Pierre Cardin in sneakers, and Chantal Thomass making a voguish splash
It’s a balmy Saturday evening in Provence, July 20: at 6:00 p.m. outside the green iron gates of the Château de l’Ange in the hameau of Lumières where fashionable people are queuing up dutifully to receive – from young women in little black dresses – their pre-assigned section in the garden behind the large proud chateau of Édith Mézard, designer of elegant and beautiful linens for the home – bath, beds, sofas, tables – and les petits cadeaux.
A printed invitation announced a presentation of “technobohemian,” a menswear fashion line created by John Malkovich (JM), the esteemed American cinema and theatre actor and director, a longtime occasional denizen of nearby Bonnieux.
A flush of excitement grips the air. The guests know nothing about the program; they hold only the promise of a glittery time in the presence of the celebrity of the moment and other luminaries: the distinguished Pierre Cardin in track shoes, the vrai chic lingerie designer Chantal Thomass, the all too handsome French actor Lambert Wilson, and the muse and lover of Dali, Amanda Lear, who has the voice of a Marine.
A large panel at the entrance announces en anglais the philosophy underpinning “technobohemian,” a brand JM launched in 2009, which replaced a discontinued fashion venture “Uncle Kimono.” We read that the garments are all made in Italy with the exception of denim from Japan, and that he creates all the designs and chooses all the fabrics.
All in our places behind the Château, music flares up, cuing a brief stylized parade on the garden grass runway of twenty-some bare-footed guys draped with casual fashions: smart and loose-fitting ensembles with some funky mix and matches, styles destined for the thin waisted metrosexual with a dandyish bent, who suffers no impoverishments in life; whose ample net worth permits the folly of buying a piece here or there with no fuss of leaving it unworn in the closet for a year.
The most succinct critique heard uttered about the designs: “un air faussement décontracté.”
As soon as the defilé makes a final entrance en masse, JM comes out from the Chateau attired in a baggy baby blanket two-button blue suit cut from gauzy-like fabric – the trousers flopping around his legs like over-sized pyjamas.
Pause and consider the baby blanket blue suit as a touchstone of JM’s stuff: it typifies what David Foster Wallace identified as “terminal idiosyncrasy”: where a designer’s concepts and creations come off as just too particular to him alone and his tastes for dressing himself. There you have it: richly-textured fabrics fashioned into objects of self-love, a vainglory compelling the investment of the most extraordinary effort and emotion into the craft of haberdashery.
JM, his head bobbing as he takes long strides down a grassy aisle, his hands making a sheepish split finger wave, then a low bow, a pivot, and shoulder-dipping strides and fluttering hands as he vanishes back inside. Lacking the continental air of mastery of proven courtier talent, JM appears seemingly ill-at-ease playing a role that he may not rehearse nor relish.
The 75-second performance evoked the first inkling of whispered discordance – remarks that the tonsured actor might have grabbed a mike and uttered a few sentimental words of appreciation to the guests, who are after all not snarky fashion journalists nor difficult retail buyers; they are his neighbors in a land he professes to love. Nor does JM elect to make an appearance at the cocktail afterwards where he could engage charmingly and warmly with le peuple in a sort of Luberon all-togetherness, preferring to escape back into a privileged envelope of celeb privacy. There would be no “up close and personal” this evening.
Few audiences in the Luberon have been as aggressively and carefully recruited for a summer happening than for tonight’s agenda. But: meubler le jardin. Now if you keep in mind the kind of media manipulation we experience at the hands of celebrity publicity machines, you quickly recognize that the mis-en-scene this evening strives to provide a narrative and images for media consumption – TV and print. A coup de marketing. A PR exercise.
Here’s the thing about obligatory payback at modish and voguist events: the standard default gesture is to pamper the participants afterwards with an admixture of riveting badinage and good food with a bit of drink.
As the first group of guests wandered into the cocktail on the front lawn, they were greeted with small stacks of white boxes of thin-sliced pizza, sitting on two tables. Some flinched at the sight of food not placed on trays and the absence of plates and napkins. The scene was not all that dissimilar to the experience of a frat house game watch party or your teenage daughter’s sleepover.
As hungry fingers lifted the slices from the boxes, the pizza was consumed in a transitory moment, leaving later-arriving guests in a state of gustatory nothingness – not even nuts, crackers, chips or other banal over-salted supermarket finger food.
A modest quaffable wine was served from a local winery owned by JM lui-meme. At a certain moment, an inadequate number of glassware left no clean wine vessels to drink out of, and a bit later white wine was unavailable due to insufficient stock.
What mild irony came calling for cocktail attendees Pascal Lainé, whose gallery splash the night before feted guests with tray upon tray of scrumptious amuse-gueules, and Christine-Ruiz Picasso, the great patron of the arts from far-off Viens, where earlier this season at the Chapelle Saint-Ferréol invitees reveled in a lush buffet of cavier and foie gras.
Consider this impudent incongruity: in the boutique off of the cocktail lawn hung pieces from the show, some ensembles going for as much as 800 to more than a 1000 euros – a single purchase could feed with pizza the entire student body of Reed College. Twice.
It gashes the memory to recall an event in the Luberon when such a fashionable and celebrity-flecked crowd did not merit a tasteful first-rate caterer (un traiteur). Try to pull off an evening like this one in Montecito or East Hampton, and people would be seething with discontent, tossing their wine glasses defiantly into the shrubbery.
So it turns into the last place that you want to be on a glorious evening in high season in Provence, but you just can’t rip yourself away; your retinue is making the rounds catching up with those that need catching up with, so you wander about and participate in languid muddled conversations, and then you are wickedly fortunate to recognize a long-lost visage, one you haven’t seen for a few years: a rejuvenated Harry Holcroft, the once Lacoste-based artist who shuffled off to India, and presently is back for ten days to prepare his spatial property for punters from America, and is then up to London for an exhibit in late September before heading back to northern India. Encountering the high toned Harry was a bracing tonic of acrid humour at an otherwise flawed drinks party.
As we joined a serpent line of cars filing out into a warm limpid night, an intense desire asserted itself to search out something totally authentically provençal: an aoli.
John Malkovich fashion line technobohemian: Website
Pop Up Boutique: The new line presented last Saturday is available for puchase at Château de l’Ange in Goult until Aug 15 ; Tel 04 90 72 36 41
Domaine de L’Angele, les gnouquettes, Goult, Tel: 06 73 98 29 08
Lambert Wilson in Marix Reloaded: Causality