Curating a Lifestyle: Reinterpreting a Classic
In 1927 when René Jules Lalique released his Bacchantes vase, he was 67 years old and riding a wave of success that had lasted an impressive four decades. His eponymous glassworks, based in Alsace, France, had received extraordinary acclaim at the 1925 International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris - an event which both established and gave a name to the Art Deco movement. Having launched his career in the Art Nouveau period of the late 19th Century, Lalique bucked the trend of most artists of the period who favored a restrained nod to nature’s elegance; instead challenging the notion that “sophisticated” equaled “simple”. His jewelry designs were considered haute couture, and soon clients throughout the chic shopping districts of Paris clamored for his work. The Lalique name became synonymous with luxurious style, fine craftsmanship and top quality materials. Lalique’s move into glass began largely as experimental work in his home; a hobby of sorts, afforded by his burgeoning jewelry shops in the early 1900s. As word of his glass production got out, he was commissioned by Coty, the top perfumer in France, to design and create intricate bottles for the brand. Never one to stagnate, Lalique honed his craft, focusing more and more on cutting-edge work with glass, using the delicate and relatively difficult medium as high art. The resulting prosperity sealed Lalique’s destiny as the world’s finest maker of art glass, with his original factory still producing today.
The Bacchantes vase is considered by some art historians to be a narrative by a confident, established artist on the emerging, socially liberated woman of the 1920s. The dancing young priestesses of Bacchus, the Roman God of wine and pleasure, are depicted by Lalique as more sensual than depraved, reflecting the fading inhibitions in 1920s society and representing a then-current interpretation of the classic Roman myth. Since its original release, it has been a staple in the Lalique collection and has become a lasting symbol of Lalique’s celebrated style.
So, when the house of Lalique sought to honor the iconic vase (and enthusiastic collectors) in the 90th year since its release, company leadership made a brilliant decision to call for a modern interpretation of the classic design by Terry Rodgers, a highly successful contemporary artist known for his edgy, realistic depictions of lithe, partially naked beauties in seemingly libidinous scenes. At first glance, his large scale canvases seem to be a straightforward narrative à la Sex in the City, but a closer inspection reveals the dichotomy between a super-charged, sexy (and Rodgers would say, fictional) high life sold by 21st Century media and the sobering realities of a disconnected, isolated existence rampant within every socio-economic realm. Rodgers’ muses, it turns out, are the very beings whose liberation was celebrated by René Jules Lalique in his original Bacchantes design.
Working for more than three years, Rodgers painstakingly selected his models, staged each in sensual and self-assured positions, photographed and sculpted; traveling to Lalique’s Alsace factory to tackle a medium he had never before attempted. Intricate molds were created, and under the tutelage of master craftsmen, Rodgers’ vision became an amazing reality in Lalique’s signature, stunning crystal. Embracing his predecessor’s penchant for contrasting between clear and frosted finishes and incorporating a patina or other materials (in this case, platinum), Rodgers’ efforts culminated in two versions: a large-scale, limited edition production in four colors (midnight blue, purple, black and deep green) using the lost-wax technique to create highly dimensional figures in a complex, stunning finish with applied platinum highlights; and a smaller casting, beautifully executed in Lalique’s classic hand-finished clear crystal, as well as an option in opulent gold lustre. Fittingly launched at the Maison et Objet trade fair in Paris earlier this year, the retail release of the Sirènes line will be staggered, with prices ranging from $4,900 to $55,000 in top luxury retailers in the U.S. If critical acclaim is any indication, Rodgers’ new version is destined to be an iconic contribution to the Lalique catalog for generations to come.