When guests arrived at the Akris S/S18 show in the basement of the Palais de Tokyo on Sunday, they didn’t expect to see an installation of colourful, life-size wooden toys with naïf faces staring back at them. The space resembled a Gulliver-esque children’s playroom in the land of Brobdingnag – except the crèche had been invaded by the works of the New York-born, Florence-raised artist Alexander Girard.
From the Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera to the landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, Akris creative director Albert Kriemler often suffuses his collections with design references and collaborations. Indeed, Girard, who excelled at architecture as well as interior, furniture and textile design, inspired not just the Swiss fashion house’s recent runway set, but the whole collection.
‘Last year, I saw the exhibition “Alexander Girard: a Designer’s Universe” at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein,’ explained Kriemler backstage, adding that he was instantly obsessed with his work. ‘I ended up going three more times and found myself fascinated by the way Girard worked with colours and by the incredible scope of his work. That’s how I ended up calling my friend Rolf Fehlbaum, the chairman emeritus of Vitra, and we started thinking about a collaboration.’
The show opened with a sleek sleeveless coat printed with the same colourful characters that were in its background, who also made their way into chiffon dresses, midi skirts and trouser suits (what a way to twist a workwear staple). Elsewhere, more minimalist strapless and V-neck mini dresses, and tailored trousers in black and navy satin duchesse, featured embellished 3D details, resembling graphic blooms. These were inspired by a plywood sculpture by Girard, made from layers of undulating carvings.
But Kriemler’s love affair with Girard’s work is far from just a one-season fling. ‘Alas, I have no childhood memories of Girard,’ he says humorously when asked if there was a sense of nostalgia linked to the sense of cheerfulness and naïveté omnipresent in the artist’s work – most notably seen in a black chiffon dress, featuring childlike drawings of faces drawn in white, like chalk on a blackboard.
Kriemler has known and loved his work for more than 20 years. ‘I have even met Girard’s family and dined in The Compound in Santa Fe – the last of the wonderful restaurants Girard created where you can still book a table. Girard spent a lot of time in Santa Fe, and being able to experience the light of that setting at an altitude of 2,000m was so new to me, and made me understand his sense of colour’.
This experience also helped shape a collection in which every single colour was taken from Girard’s creative canon. ‘Ultimately, what I wanted was to show how warm and joyful his expression of elegance is,’ Kriemler explains. ‘How Girard’s work captured the spirit of the moment and is timeless because he always had in mind how much we as human beings need beauty and joy.’ Mission accomplished.