Catwalk carpet: Alexandra Kehayoglou weaves together art and fashion for Dries Van Noten’s S/S 2015 showscape
The most talked about catwalk accoutrement for the S/S 2015 womenswear season was a carpet. Which, given the escalating scale, ambition, theatricality and sometimes lunatic excess of the contemporary catwalk show is nothing short of remarkable. But then it was a remarkable carpet, a magical, mossy landscape rendered in wooly clumps for Dries Van Noten.
The carpet was the work of Buenos Aires-based artist Alexandra Kehayoglou whose distinctive designs - with high, hairy and uneven pile, most often imitating nature - blur the lines between art and functional object. It is ’art to be used,’ Kehayoglou says.
Kehayoglou is part of an Argentinian carpet making dynasty. Her grandmother, Elpinka, was a Greek immigrant who arrived in the country in the 1920s with a new husband, an unassembled loom and a unique talent for hand weaving carpets. The company she founded, El Espartano, is now a giant of industrial carpet making in Argentina.
Kehayoglou’s large and untidy workshop, which she shares with her five weavers, is tucked away at the back of one of El Espartano’s factories in the suburbs of the Argentine capital.
Now 33, Kehayoglou initially resisted joining the family operation. She studied painting and photography at the then newly established National University of the Arts. After graduating, she started to make miniature rooms in boxes, complete with mini-furniture pieces. The twist was that these rooms were set in nature, in the Pampas or the beach. She had a number of gallery shows but something about the family concern pulled her back. She picked up the pile driving, hand tufting pistol and starting to create, learning the craft as she went along. Kehayoglou never met her grandmother but insists that something was passed along in the DNA.
Kehayoglou’s carpets often climb the walls, becoming tapestries. The land becomes and sky. She works vertically, punching her grasses and mosses, turf and earth - made from 100 natural wool - into the base. It is a kind of performance art in itself. She then carefully cuts, prunes and shapes.
A carpet factory on the outskirts of Buenos Aries is a long way out of the European fashion and art loops. But Kehayoglou has made expert use of social media, particularly Instagram (she has almost 25,000 followers). Her reputation spread.
’A month before the fashion show, Dries Van Noten contacted me through Villa Eugenie, their production company, who had seen my work online,’ she says. ’Van Noten commissioned a 144 square metre carpet based on the same nature concepts that I work on: an abstraction of landscapes from my country, the territories that I inhabit and I wish to save. In this piece, as in the rest of my production, I have established a link between the tradition of carpet weaving in my family and my interest and consciousness about the environment - full of endangered species, and our cultural heritage.’
After her initial surprise at the request, and a thorough Googling of Van Noten, she set to work. As the deadline approached, she was punching out her pastoral fantasy day and night and had recruited a dozen friends to help her carefully craft her tufted turf.
The carpet complete, she flew to Paris to install it on the runway and then watched the show from backstage. Van Noten said the setting for the show had been inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the models weaved their way through Kehayoglou’s glade under dappled light and to the sound of birdsong and crickets. After the show, the models, chanelling Édouard Manet, artfully lounged amongst the pile.
’It was beautiful to see the natural landscape that it created,’ Kehayoglou says, ’and the way it complemented this vast universe of patterns, colours and juxtapositions of textures that Van Noten creates’.
Van Noten says he will now use the carpet for special events and Kehayoglou has a full order book of private commissions. Kehayoglou and her team have also been working with Studio Olafur Eliasson on a carpet for an ’experimental reading place/installation’ to open at the Berlin University of the Arts in 2015.