Whether fabric, stone or glass, it’s all the same to Carlo Brandelli — just material to be sculpted. He started out with fabrics, establishing a reputation as a menswear designer in the 1990s by bringing a modern, minimalist esthetic to traditional Savile Row tailoring. 'I don't design clothes,' he says, 'I do more sculptural things that people happen to wear.' Moving seamlessly from fashion to art, he recently completed a new selection of Murano glass sculptures, showing at the RCM Gallery in Paris until 6 February.
Raised in a family of Italian artisans in England, Brandelli has travelled to Murano for years, intrigued by the material that defines this place. At one point he noticed blocks of abandoned glass in a warehouse, discarded leftovers from glass that had been pulled to make other objects.
Whereas industrial crystal glass is clear, this had turned a pale shade of aquamarine after decades of exposure to sea air and light, a rare colour unobtainable any other way. He says, 'To those artisans the blocks had no value, but to me they had a lot of value, because they’d taken 60, 70, 80 years to form.'
When Brandelli asked the glassworkers if the blocks could be sculpted cold, like marble or granite, they laughed and said it would crack. Undeterred, Brandelli asked to see the machinery they used. He was confident that by using the cutters and grinders very slowly, they could manage.
Brandelli stayed with the artisans from start to finish, guiding their hands through six different processes and 18 months of work. As they gained confidence, he asked them to carve a hole in each sculpture, to reflect the light in a more complex way. They employed a variety of finishing techniques: polishing, sanding, oil.
Though seven of every eight attempts broke and ended up in the trash, he finally had a collection of ten sculptures. Whether sensuously round or long and pointed, each one is abstract and otherworldly, like something from the sea itself, from the waves or surf. The pieces change endlessly as the light hits them in different ways.
According to Brandelli, legend has it that centuries ago, when a Murano glassworker revealed their secret techniques, the other craftsmen would insert a glass shard into his wrist, and it would travel to his heart and kill him.
'They were so protective over the secrets,' he says. 'But it’s like everything, like Savile Row. Someone has to invent the technique in order for it to become a part of your heritage. Then everyone basks in its glory. But if nobody tries anything new, then nothing else will ever happen.'