Fashioning Renée’s Journey: an Interview with Steven de Wilde

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“WHAT MORE IS THERE TO SAY, WEARING A 1959 CAPUCCI DRESS, SURROUNDED BY ONE OF HER FAVORITE FLOWERS, RENÉE WITH HER CHLOÉ SUNGLASSES IS IN SEVENTH HEAVEN…”

Let me tell you about a woman named Renée. She is a woman who travels the world wearing only the most fashion-forward of garments, a woman with impeccable taste and style, and a woman whose journey has one important objective: to collect as much money as possible to support young fashion talent. She is effortlessly stylish, endlessly enchanting… and entirely from the imagination of artist Steven De Wilde.

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Steven in front of his most recent piece from his latest “Renée’s Journey” project. Renée wears a couture mask by Viktor & Rolf.

Steven worked for over twenty years as a bridal wear designer before returning to his first love: drawing and painting. In rediscovering his passion, Steven conceived of the international art project “Renée’s Journey.” A glamorous “patron with a mission,” Renée is a vehicle through which Steven can pursue his passion for art and philanthropy. A percentage of the profits from each of his projects—which consists of twenty pieces of art per — goes to fund a young fashion designer.

You can follow along with Renée’s captivating journey on Steven’s Instagram account @stevendewildekovrigin and at www.reneesjourney.com.

In a long overdue Fashion History Talks, Steven reveals the origins of his project, his passion for his work and shares his thoughts on the art of dress.

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“SUCH A PRIVILEGE TO WEAR “LA PERSE”, A 1911 MASTERPIECE BY PAUL POIRET. THE FABRIC WAS DESIGNED BY RAOUL DUFY, RENÉE ENJOYS EVERY SECOND OF WEARING IT…”

Art of Dress: Tell us about yourself and what you do as it relates to the history of fashion and dress. Why is the study of fashion and dress history important to you?

Steven: When I was a child, drawing and painting was a way to amuse myself.
Also when it came to dress up or to decorate my room, I knew what I could put together to have my own personal style. After Saint-Lucas artschool (my best time ever in my young days) I joined the army which was nothing but a lost year for me. I did it before I joined the Royal Academy of Fashion in Antwerp so I could, once graduated, start my own business right away.
During my first year I understood that, running your own brand and making (in those days) 2 collections a year wasn’t what I was looking for. I knew I would end up doing something in fashion but at that time I didn’t have any clue of what it could be.

So the day after I finished that first year and left the academy, I started working in a fashion shop. Nothing special but more important, in my free time I could focus on practicing making clothes.

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Paul Poiret’s “La Perse” coat, 1911, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

One year later I started working for a shoeshop selling high end designer shoes and it was there that I decided to start my own little boutique of couture wedding dresses. Why wedding dresses? Well in that shoe shop clients often came to buy their wedding shoes but had many difficulties in finding the right dress. So after 2 months, it was November 1994, and before my colleagues from the academy even graduated, I opened my little boutique of couture wedding dresses which I continued doing for 20 years.
By the year of 2014, time had changed so much, the wedding dress business in general became more and more important and with that, more and more brands started to play on that same field. At that same moment, the love and missing of what used to be my childhood love, meaning drawing and painting, little by little made me dream of a new career, and that was to become a full-time painter.
It was immediately clear to me that I was not going to paint just “whatever” I liked.
No, I wanted to create something unique, something with a great story where the focus would not be on the artist and on top of that, some fund that should be connected to it which could support young designers financially.
To be honest, I didn’t take me a lot of time to come up with the story we know today as “Renée’s Journey.” I was dreaming about a lady who would be easely recognizable and with a name that everybody, in every country, with its own language would have no difficulties in pronouncing. By hearing people’s reaction, I immediately knew “Renée” (which comes from the French word “Renaître” like in “reborn” and also because of the male/female thing), was the perfect name for my muse. Searching for that “easely recognisable detail,” my idea to give her this haircut and color, made my story complete….
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“RENÉE AT VILLA EMPAIN WHERE SHE WAS INVITED FOR AN ART EVENT. FOR THIS SPECIAL OOCCASION, SHE’S DRESSED IN A JEAN PAUL GAULTIER HAUTE COUTURE GOWN FULL OF SEQUINS AND PAILLETTES…”

As we all know, a lot of bad things happen in our world, unfortunately. Hearing people see that they get a joyful moment, a smile on their face just by looking at my Renée paintings and on top of that, being able to support some young talent gives me a wonderful feeling, it’s like I’m putting some positive vibes into our world which is so nice.Being able to create my own fantasy world by painting all the beautiful and amazing creations our world has to offer, I can only say that my dream came true.

My dear husband Sasha Kovrigin who is my all time hero, daily pays a visit at my painting studio and with his critical eye, he supports and advices me in every single way. On top of that, he’s a fantastic graphic designer which is the perfect complement when it comes to design businesscards, invitations and so on…
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“RENÉE IN “LE CHOU NOIR” AN AMAZING 1967 CREATION BY CRISTÓBAL BALENCIAGA, THE FLOWERS FROM CASAMANCE SHE BORROWED FROM CLAIRE TONDELEIR, A WONDERFUL COMBINATION…”

Art of Dress: In your opinion, is fashion art? 

Steven: I would say that “in general”, fashion isn’t Art but for sure, some masterpieces of different designers in all kinds of periods are. When we say “Museum”, don’t we all immediately think of “Art”? If fashion has nothing to do with Art, why are there so many wonderful exhibitions worldwide in the most fantastic museums that attract thousands and thousands of people, causing them to enjoy and fantasize for a moment, how it could be to wear one of the exhibited masterpieces or to live for a moment back in the days they were created…
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“FOR RENÉE IT WAS A REAL HONOUR TO WEAR THIS AMAZING SCHIAPARELLI CAPE ON HER WAY TO A RED CARPET EVENT. THE CUTE “FIFTIES” HAT SHE FOUND ON THE INTERNET…”.

Art of Dress: Who is your favorite fashion designer? Past and Present?

Steven: Not an easy one. With this and as an example, I must think back to the moment I posted one of my first paintings where Renée, in her big polka dot coat, walks by a window in Pierre Cardin’s “Palais bulles” in Cannes. Somebody commented on my post and asked if Renée was wearing a “Marni” coat. When I replied that it was not a Marni but a Moschino coat, that person’s reaction was “ahhh to bad…”
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Renée’s hat featured above is in Steven’s personal collection.

I reacted by saying, although Moschino is far from my favorite brand, when a design is interesting and beautiful, well, then the design is interesting and beautiful. It’s easy to judge any design just by the name of the brand or its designer…That same person replied, “Steven, you’re absolutely right, It is a great coat!”.

Today I think there are so many great designers who create so many beautiful and inspiring pieces in every kind of way, that it makes it too difficult for me to just name “one.” For the past, for sure I would say Elsa Schiaparelli simply because of her strong, over the top, funny but most of all inspiring creations. If you look at how many designers have been inspired and influenced by her designs, that explains everything to me.
Art of Dress: If you could recommend one fashion or dress history related book to Art of Dress followers, what would it be?
Steven: Also on this one I’ll be very honest to  you. I don’t have any explanation for it but the best books for me are the ones with a lot of images, not the ones that need to be read.
Somehow I get so easely distracted, that it’s  hard for me to remember what I just read, it has always been like this. I see myself more as a constant observer of everything happening around me. It’s a constant urge to not miss a single thing that could, in some way, inspire me.
For me, the eyes are the most priceless treasures…
Art of Dress: If you could recommend one movie for the period costumes alone, what would it be?
 Steven: The Piano.
I think this movie is a pure masterpiece in every single way. It’s the combination of a strong story with strong images. The costumes, the beautiful nature, great music and acting performances, it needs a hell of an actress to say so much without even speaking one single word… Phenomenal!
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“RENÉE IN A FRIDA KAHLO MOOD, WEARING HER CHIFFON GUCCI DRESS. THE CHAIR SHE FOUND AT AN ANTIQUE SHOP, SHE GOT REFURBISHED BY A.TL AGENCY. THE WHITE GOLD RING WITH PEARLS AND 1 LITTLE YELLOW DIAMOND WAS ESPECIALLY DESIGNED FOR HER, LUCKY LADY…”

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Fashion History Talks! In conversation with Tziporah Salamon

“It was Matisse that turned my eyes into diamonds.” Tziporah Salamon

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Small Odalisque in Purple Robe by Henri Matisse, 1937, Private Collection.

It is one thing to admire the art of dress, it is another thing entirely to be its living embodiment. And yet, that is exactly what the enchanting, inimitable Tziporah Salamon represents: a walking painting. the-art-of-dressing-book-cover-rizzoliEach of Tziporah’s thoughtfully-crafted ensembles are a work of art, beautifully composed from a lifetime of collecting clothing and accessories from around the world and throughout history. Liquid Chinese-embroidered silk jackets in bright magenta, floral-sprinkled beach pajamas paired with the perfect green hat, a self-styled turban fashioned from Japanese ikat–such are the things that dreams are made of–or quiet literally, the visual manifestation of one woman’s life lived in color. To see Tziporah is to smile.

A personal stylist, fashion consultant, author and performance artist, is it any wonder that Tziporah is also a recognized New York style icon and fashion model? A staple of the beloved street-style photography of the late, great Bill Cunningham, she has starred in both a groundbreaking Lanvin ad campaign and Ari Seth Cohen’s widely-acclaimed documentary Advanced Style, as well as his blog and book of the same name. It is perhaps of no surprise that the woman herself is as captivating as the clothing she wears. Thank you, Tziporah, for being the latest interviewee on The Art of Dress!

 

Tell us about yourself and what you do as it relates to the history of fashion and dress.

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Photograph by Ivy Ney.

 As the daughter of parents who both sewed for a living, I grew up surrounded by cloth. My parents, Hungarian Jews, were accomplished craftsmen, with highly evolved skills. They both made all my clothes. From day one, I was swathed in the clothing of royalty – measured and fit to my exact measures and designed and executed to perfection by both of them. Dad was a master tailor who survived the Holocaust by sewing the Nazi uniforms (and you know how perfect those were) and mom could not only sew, but knit, crochet and embroider. So not only did I have the perfect sky blue hand-knit sweater to pair with the perfectly forming accordion pleats navy blue skirt which sometimes turned into a jumper, but the sweater would have a wreath of flowers, or a few birds, embroidered to it. The same with the royal blue velvet dress with ruffles on the bottom.  Or my father’s red toggle button wool coat with a Little Red Riding Hood hood. Or his knickers, and shorts with suspenders. My clothes were the stuff of dreams, of royalty, of Hollywood glamour.

To top it off, my Aunt Yoli, my Doda Yoli, my father’s favorite sister, after surviving Auschwitz, ended up in America, while my father ended up in Israel.  Over one weekend, while in NYC, the course of her life was changed forever when she met a rich Texan, who took her back to San Antonio where he happened to be the Vice President of Neiman Marcus, the best Dept store in America in the 50’s. When she learned that her favorite brother just had two little girls, she went shopping. And shop she did. On a regular basis, we would receive packages from the store filled to the brim with the most luscious, well-made, fashionable girls clothes of the day. I wore the same clothes picked out by Jacqueline Kennedy’s mother and aunts for young Jackie. So that from day one I had on my body the best clothes that hands could make, and the best clothes that money could buy. The bar was set very high indeed!

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Photograph by Kal Naga.

Fast forward to today, where I travel the world to teach The Art of Dressing Seminar, a 2hour master class in which I use my own extensive collection of antique clothes and accessories to teach the principles of design.  I have also just published a book, THE ART OF DRESSING: Ageless, Timeless, Original Style, published by Rizzoli. It is a beautiful book of which I am most proud. I have a one-woman show called THE FABRIC OF MY LIFE, a sartorial autobiography  and TZIPPY’S TALES, a chronological visit of one woman’s wardrobe through the decades, a show and tell – both of which I have performed at various venues, with my next Tzippy’s Tales to be performed at the Jewish Museum, NY on Nov 30th.

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Photograph by Yaniv Edry.

Why is the study of fashion and dress history important to you? Because I believe that I was put on this planet to raise the bar when it comes to dressing and style.  It is desperately needed.

In addition, it is a way to honor my parents.
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Photograph by Kal Naga.

In your opinion, is fashion art? Fashion CAN be art – if you take it to that level.  Absolutely. But it must be carefully rendered and follow certain principles of design and be worthy of being called art. Sadly, most of the clothing of today and the way women choose to wear them and how they are portrayed in fashion magazines is NOT art.  Fashion as art must be cultivated, studied, thought about, making careful choices. It starts with a hunger and takes discipline and refinement and discernment. And most importantly, takes a knowing of oneself.

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Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons. 18th-Century Punk, autumn/winter 2016–17; Photograph by © Paolo Roversi.

Favorite fashion designer, past and present: Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons.

If you could recommend one fashion or dress history related book to Art of Dress followers, what would it be? I guess it would have to be my book,

THE ART OF DRESSING: Ageless, Timeless, Original Style, published by Rizzoli.

If you could recommend one movie for the period costumes alone, what would it be? FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI, by Hsiao Hsien Hou
For a wonderful slideshow of the evolution of Tziporah’s style, please visit here.
More on the her seminar
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Photograph by Kal Naga.