Thursday, March 15, 2012

Olympia Le-Tan or a tribute to a fallen Italy ?

You have probably heard about the book clutches by Olympia Le-Tan, right ?  With these clutches, the designer intended to pay a tribute to Italy by giving her creations the appearance of masterpieces of the italian literature. Who would have thought that a clutch would have led us to a discussion going way further than their appearance ?! But wasn't it Olympia's first intention to have us think about these trompe-l'oeil books ?

"My biggest regret is living in a country with a glorious past in art and humanities ruined by the filthiest mix of politics and TV." Angelo Flaccavento

Mothball and gestation are definitely the right words to describe the reflection process in which the book clutches that Olympia Le-Tan was presenting at the Museo Bellini in Florence during the Pitti W event on January, has put me. A collection of book clutches dedicated to Italy AND representing its masterpieces in literature and cinema couldn't let me insensitive. Indeed, I have been living in this country since almost three years now.  Like Le-Tan, I have studied italian literature and italian culture and the only difference between her and me is that this passion for Italy brought me to live here, and just like in a tumultuous love relationship, I adore and I loathe Italy. I adore this country for its abundance of art, culture, gastronomy and above all I adore it for its language but I loathe it for the decay in which it is right now.

Olympia and her clutch dedicated to the film "La Dolce Vita" by Federico Fellini

   Far from the political debates about the decay of Italy, I wanted to write an article about these book clutches because of two posts regarding Olympia's work. The first one is by the british blogger Susie Bubble who chose to entitle her article "An Italian Lesson", and the second one is by the italian scathing critic blogger, La Scomodamente who ironically decided to entitle hers "Olympia Le-Tan at the Pitti W event. A tribute to a long-gone Italy ! " Two bloggers with different nationalities dealing with the same subject but with different point of views could only arouse my mind !

   "I blame the English curriculum and my ridiculous ignorance for not knowing some of the works that were illustrated on the clutches.  For some reason my reading has gone deep into English, American, French and Russian literature but have only skirted around Italian." On reading these words, I realised how much people who didn't have studied italian like Le-Tan or me could be ignorant about Italy. And indeed what we come to know first about this country is its abundance of art thanks to its architecture and its great artists like Leonardo Da Vinci or Caravaggio but about its literature we pretty much know nothing. Dante, Boccacio and Machiallevi are as many authors' names that we probably have heard about but whose masterpieces we don't really know. Who has already read a passage of the Divine Comedy, the Decameron or The Prince unless you have already studied them at university or because you are interested in Italy ?
Furthermore Olympia didn't choose some random place to present her collection: she decided to do it in Florence, the capital of Tuscany, the city of the Medici and especially the city of the current italian language, because the Tuscany dialect IS the current spoken and written italian, in short this city is strongly marked by art and literature. Besides the city choice, the clutches were exposed at the museo Bellini, a place gathering masterpieces from the Renaissance. Again a choice that wasn't made randomly : instead of presenting her collection in a place dedicated to fashion, Olympia chose to do it in a museum, a place where you come to educate yourself, to learn.

The museo Bellini

The book clutch "The Mandrake" by Machiavelli exhibited at the museo

The book clutch representing the book "The Leopard" by Giuseppe Lampedusa in a decor reminding the film by Visconti

   This cultural aspect is not whatcaught the attention of La Scomodamente: "Those clutches are like the little Pisa towers you buy from the touristy markets, bring back home  and them get ashamed of. [...] these clutches are off-topic: with Greece, Italy and a few other countries are subject of embarassement for Europe, politically and economically. Remind us of Italy's good times is like rubbing salt in the wound and what is more, that woman  (Olympia) is making money on us with our own culture !" You cannot imagine how surprised I was while reading these words, but not because someone was finally criticizing these clutches but because I found it disturbing to relegate them to some trinkets sold to tourists to make money.
Olympia decided to give her clutches the appearance of italian literature books, and a book probably arouses curiosity much more than a trinket bought on the street because it has a cover AND a title (in brief you have words on it). As a result it is an object that speaks to you. 
   I would like to go back to the article written by Susie because since she went to the exhibition she made a pretty accurate description of it. The book clutches weren't not only exhibited but informations were given especially to those who weren't familiar with italian culture. A trinket bought on the street doesn't give you information, you buy it but it doesn't teach you anything. Then for sure the current situation in Italy is not so great, but what Le-Tan did with these clutches shows that there are still some people who have a perception of this country that goes beyond the clichés that we are used to see. The present of Italy is not so dreamy, but this country has a glorious past, reminding it and making it obvious to the people is also a way to improve its present and future. Italy has had its geniuses and if it was the case in the past why not in the future ?! But it needs time to change, and by that I mean time to change not its malfunctions but the italians' mentality (and believe me I don't pretend to have the knowledge to tell you how this will be possible), but if there is one thing I know for sure, it is that the question of time is fundamental when talking about mentalities change.

Not only Olympia tributed Italy, but she also tributed Nabokov with her book clutch "Lolita"that Natalie Portman is wearing here. She also tributed Jean Cocteau thanks to her book clutch reminding his movie "Beauty and the Beast", here the clutch belongs to the french actress Clémence Poésy.

If it took me two months to produce this article, imagine how much it would take to change people's way of thinking !

(translated from french by Shug'A'Very)
Rendez-vous sur Hellocoton !

1 comment:

  1. Yes, saw these on Style Bubble. They are fabulous.


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