Public courtyards are a place of perpetual motion, with pedestrian traffic carving invisible arcs between points of interest. But they can also provide timely rest, as the designer illustrates. Sabine MarcelisThe new permanent installation in St. Giles Square in London. The low courses have all the solidity of the surrounding buildings; each chair is composed of two rectilinear slabs of contrasting stone (travertine, granite, richly veined marble), stacked on top of each other. But a swivel feature mirrors the fluid dynamics of their frame, allowing the seated person to swivel in conversation or face the heat of the sun. The result is beautiful and simple, the luxury of a purist.
“I like to make singular and strong gestures: simplicity and efficiency in the use of materials, using a minimum of resources for maximum effect”, explains the New Zealander, speaking earlier this year in a sequel of the Hotel Dolder Grand in Zurich. A platinum blonde in her thirties, she is dressed in white, like a chef trying to preserve his palate from annoying flavors, or a painter working in an empty room. It’s an appropriate strategy for a designer whose series of resin pieces — polished (Candy) or opaque (Soap) — come in finely tuned shades like icy lavender, honey, and seafoam green. however, the color at the center of the conversation is elemental blue: La Prairie’s calling card, as seen in this fall’s new release, Skin Caviar Harmony.
Earlier this year, the Swiss beauty brand tapped Marcelis to help mentor five up-and-coming artists—Jasmine Deporta, Kristin Chan, Talia Golchin, Gloria Fan Duan, and Lauren Januhowski– through a project known as the Women Bauhaus Collective. As its name suggests, the seeds of inspiration came from the German art school that operated during the interwar period: a network of luminaries (including Mies van der Rohe, Josef and Anni Albers and Marcel Breuer) where the curriculum integrated traditional craftsmanship, aesthetic theory, and modernism. With a nod to this spirit, La Prairie commissioned the chosen five to create a new work exploring notions of harmony. The group visited the Bauhaus for a historical immersion, drawing on their own respective studies. A virtual exhibition – the technological leap of our generation – was the primary objective; Fan Duan, for her part, filtered Anni Albers’ knot paintings and East Asian textile tradition through the prism of 3D sculptural design. And for a practical corollary, Marcelis opened his Rotterdam studio, where the collective made small-scale pieces that were shown at Art Basel this year. “It was interesting to see how a work could evolve from physical to digital and physical again,” says Marcelis of the translation exercise. As for her contribution, the designer created high glass plinths in a twilight blue gradient, to highlight the sculptures. “I really support them!” adds Marcelis laughing.
To speak of beauty is often to speak in metaphor – and with La Prairie, whose projects in the art world include the restoration of paintings by Mondrian at the Fondation Beyeler and collaborations with Max Richter and Maotik, this is particularly true. The Women Bauhaus Collective is an interconnected means of support. New Skin Caviar Harmony L’Extrait is another, designed to firm and strengthen the skin’s underlying buttresses. He continues to investigate this luxury miracle food, which migrated from big hair cocktails to La Prairie skincare in 1987. “The whole world knew caviar was very nutritious,” says Dr Jacqueline Hill, director of strategic innovation and science, “so it made sense that it could be good when you apply topically.” The brand’s research confirmed this, paving the way for a line of collagen-boosting products. Now, with the translucent extract, an exclusive Caviar Infinite complex targets the ligaments of the skin, says Hill, who defines it in arboreal terms: “What we’ve seen is that certain ingredients act on the elements of the limbs and of the trunk; others on these twig-like elements. Where harmony comes into play is in the maintenance of facial proportions, as the Greeks and others have expounded. “As you age, the balance between renewal and destruction tends to get wobbly,” Hill says, rather happily. Skin Caviar Harmony sets out to raise the bar.
Marcelis sees a relationship with the simple mission of La Prairie. “My work is very much about materials science,” she says, “and I think they’re pushing the boundaries of their material in a different way. An example of Marcelis’ favorite “one-note” design is his polished resin Candy Cube, which Germany’s Vitra Design Museum acquired in 2021 in bubblegum pink. Shortly after, the director Mateo Kries came to her with a more substantial proposal: that she exploit the museum’s permanent collection of 7,000 objects for a one-year installation. Abandoning timeline and stylistic lineage, she focused on a simple organizational structure for “Color Rush!” (on view until May 14, 2023), using the palette as a guide.
“It’s about color, pure and simple,” says Marcelis, appreciating how the exhibition avoids the need for heavy explanation. “All other meaning of the objects is taken away from them, so you get these interesting new juxtapositions.” She emphasizes the widely varying tones in the green section – a reflection, she supposes, of the breadth of inspiration from nature. By contrast, the predominant shade of orange is highly energetic and saturated, from Verner Panton’s 1969 Living Tower (with two-story voids for lounging) to Virgil Abloh’s ceramic breeze block, created with Vitra in 2019. C It’s an orange that beats with life as much as it competes for attention.
Which object comes closest to a La Prairie blue? Marcelis suggests it could be Hauke Odendahl‘s Union Chair (2019), first made of 28 wooden slats painted to reflect the member states of the European Union. “It’s a pretty political chair,” she says, calling it “very honest with just screws”: the kind of piece that can be put together or, more accurately, taken apart with surprising ease. After the official UK release in January 2020, the chair, then featured at Vitra in a post-Berlin Wall design exhibition, lost a slat. Version 2.0 of Odendahl now includes 27 pieces to reflect a changed world. (Even La Prairie’s home country finds itself with a new positioning in 2022. Long known for its neutrality in global affairs, Switzerland changed course this spring, imposing sanctions on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.)