. Every surface, every facet of the cap is hewn to catch the light in an unexpected and surprising way, like an expertly cut gem. Sculpted with careful attention to symmetry, visual equilibrium and harmony, it reflects the haute-rejuvenation contained within.

Platinum Rare Cellular-Life Lotion

 

Platinum, Rejuvenation, Skincare, Haute

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The Origin of Essence

Uncovering the mystery of ancient beauty water.
Apr 19, 2021

La Prairie Invites: On the occasion of the launch of La Prairie’s Platinum Rare Cellular Life-Lotion, beauty writer SunHee Grinnell explores the origin of essences in lotion.

Essence: It is a term we often hear in the field of beauty and skin care, where the word itself sounds as fluid as the substance it names. But what is an essence, exactly?

The word “essence” is defined as “the inherent nature of a thing or idea; being.” In philosophical terms, “essentia,” derived from Latin, is the property that makes an entity what it is. Applying that philosophy to skincare, essences are vital substances that capture the defining goodness of the ingredients they are derived from, and in turn, are used to help restore the skin to the full state of beauty it was meant to have. It is a key to replenishing the whole being, where its essence can be gauged in its original, unbroken form.

Essences have been central to notions of beauty and skincare for centuries in Asia. Intricate cleansing rituals involving “beauty waters” are recorded in the ancient Japanese beauty guide known as Miyako Fuzoku Kewaiden. This book, dating back to 1813, notes that geishas would apply oshiroi (white powder), then polish the skin with a towel, then re-apply and polish, many times over, in order to achieve a milky-white skin tone, said to be as radiant and translucent as porcelain. Using an essence played a vital role in this daily ritual.

Steeped in antiquity, essence - whether given exalted names like “miracle water” or referred to with the simple, modest term “lotion”- comes in various forms around the world. In texture, some are thickened fluids, while others have a consistency as clear as water. In the Far East, traditional formulations included ingredients sourced from tea leaves, red algae, and fermented rice. Modern-day science has verified the efficacy of these elements, vindicating centuries of practice, which are still in use today but refined with more sophisticated technology. Still, the purpose of essences remains the same: to bring about the correct pH to balance the skin, and when applied prior to serums, elixirs, and creams, to act as a channel that magnifies their beneficial effects.

If essences initially took some time to migrate from East to West, one reason may be that traditional Asian skincare regimens often required multiple steps within the ritual, including the application of essence, to reach complete beautification, while Western society was reluctant to do away with a more straightforward routine involving only soap, water, and cream. However, the gradual rise in the interest of Asian skincare reached a watershed moment in 2011, with an upsurge of enthusiasm for Korean beauty practices, including the 10-step ritual of proper skin cleansing and care. Whether one chooses a full 10-step regimen or a simpler variation of a multi-step beauty ritual, there can still be a certain amount of confusion surrounding the purpose and usage of an essence. Is essence the same as a toner, some people ask? When does one use an essence? Where is its optimal place among the steps of cleansing and care?

In clarification, a toner serves as a second stage of cleansing, removing the day’s pollutants and residues from the cleansing agents themselves, while also refreshing and prepping the skin for the next step — the essence. A facial essence, usually a bit more emollient than a toner, features active ingredients that penetrate deep into the skin, creating a pathway for the next step, which is usually serum or elixir. 

An essence serves as a skin balancer and primer. In some Asian cultures, the use of essence is an indispensable step in many women’s skincare routine because it soothes skin at the cellular level, accelerating a natural turnover that results in a smoother and a healthier complexion when used within a skincare regimen.

The traditional Asian 10-step beauty practice may involve the following: cleansing oil; cleansing cream or foam; gentle exfoliator; toner; sheet mask (often at night); essence, or softening lotion, as it’s sometimes it’s called; serum; moisturizer; eye and neck cream; and broad-spectrum sun protection, often SPF 50, applied in the morning.

In recognizing the value of essence as a critical step in a complete skincare routine, La Prairie unveils a new arrival in their Platinum Rare collection, called Life-Lotion, an essence-in-lotion. Developed as a skin-prepping treatment, Platinum Rare Cellular Life-Lotion should be applied before a serum, as noted above.

According to Dr Daniel Stangl, the director of innovation at La Prairie, "For Platinum Rare Cellular Life-Lotion, in addition to La Prairie’s Exclusive Cellular Complex, our Swiss scientists have combined the Platinum Peptide with powerful detoxifying ingredients to address the full spectrum of detoxification for the first time in skincare history. As detoxification is an important first step to skin renewal, La Prairie has created an essence-in-lotion that prepares the skin for a journey to haute-rejuvenation."

In order to achieve the full benefits of the Platinum Rare collection, the following method is recommended: after cleansing and toning, the Platinum Rare Cellular Life-Lotion, should be applied — morning and night — followed by Platinum Rare Cellular Serum by day and Platinum Rare Cellular Night Elixir in the evening. At either time of day, the layering treatments should accompany Platinum Rare Cellular Cream. One simple rule to keep in mind for any multi-step skincare regimen: the order of application should always progress from the lightest texture to the richest.

Throughout time, the ancient skincare ritual grounded in elaborate beauty ceremonies originating from the East has been proven effective. Now, thanks to advanced biotechnology and innovative ingredients, everyone can benefit from this time-tested, multi-step custom, but in a simpler and faster form that is in keeping with a modern lifestyle.

Platinum, Essence, Life-Lotion

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Capturing Light in Art

Depicting Light, from the Ethereal to the Avant-Garde.
Apr 19, 2021

The luminous haloes of Byzantine icons. The warm glow radiating from the skin of Renaissance masters. The Impressionists’ nebulous sunsets. Light, and all that it symbolises, can be found everywhere in the canon of art history, and artists have illuminated their works through a wide variety of methods ever since. Gold leaf gave way to meticulously detailed oils, which in turn led to broad brushstrokes, then to paint slapped onto the canvas with palette knives. The neon tubes, cathode rays, and uplit, nebulous clouds of light we see in 20th and 21st-century art installations may be imbued with the shock of the new, and yet they are at once the evolution of something truly ancient.

Expressing both the light without and the light within have been parts of the modus operandi of artists since time immemorial. After all, enlightenment is both literal and metaphorical, and art is our greatest tool with which to cast away the shadows of mediocrity. Today, galleries act as beacons, calling us through the fog of reality and nurturing us by beams of light, bestowed by those who create. 


The Light Within: Painting Holy Fire

In the centuries prior to the advent of electric light, the world was a shadowy place, and the studios of artists would have been illuminated by flickering candlelight and glowing embers. Light in art during the early and late Renaissance — and indeed, prior to this in early Christian art) — was rarely, if ever, used in a naturalistic fashion. Rather, it was used symbolically; the light depicted was invariably the light of God, either radiating from the souls of saints and deities or burning as a holy fire beneath the skin of men. 

This can be seen perhaps most enduringly in the paintings of Rembrandt. The subjects of this extraordinary portraitist, which frequently include peasants and workers, as well as the artist himself, glow with a golden light which comes from within. This was not just a stylistic flourish of the Dutch master, it was how he claimed to see humanity. The same can be said for Caravaggio, whose masterpieces show shadows broken with shards of Holy fire. For these exemplary painters and their contemporaries, paint was a medium which allowed the metaphysical into our lives. In an age of candlelight, the effect was doubtlessly awe-inspiring. 

Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Caravaggio. Madrid, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza. ©2019. Photo Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza/Scala, Florence.

Parting Clouds and Painting Sunlight

Once the painters of light stepped out of the studios and into the open air, however, it became clear that the natural (and importantly, the contemporary) world, when captured on canvas, was every bit as magnificently lit as the biblical subjects of Renaissance Italy and honourable peasantry of the Dutch masters. Capturing the light of the world on canvas became a humanist endeavour, a chance for escapism from newly industrialised cities, and a secular expression of liberation, and a romanticism of natural forces.

By painting almost nothing but light and air, J.M.W. Turner’s skyscapes forged scandal from their breathtaking emptiness and heart-stopping beauty. The Impressionists captured light as fleeting moments, and yet their works were no less beautiful for their evanescence. Rather than lighting their subjects with golden paint, such artists used light as their subject. In doing so, they explored new ways of using paint to explore the experience of sunlight, the sensation of sunrise, the daily spectacle of the multi-hued dusk and dawn.

Landscape with River and Bay in the Background by J. M. W. Turner. Paris, Louvre. © 2019. Photo Scala, Florence.

The Gallery as Lightbox

The floodgates of light art were well and truly broken in 1930 when the Hungarian artist Maholy-Nagy debuted his groundbreaking installation ‘Light Prop for an Electric Stage’. Created to showcase the movement of light itself, it stunned gallery-goers upon its release and sparked furious debate regarding the direction European art was heading. That direction was, of course, further and further into the illumination of a deeply literal kind. Illumination in art had become less about golden pigments, and more about exploring the potential of light, colour, and form, and reducing these components to the barest and most spectacular essentials.

During the 1960’s heyday of minimalism and light art, critics and art commentators would regularly seek deeper meanings in light art installations. The glow emitted from such works was often proclaimed to forge a clean and convenient link between the avant-garde of the 20th century, and the light of God depicted in the aforementioned works of the Renaissance. The artists in receipt of such comparisons, namely Dan Flavin and James Turrell, would go to great lengths to refute them. Indeed, light artists at the time began going to great lengths to create more transparency in their installations, being sure to leave cables and power outlets visible to the gallery attendees. In doing so, light art entered a newer, altogether more humanistic and conceptual phase. This ongoing approach can be seen with stunning effect in François Morellet’s piece, ‘Sens dessus dessous no2‘, which takes the concept of ‘the light without and within’ in a strikingly literal sense. 

Sens dessus dessous n°2 by François Morellet. Photo ©Adagp, Paris, 2019 - Cliché : Adagp images.

In the later 20th century, and at the turn of the millennium, light art blended with both minimalism and psychedelia, producing prismic fantasies and the sci-fi visions of emerging talents such as Chul-Hyun Ahn. Using light and colour to strike the viewer with haunting matrices and enigmatic illusions, the groundwork laid by mid-century minimalist pioneers is given a new lease of life and new relevance in today’s gallery spaces. Such spaces remain beacons amid the monotony, ever-eager for immersive works which trick the eyes and delight the senses. The appetite for the ephemeral, and for the flickering glow of imaginary cities brought safely indoors, has never been stronger. 

Vertical Lines #4, 2012, Edition of 3 plywood, fluorescent lights and mirrors, by Chul-Hyun Ahn. Photo courtesy of C. Grimaldis Gallery.

Light Art: Humanising the Ethereal

The appeal and demand for light art is, fittingly, a multi-faceted one, and one which reflects an enduring fascination with the depiction and capturing of light. Contemporary light art revels in the fact that its creation is not divinely inspired, but is instead a wholly human endeavour; the artist’s ability to fill vast spaces with wonder is a testament to the ingenuity and imagination of man. 

Light artists drive home a further message with their creations. The feeling of awe we experience, whether standing before the golden warmth casting hope through Caravaggio’s darkest canvases or a futurist light installation, remains entirely the same. Light draws us out from the darkness. It guides us, comforts us, bedazzles our senses. It is as universal and vital as it is unknowable. Such works allow us the time and space in which to gaze into the light, before coming away enriched, bettered, and enlightened. Our inner light, the sun itself; such things are unreachable. Captured in oils and neon, however, they become a part of our world.

Art, Light, Installation, Illumination

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