I love fashion and I love shopping. I love timeless style and old school Hollywood glamour. I love plush interiors and quirky gardens and the latest beauty trends. With this in mind, you would think I would love art.
I want to love art, but the thing is, art can be intimidating; there are so many dimensions to a piece of art, so many references to other artists and periods and pieces of work, that one can often feel completely out of one's depth when perusing an exhibition at an enormous, world famous gallery. It can make you feel tense when really, you just want to relax and enjoy the show. I have a fear of these terribly well-educated art people, who at any moment could ask for my opinion. Yet, if such a situation should arise, nine times out of ten, I find that curators are always keen to share their knowledge, and their passion and enthusiasm banishes any fear that I have harboured. It's a fear of the unknown, rather than a fear of art itself.
I don't often go to galleries; however, I recently visited the Espace La Vallée at La Vallée Village in Paris (part of the Chic Outlet Shopping villages throughout Europe). The Espace La Vallée gallery is located within the shopping village, meaning that it isn't a gallery just for art lovers - the location makes it easy for die-hard bargain hunters like me to stumble across this hidden gem and all its treasures. Laurence Corteggiani, Marketing Director at La Vallée Village, says of the gallery: "It is an informal, casual way for those who don't know art to enjoy art without feeling intimidated."
Corteggiani is right - two things that make Espace La Vallée inviting are a) the gallery is small - it's impossible to feel overwhelmed by the volume of art on display - and b) the staff are warm and welcoming.
The current exhibition is of the work of the legendary photographer, Norman Parkinson. Parkinson's career spanned more than sixty years and during this time he worked for top fashion magazines including Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, as well as securing the coveted position of official photographer for the British royal family. The exhibit, which is a joint venture between La Vallée Village and the Norman Parkinson Estate, is entitled Travel In Style and consists of 23 of Parkinson's photographs. These striking images combine elements of travel (from helicopter rides over New York City to the rice paddy fields of China) with fashion and style. While there are many images on show that portray stylish globetrotting, the most iconic Parkinson image, The Art of Travel, sums up the exhibition perfectly. The image is of Parkinson's wife and muse, Wenda. In a far-flung Africa, she walks towards the camera beneath the enormous propellers of a nearby aeroplane, wearing a pith helmet while carrying a ladylike handbag and a glamorous vanity case. She looks impossibly chic and it is doubtless that this image is a great source of style inspiration to women who travel. Elizabeth Smith, who manages the Norman Parkinson archives, told me that the The Art of Travel is the most requested Parkinson image of all time. She says, "His pictures were very much of the time." It is clear that Parkinson had an ability to transcend eras by injecting timeless elegance into all of his photographs; proof of this is that The Art of Travel is requested three of four times a day, despite being over 50 years old.
The photographs for Travel In Style have been expertly selected: on one dove grey wall, Jerry Hall gets set to dive in to the sea wearing a red bathing suit and matching swimming cap; on another wall, wearing a sugary pink dress, Audrey Hepburn looks coyly towards the camera from a wall of pink blooms; and, just before you leave the exhibition, you catch sight of Nene von Schlebrügge (Uma Thurman's mother) modelling a coat from one of Yves Saint Laurent's first collections for Dior, in a narrow lane in London. Each image at Espace La Vallée references the Travel In Style theme, but they each tell a very different story. It makes for fascinating viewing and I would recommend visiting with a friend, as the images stay imprinted in your mind: you will have so much to discuss while you shop for Celine, Givenchy and Marni later.
What I liked most about the gallery at Espace La Vallée is that the staff do their very best to complement the exhibitions. A playlist is developed for each show - for Travel In Style, the tracks are all 1950s New York. (For example, Frank Sinatra's Fly Me To The Moon). Real consideration is given to the individual exhibits, and for the Norman Parkinson gallery, the focus is on the photographs - each image is mounted in a simple white frame, the only additional décor being a neutral seating area and a few simple (but beautiful) white orchids. The space is non-threatening and Parkinson's photographs are easy on the eye - everyone who visits the Espace La Vallée exhibition will appreciate their beauty, art lover or not.
Travel In Style runs until 6 January 2013.
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