Women have inspired fashion designers since forever. Still, it’s not very often that the muse is a nonagenarian. Celebrated Romanian conceptual artist Geta Brătescu (1926 – 2018) and her work are the source of inspiration for Swiss fashion house Akris and the spring 2019 ready-to-wear collection, presented at Paris Fashion Week last September.
Fashion and art, in many of its forms, seem to have perfect chemistry, whether we talk about patterns, cuts or colours. From Mondrian’s geometry or Dali’s melting clocks to Warhol’s soup cans and—as weird as it may sound—John Chamberlain’s sculptures from old automobile pieces, it’s very likely that all major artists have inspired couture design at some point. Moreover, Romania’s own sculptor Constantin Brancusi was the inspiration for many a fashion designer, most recently—and famously—for Valentino’s 2014 Sala Bianca 945 collection.
Akris’ Spring 2019 collection, an homage to Geta Brătescu
Albert Kriemler, the designer behind Swiss label Akris, a connoisseur and an avid art collector, is known for his frequent collaborations with artists. He first noticed Geta Brătescu’s work at Documenta art fair in Athens, in 2017. He was so captivated by her use of colour, her collages and the sense of playfulness exuded by her work, that he decided to approach her for a collaboration for Akris’ spring-summer collection 2019. In February this year, he visited Brătescu’s studio in Bucharest, and a couple of months later he returned with the first sketches. Unfortunately, Geta never got to see the collection, she passed away a few weeks before the show in Paris, at 92, this collaboration probably representing one of her last projects.
For the runway, Kriemler used the giant iconic magnets featured in Brătescu’s photo montage Magneții în oraș (Magnets in the City), 1974. The same montage—with a gloomy Bucharest in the background—served as pattern for the pleated dresses and other separates. The horseshoe magnets also showed up in the make-up, as well as necklaces. Talking about magnets as a metaphor for relationships, Kriemler said:
Geta felt magnets are a great expression of human relationships. She believed that people can be very attracted by their opposite; while also being repelled by people who seem very similar to them.
More vibrant and playful, and matching Geta Brătescu’s personality, were the yellow poncho, inspired by a collage self-portrait, the lilac trench inspired by The Predatory Fish, 2011, the Game of Forms colourful patterns or the ever familiar signature lines. A bold choice for Kreimler, who is usually known for his strong, rigid lines. He is, after all, H.S.H. Princess Charlene of Monaco’s designer of choice.
But who was Geta Brătescu?
Born in 1926, Geta Brătescu studied fine arts and literature in the late 40s in Bucharest, until the Communist party interventions in the university administration had her expelled on ‘unhealthy origin’ grounds, since her family owned property. However, she worked for the Artists Union, travelling to Hungary and the Soviet Union, documenting work in factories and printing houses. Alongside, she worked on various graphic design projects, as well consolidating her own work at her home-based studio.
Brătescu was eventually able to return to university and finish her studies in the late 60s. Her large body of work is very diverse, and encompasses drawing, collage, engravings, textiles, photography, experimental film, and performance. In many of her works, regardless of the medium, the line— which renders both the individualisation of people and the uniqueness of things—plays a key-role. “To me, drawing with a pure line is essential”, she said in an interview. In a short film from 2014 titled Linia (The Line), artist Ștefan Sava documents Geta at work, playing (“I love to play” she mentioned in another interview) with her favourite toy, the line.
Similarly, fundamental for Brătescu’s entire work is the studio. Living and creating under an oppressive regime, the studio was not only regarded as a space of solace and freedom, but is frequently featured as a character in her artwork. Take, for example the photographic series Către alb (Towards White) from 1975, in which she gradually covers the studio and herself in white paper, ending becoming one with it, or the highly regarded experimental short film Atelierul (The Studio), 1977. Also, being an accomplished writer—mainly studio notes, and reflections about art and travel—some of her books, like Atelier Vagabond (Vagabond Studio) or Atelier Continuu (Continuous Studio) explore the same theme.
It was relatively late in her life that Geta Brătescu gained international notoriety—or national, for that matter, she was rather unknown in her own country—thanks to her artwork being included in major art events like Istanbul Biennale, Paris Triennale, Documenta in Athens and Kassel, exhibitions in London, NY, Hamburg or Bucharest, all of which culminated with her presence at the Venice Biennale in 2017, when the artist was 91, which definitely represented a much-needed recognition of her work.
Featured image: akris.com, used with permission