Talking Books and the Art of Bookshop Keeping with Vlad Niculescu


 

On any given Saturday spent in town, you will find me in a bookshop. It is my family’s favourite weekend activity – my latest partner in this activity is our almost three-year-old son. He is out the door when he hears that we’re off to the bookstore just as he is when he hears that we’re going to the park to play football. For me, there is no way you can have one without the other, sports and books, in a child’s education, or in any adult’s life for that matter.

We all need bookstores. We do. And I am not talking just about the books we can discover there, and about the power and magic of books – that they can transform lives, especially young lives, that they develop a child’s imagination like nothing else can, that the sense of discovery you experience in a bookshop can never compete with buying something online, that bookstores are the best champions of new and emerging writers. I am also talking about the bookshop and bookshop owner/keeper as being crucial for our inherent need for human contact in a world going increasingly icy and artificial. We need the comforting optimism of a bookshop, especially a favourite bookshop, full of stories waiting to be discovered precisely when the world feels distant and uncertain, we need the social interaction and warmth the bookshop invites to and provides. We need bookshops to feel human.
 
Carturesti & Friends - Classiq 
Personally, I can’t read an e-book and I don’t get why anyone would choose to read words on a stark screen, instead of turning the pages of a beautiful book, especially when we already spend so many hours each day staring at monitors and phones. But I am well aware that, in these times, this is a reasoning that will simply not hold for many. So I have turned to the one person I know who can make the best argument for the importance and beauty of paper books and for keeping the art of bookstore keeping alive: Vlad Niculescu.

Vlad is the former owner of the English bookshop Anthony Frost, which, for almost ten years, was a reference cultural spot on the Bucharest map (for locals and tourists alike) and which was included in Bob Eckstein’s Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores. Unfortunately (and I think I am speaking from the point of view of every book and culture lover in this city), Anthony Frost had to close its doors in March 2017, but we found hope again when we discovered Vlad Niculescu and Anthony Frost in a new formula, as Cărturești & friends, at the end of last year. In our recent interview, Vlad shares his honest opinion about the challenge to survive of the traditional bookshop, he talks about that special childhood moment that sparked his imagination and love affair with books, and makes the case for the beautiful book cover.
 
 

“What I know for sure is that reading,
especially fiction, is an activity that must be
exercised daily, just like physical exercising,
otherwise we go numb.”

 
 
How has your passion for books started?

Slowly. Of course it helped that I was born in a house that had a library, a house where I saw everyone around me, from my parents and grandparents to my big sister, with a book in their hands from time to time, but until I was nine I wanted nothing else to do but play (which somehow hasn’t changed at all) – play the ball in the courtyard or in the street with the other children. I „was assassinating” my father with „Let’s play” every evening when he came home from work. My mother, in turn, „was assassinating” me with the reading. There are assassinations caused by too much love, so this thing of being forced to read was a very risky „game”. I think it was a sort of a small miracle – thanks to my father again – that helped me a lot in this regard: a French comics magazine that had an impressive circulation in those times and which was available in Romania as well because it was distributed by L’Humanite: Pif. Thanks to it, I entered a universe of endless imagination and, since then, reading became my favourite game.

And your love for books slowly lead to your opening the English bookstore Anthony Frost in downtown Bucharest, which you kept for almost ten years. I thank you for that. Now we can find you here at Cărturești & friends in a new formula, but already rediscovering the wonderful atmosphere and unique selection of books that had made Anthony Frost my favourite bookshop in town – because I always came for the good books as well as for the warm atmosphere. It truly feels like a revival of the art of bookshop keeping. What’s the biggest challenge right now?

Surviving. The public for our largely atypical selection of books is rather small. I am very grateful for the loyalty of this community that has been built in years. As long as they need us and stand by us, we will be here for them too.
 
Talking books and the art of bookshop keeping  

Why do you say atypical? I personally find your selection in perfect tune with my own tastes and interests, and, according to my standard, this should be the norm when it comes to the kind of bookstores I look for. But I do realise I’m in the minority. So my question truly comes from sheer concern about the values of our society: why has the level of culture sunken so much? (I am particularly speaking about Romania, of course, although, really, I see it as a general problem, more or less so in different parts of the world).

Atypical for the times we are living, yes. There is a decline of the interest in the traditional bookshop that takes different forms worldwide (ten years ago, for example, there were 10-12 bookshops and antique bookstores in Charing Cross in London; today there is only the Foyles flagship store), but which has mainly the same causes, well-known – there is no use in mentioning them here – or in the process of being discovered. However, as I was saying above, this interest could be rekindled, even during these trying times, through fostering a good relationship with an intellectually alive local community. I don’t believe, however, that things will ever be the same again. If we want to survive, as I was saying, we have to adapt. I think the use of technology (in harmony with the canons of the traditional bookshop) plays a very important role in this education.

Do you have favourite writers, favourite books? Do you bring them to the store? Is it important to separate your own tastes from the public’s or is it a good bookshop keeper’s duty and responsibility to try to distill the public’s taste, to educate the customers a little? How do you make the selection of books to bring to the store?

Of course I have favourite writers, books I keep returning to and books I’ve always wanted to have in the bookshop. I have found out about many others all these years that I have spent among people and books. How can you make a bookstore survive being aware of the responsibility mentioned above – without taking yourself too seriously – in these times? How can you make a selection that is able to meet these goals? I don’t know a perfect answer that works in every part of the world, but what I do know is that I couldn’t stay in a bookshop that would not invite me to take home its entire selection of books and I also know I could never recommend a book I don’t believe in.

Would you mind sharing a book you keep coming back to?
The Third Policeman – Flann O’Brien
 
Interview Vlad Niculescu Carturesti & Friends  
Who is the latest great new writer you have discovered?

We discover or rediscover authors every day. I have recenly read an interview with Philip Roth at his 85th anniversary. The thing I liked the most about it was that he talked about what I myself love about reading: you enter telescopically through a book that leads you to the next one, taking you from the world of a writer to another’s, because a name you find in the first book sends you in search of the next book and so on. One of the names he mentions in the interview is also one of the most important discoveries I have made in the past years: Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose „Between the World and Me” was fortunately translated in Romanian, too, by the Black Button Books publishing house as „Intre lume si mine”. Another recent discovery would be Teju Cole. They are two important voices, with a powerful, blunt writing style. I have recently read Jeremy Gavron, whose inventiveness reminded me of Borges or Mircea Horia Simionescu.

Yes, I have read that interview with Philip Roth as well and it is interesting that you mention Ta-Nehisi Coates and Teju Cole, too. Could you recommend a few other books which have recently been published?

Felix Culpa – Jeremy Gavron

Tenements, Towers & Trash – Julia Wertz

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone – Olivia Laing

The Correspondence Of Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem – edited by Marie Luise Knott, translated by Anthony David

The Future Is History – Masha Gessen

Arabia Felix: The Danish Expedition of 1761-1767 – Thorkild Hansen, translated by Kathleen & James McFarlane

The Dawn Watch – Maya Jasanoff

Technicians of The Sacred – 50 years anniversary edition, 2017 – An Anthology by Jerome Rothenberg

The Last Testament – Jonas Bendiksen
 
Why we need paper books  
The past couple of years I’ve been less interested in literature and mainly interested in reading books about film, photography, art, history, autobiographies, or travel journals. Where do you think I should start reading fiction again? What three books in the store would you recommend?

It has happened to me too. I don’t think it works if you are telling yourself, or if you are reading in the texts of the people you believe in, that fiction is important because, through it, you can live thousands of lives or because fiction builds empathy, etc. We simply have to search, all the more so if we have distanced ourselves from fiction, and find a text that can be anything – a haiku, a poem, a SF, a collage or a classic novel – that will wake us. I don’t have any other solution. What I know for sure is that – it sounds like a banality, but it never hurts repeating – reading, especially fiction, is an activity that must be exercised daily, just like physical exercising, otherwise we go numb.

Notes of A Crocodile – Qiu Miaojin
Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
In the Heart of the Heart of the Country – William H. Gass

In one of our conversations you brought up the subject of the multitude of great but emotionally-heavy, sad books, and that some customers express their interest in reading more good “happy” books. But could it be that a great book should go beyond entertainment and escapism, that it should challenge you to see more clearly, to seek solutions, to be better, to make you realise that life always comes with good and bad, to have the potential to change your life, and that this kind of book never comes in the form of resolute chipperness?

The lists of the important English language prizes confirm the beginning of our conversation – for example, the latest Booker prize, won by George Saunders with Lincoln In The Bardo – but things are not that simple. I remember an interview with Prof. Dr. Iamandescu who talks about the accelerated rhythm of the activity of the neurons when we listen to baroque music, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, but also to Mozart or Beethoven. I think the same thing happens, maybe not that prominent, in the case of our reading – it is not necessarily about the genre approached, but about the power of the text. We have no chance as species but through education and culture. I think this is what Rothenberg is talking about in his anthology when he talks about how „poetry can save the world”.

Do customers come to you to ask you for book recommendations? Do you have to read a little into your customer to be able to offer your advice?

If they didn’t, I would be very disappointed – it would mean I don’t do my job right. It helps knowing my customers’ tastes, naturally, but I don’t believe it’s absolutely necessary that I do. My recommendations are always based on the things I myself truly love.

I, for one, appreciate a book with a beautiful cover and design. And I am relieved whenever I hear writers mention the importance of beautiful books. Am I wrong? Does image count? Should we judge a book by its cover?

The book is a perfect object – it can not be reinvented. Like the wheel – as Umberto Eco is saying in the book of conversations with Jean Claude Carriere – „This is Not The End Of The Book”. Doesn’t this perfection often suffer because of the questionable quality of the paper or because of the bad taste of the cover?

It is obvious that you do what you do with your heart. Should people follow their passion and do what they love?

I believe we should learn, for everyone’s benefit and despite social constraints, more and more to identify as early on as possible our individual capacities and to encourage them in every possible way. Yes, it sounds like a beautiful dream, I know. Passion, talent, intelligence have never seemed enough to me though. How each one of us can be of help to others, I think we should understand as soon as possible that “above all is endurance”, as James Baldwin said.

Without independent bookstores, I believe there would be very few great new authors to discover. It happened often that I bought the book that was shelved right next to the one I was actually looking for. What other reasons are there to choose a real bookstore over an online retailer? What do you do to keep the customers’ interest up? And how challenging is it to compete with online sellers?

A good bookshop is the one that discovers books you didn’t even know you were looking for, right? Lively, fresh, with a selection that is not based on search algorithms of the likes you find online – „Customers who bought this item also bought these…”. I don’t like this kind of strategies. Our selection is based on books that range from fundamental works to atypical new titles from various domains, from children’s to academic books. So my answer would be this: the book selection first and foremost, and the way you present it; that’s how we try to keep our customers’ interest up: through our authentic, genuine initiative teamed with our availability to order and bring any title the customer is interested in in the shortest time possible. Furthermore, at Cărturești & friends we have now joined forces with Ramona Chirica – she is curating the gallery Receptor which promotes Romanian illustrators – and with Brewtiful café (ed. note: I can vow for their flat white, one of the best in town).
 
Carturesti & Friends

Carturesti & Friends  
Do people still read books? Do Romanians still read books?

Of course they do – but how much and how they read, that’s a different story. As far as Romania is concerned, it is well known that most of the studies put us on one of the last places in Europe when it comes to cultural intake. The explanations are well known. We also know what should be done, it’s not that difficult to figure out, but as long as there will be nothing more done than singular acts and the volunteering of different types of NGOs, there is not much chance for things to change.

So how exactly can we change that? Or let me put it this way: what can the individual, what can I, for example, or the next person who loves books and appreciates culture, do to change that?

If I knew the answer I would be very happy to tell you, but unfortunately I don’t… But a good start would be to try to be an active participant in the cultural life of the city, thus encouraging the consumption of local culture from very early ages.

Is it important for people to continue reading paper books? Why?

Yes, it is, because it is a different kind of „reading”, much more devoted, focused, immersed, with much better results, as proven by studies made by some of the most prestigious universities, as compared to reading on various devices which draw your attention in a multitude of different directions at once making you lose your concentration. I don’t think it is useful, nor possible, in our age, to give up one or the other. We just have to learn to make them work together.
 
Carturesti & Friends

Carturesti & Friends 

You have a special section in the shop dedicated to children’s books. It’s one of my favourites. Where should a parent start in instilling their child the love for reading? And which are, in your opinion, five of the best children’s books of all time?

It is never too soon to start reading to your children and leading by example is extremely important; it is very true that seeing their parents reading, with books in their hands or surrounded by books will trigger the childrens’ curiosity and prompt them to open a book. I find these „best of…” lists terrifying and restrictive. I don’t like making them. They bring back unpleasant feelings related to school. One of the biggest joys of reading is to discover by yourself. Or to believe you discover by yourself. I am not saying that the regular childhood readings are not important or should not be encouraged: the fairy tales and legends of the world, from Grimm Brothers and Hauf, to Ion Creangă, Perrault, Jules Renaud, Barrie or EB White and many, many others, but I, for one, don’t think it is useful to anyone to make the children read in a particular order what we find appropriate, the texts we find „suitable” for children. I discovered as a teenager or even as an adult some so-called children’s authors or illustrators, whom I love just as much now: Iordan Chimet, with his splendid „An Anthology of Innocence”, Sara Fanelli, Edward Gorey.
 
Children's books 

You wish people appreciated more: Books. And by that I mean to truly appreciate books, which is not measured in online likes for photos of books.

One favourite thing to do in Bucharest and which you would miss if you lived anywhere else in the world: To go to Obor (ed. note: the biggest market in Bucharest).

I am film lover and I have to ask: is there any film adapted from a book that you have enjoyed more than the book itself?

The Third Man (1949), directed by Carol Reed after Graham Greene’s novel.
 
Talking books and the art of bookshop keeping

 

Cărturești & friends: 9, Edgar Quinet Street, Bucharest
Facebook: @CarturestiFandom

 
Photographs: Classiq Journal

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Phantom Thread

M.R. James’ ghost stories. A Christmas Carol. Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester. A particular moment from Paul Thomas Anderson’s personal life when he was sick in bed and his wife was taking care of him, and his imagination just took over: “Oh, she is looking at me with such care and tenderness… wouldn’t it suit her to keep me sick in this state?” These were all sources of inspiration for Anderson’s Phantom Thread, which he wrote, directed and shot himself. He mentioned all these influences in his interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air and I happened to listen to the podcast before watching the film (it just arrived in our cinema last week). I usually don’t like to read reviews or interviews about films I haven’t yet seen, but I am glad I did this time. I could sense those influences subtly woven into the story, without playing down the element of surprise.
 
Phantom Thread 2017 
This is a film created out of sheer love of cinema and storytelling. In a time when there is so much pressure to make socially- or politically-charged movies, it feels truly wonderful to watch a great film that captures your imagination, that captures your interest through its own story and through its characters alone, without any ulterior motives or messages. I admire Paul Thomas Anderson for keeping it in the artistic field.

Phantom Thread is a classic, it is beautiful to look at, absorbing, thrilling, mysterious, a little dark, with a Hitchcockian vibe but retaining its own originality, with touches of humour and black humour. It’s about dedication, perfectionism, love, co-dependency, obsession. It makes you keep asking questions and the answers it does provide (because it does not answer all the questions it raises and that’s part of its fascinating beauty) take you by surprise. And those final moments and lines are the kind of open ending that so often make a film great. Because everyone interprets it in its own way.

Anderson also mentions Cristóbal Balenciaga as one of the starting points, the greatest couturier of all times in my opinion. According to costume designer Mark Bridges, everyone involved in the production read the book “The Master of Us All: Balenciaga, His Workrooms, His World” (I wrote about it here) in preparation for the project. I am not surprised that Balenciaga influenced the character of Reynolds Woodcock. Even before watching the film and listening to the interview, the movie stills of Daniel Day-Lewis (as Woodcock) released to the press clearly reminded me of Balenciaga at work.
 
Phantom Thread 
Reynolds Woodcock is a couturier in 1950s London. Woodcock lives for his craft (Paul Thomas Anderson wanted to make a film about the most obsessive of artists, the fashion designer, in his own words) and Daniel Day-Lewis has become Reynolds Woodcock, immersing himself into the role – he is known to go to extreme lengths when preparing for a role – and giving one of his best performances. Could it be possible that this actor’s finesse and craft have yet again reached new heights? I simply wish he doesn’t retire, as he announced he would after this film. Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville give winning performances, too. The way the stillness and looks of all these three actors speak more than words can is something incredible to watch.

photos: film stills | Annapurna Pictures

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Le Redoutable: In Conversation with Costume Designer Sabrina Riccardi

Adapted by Michel Hazanavicius from Anne Wiazemsky’s own memoirs, titled Un An Après (or One Year After), Le Redoutable tells the story of Anne’s life with Jean-Luc Godard, with Louis Garrel and Stacy Martin in the lead roles. Anne made her film debut with her role in Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) and went on to appear in several of Godard’s films, from La Chinoise (1967), to Week-End (1967) and One Plus One (1969). She was not only the muse of the renowned pioneer of the Nouvelle Vague, but also Godard’s wife for 12 years, from 1967 to 1979.
 
Interview Le Redoutable 
Brimming with pastiche, Le Redoutable elegantly employs some of Godard’s most famous filming style techniques (the use of primary colours to depict Godard’s apartment, the voiceovers, the breaking of the fourth wall, the back and forth camera tracking), in order to tell its own story with wit and humour. It’s exactly the humour that I loved the most about it. It is not a shining homage to Godard, but rather a sharp portrait that does not however fail to pay Godard credit where he’s due. But it is not about simplifying the French New Wave talent so much as bringing him down to earth, and that’s where the film’s originality and strength come from.

Le Redoutable is structured around Wiazemsky and Godard’s marriage, but set largely in 1968, on the background of the developing insurgency that lead to the May ’68 protests, its subject is also about Godard’s life as an artist and the way his relationship with cinema got turned on its head during that crucial period, when he was trapped between his ideological convictions and his reputation as a revolutionary filmmaker, foreshadowing his politically committed period during which he seemed determined to alienate anyone who’d ever loved his early work.

The film beautifully captures the love story of two different artists trying to discover or rediscover themselves. The costumes play an important role in telling the story and rendering the evolution of the characters. In our interview, costume designer Sabrina Riccardi talks about the challenge of her first period film, about the asset of working with a director who understands clothes and about how she created all the costumes for the lead roles from scratch.
 
 

“Cinema fascinates me and clothes inspire me.”

 
 
Le Redoutable is not only based on real characters and events, but also on the renowned pioneer of Nouvelle Vague and one of the most important figures of the world cinema, Jean-Luc Godard. Was it intimidating in any way working on the film?

Not at all, I was very proud and excited to take this challenge.

What was the most inspiring part about working on this project?

The challenge! It is my first period film. Then, the script, written with Michel’s finesse and humour. And this love story between Jean-Luc Godard and Anne Wiazemsky in the climate of the Parisian revolution of May 1968.
 
Costumes in Le Redoutable 
Where do you start and where do you look for inspiration for period films inspired by real life characters and events, in this case the late 1960s-the 1970s? What were your references for the wardrobes?

First, I read Anne Wiazemsky’s novels, Une année studieuse, about her meeting with Godard, and Un an après, which recounts the story of her life with Godard. Then I searched a lot of archives from that time, photos, ads, magazines, movies by Godard, Truffaut, interviews of Godard. I documented myself on the Nouvelle Vague movement. With all of this in mind, I made a costume moodboard that served as a guideline, which I showed to Michel. We discussed it, changed and rebounded and the different styles quickly took shape in our heads. For the extras, I got my inspiration from William Klein’s 1968 documentary Grands Soirs et Petits Matins. It’s a day to day testimony from the Paris of May ’68, shot during the events. There are testimonies of waiters, workers, students, unionists, pensioners, housewives, tourists. It was a huge source of information.

You have partly answered my next question, as I wanted to ask you whether Anne’s revealing memoirs or director Michel Hazanavicius played a part in the costume process.

Yes. Michel is a real aesthete. He is very sensitive to fabrics, clothes. So it is a real pleasure for a costume designer to work with such a director. He carefully pays attention to details. Michel is a director who always takes you higher.

A costume designer’s job is to reinforce the story and help the actor form an identity of his/her character. But what exactly goes into the work of a costume designer today? How much off the rack shopping, how much vintage and how much making did the costumes in Le Redoutable involve?

Most of the costumes for the main characters are creations that were inspired by archive materials that I had selected for the moodboard. For the extras, the costumes are real clothing from the period that were rented from French renters like Les Mauvais Garçons, Euro Costumes, La Compagnie du Costume, Aram. For Le Redoutable, I hired a tailor as leader of a workshop, with his two assistants and a sewer, to make all the costumes for the lead roles. He had my moodboard as a visual support and did an amazing job. He instantly understood what I wanted. I had the chance to work in a very big space so that my whole team was concentrated in the same place, which was a huge asset to me. I was able to be available to everyone and therefore anticipate as much as possible.

I noticed a great attention to details regarding the film sets as well, and especially the way the use of primary colours in Godard’s apartment and Anne’s clothes seemed to work as a whole. The film has a distinctive look, aesthetic.

We did a colorimetry work with Michel, meaning we made a stock of clothing that were blue, grey, beige and brown. Then I used primary colors – red, blue and yellow – on all the roles and extras by inserting them piece by piece in every plan, as in Godard or Truffaut’s movies of that period, which gives quite a strong visuel! They did the same with the decor.
 
Le Redoutable costume design

Interview with costume designer Sabrina Riccardi

Interview costume design Le Redoutable 
Let’s talk a little about the character of Anne Wiazemsky played by Stacy Martin. How would you describe her style? What did you want the clothes to convey about the character?

Anne’s character wears a mix of manufactured clothes, vintage and contemporary pieces, from MiuMiu for example. Anne is a young woman in a restrainted love with Godard, fascinated by him. She is still a student. In the beginning, I played with the twin set + pleated skirt + pea jacket combo to mark the difference between Anne and Godard’s universes, in shades of blue and yellow. The more the story goes forward, the more her emancipation and distance from Godard are shown by the changes of color in her wardrobe, by adding the red. She becomes free of his influence.
 
Interview costume designer Le Redoutable

Interview costume design Le Redoutable

Le Redoutable interview costume designer Sabrina Riccardi 
How about Louis Garrel’s wardrobe? His clothes reflect the transformation of the character as well.

The wardrobe for Godard’s character was entirely manufactured, made to measure. I needed suits and shirts in triplicates for the falls. I got my inspiration from period vintage suits that I changed a little in the shapes. I used vintage and contemporary fabrics. The suits are all woolen, as they were back then. It had to be perfect on Louis and he had to feel at ease in his costumes. Likewise for the glasses, we started from a vintage model that we manufactured to his measures in six copies. In the beginning of the movie, Godard’s suits are rigid, steady, he wears a tie, his shirts are impeccably white. He is the fascinating worldwide admired Godard! He is the Nouvelle Vague! The more we go on, the more we see his decline, see how he rejects Godard, his wardrobe gets crumpled and worn out, floppy. He barely changes his clothes, unshaven, he looks paler. Godard is not Godard anymore.
 
Godard costumes Le Redoutable

Louis Garrel costumes Le Redoutable 
Bérénice Bejo plays Michèle Lazareff Rosier in the film. Rosier was a journalist and fashion designer who founded the brand V de V in the early 1960s, and in 1968 she was considered, alongside Emmanuelle Khanh and Christiane Bailly, one of the innovative and exciting young French designers. What was the inspiration Bérénice’s costumes? Did Rosier’s designs play any role in it?

I created her wardrobe myself. It was my own vision. I was not influenced by the real Michèle Rosier at all, quite the contrary, I dressed Bérénice modernly for those times, I made her wear trousers all the time to suggest her avantgarde. Bérénice’s Michele Rosier is a woman of strong character, she is the only one who stands up to Godard in the film. She is a modern, well-rounded woman, comfortable in her own mind and skin. It is Rosier who inspires Anne in the film to become an independent woman. In general, I am not really inspired by real life characters. We created them according to our vision and desire and we wanted this to show. In this regard, I have also added elements of contemporary design to the costumes.

What inspired you to become a costume designer?

I’ve always wanted to do that since I was a little girl. Cinema fascinates me and clothes inspire me. What could be more beautiful than having the chance to be part of the creation of a story? I began working in the movie industry as an assistant costume designer and, after some time, directors, actors and actresses asked for me on their projects and I became a costume designer.
 
Le redoutable costume design
photos: courtesy of Sabrina Riccardi | Les Compagnons du Cinéma

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The Salt of the Earth

“A photographer is literally somebody drawing with light, a man writing and rewriting the world with lights and shadows.” That’s how Wim Wenders begins his documentary about photographer Sebastião Salgado, The Salt of the Earth (2015), which he filmed together with Salgado’s son, Juliano. It is an impressive and beautiful visual homage to Salgado’s life’s work, and passion. The Brazilian photographer has been traveling the world for more than 40 years, chronicling the human condition. His richly complex black-and-white photographs are of such depth, both compositionally and emphatically, that they mark you. Rather than drawing with light, he’s more likely sculpting with light.
 
The Salt of the Earth 2015

Sebastião Salgado

 
Sebastião Salgado’s camera has been along the years witness to some of our species’ hardest, lowest and most horrific moments, like the Sierra Pelada mines (“The Workers”), the burning fields of Kuwait in the wake of Desert Storm, the Ethiopian famine (“Sahel”) and the civil war in Rwanda and its savagery genocide (“Exodus”), the latter having left him psychologically scarred. You just have to look at Salgado’s photography and feel the unimaginable despair, terror and misery of those people. It is not easy and I had the impulse to look away. It is as soul-shattering and haunting as it is visually stunning. A photograph does speak a thousands words.

But Wenders quickly and beautifully finds a narrative balance against the devastation, as did the now-74-year-old photographer, who seeked refuge in nature – a phase of his work titled “Genesis”, that encompasses parts of the globe retaining their primeval aspect, from Wrangel Island in Siberia to the highlands of Papua New Guinea, despite our planet’s seemingly unstoppable march towards destruction. But more than that, he started working with his wife, Léila, to regrow the drought-stricken remains of his family’s once-thriving farm and the Brazilian rain forest of his youth. They did an experimental program of replanting millions of trees and their technique proved so successful that the project, called “Instituto Terra,” has now reforested parts of Brazil’s Mata Atlantica and is a model for similar efforts worldwide. Salgado’s “Sahel” and “Exodus” photographs did not make me cry, but this did. It may sound strange, but it’s the truth.

As much as I love photography and as much as I admire Sebastiáo Salgado the photographer, his artistry and life-long dedication to his craft, it was this latter project, “Instituto Terra”, that sealed my admiration for Sebastiáo Salgado the man. It gives you hope and faith. Hope about our planet, faith in the human race, hope about our future and our children’s future, faith in ourselves. Miracles can happen. You just have to work for them.
 

 
photo: Sebastião Salgado

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S A Y A Designs: Turning Heads for the Right Reasons

I have cut down how much I talk about fashion around here significantly. That’s partly because I want to embody the minimalist and mindful philosophy I so often support and embrace. It’s also because when looking for special things to feature, I only want to share things I want for myself, things that tell a story and that can become part of my own story, things that not only reflect my tastes, but my own values, convictions and the way I live my life.

Where should I begin with S A Y A Designs? This brand epitomises all the right reasons for still loving fashion and beauty, all the right reasons why fashion still matters. Minimalistic and head-turning, subtle and bold, beautiful and meaningful. Stemmed from the love for nature, traditional craft, and pure and organic beauty, S A Y A Designs is the kind of brand that is created with timeless style and lasting memories in mind. A passionate pursuit in purposeful design.
 
SAYA Designs Mini a Pandans

SAYA designs Mini Pandans

The Mini Pandans by S A Y A Designs

 
S A Y A Designs makes hair sticks. They are handcrafted by artisans of Bali from root wood salvaged from abandoned plantations in Indonesia. They take a waste material and turn it into something beautiful and purposeful. Each S A Y A hairpin is inspired by the rich flora and fauna in Indonesia, and designed to directly reflect local plant life. It is carved by hand using simple tools and techniques, and finished with natural wax and oils. It is the original hair tool, durable, elegant, and a welcome and thoughtful alternative to plastic and elastic. And for every purchase, up to 10 endangered tree species are planted back into the rainforests in Indonesia, thus contributing to the restoration of our global ecosystem.

These are hair sticks that turn heads for all the right reasons.

I can honestly say that I fell in love with S A Y A the moment I discovered the brand and its story, and my admiration was only reinforced when I got to try their products (I opted for the Mini Pandans, which are specially designed for hair that is medium to short in length, and not too thick) – I admit, they are now my main reason for not going for a new pixie cut, an idea I had started to play with again. And after my conversation with the founder of S A Y A Designs, Victoria, I am more committed than ever to trust my own style and choose wisely. Read on for our interview, where we talked about the inspiration behind S A Y A, about the importance of raising awareness through a new approach to beauty, about starting a new life in Bali and the Indonesian unique business environment, and about the one thing she can not start the day without.
 
SAYA designs Mini Pandans

SAYA designs Mini Pandans

Turning heads for all the right reasons

 
In an overly-digitized world, it feels so special, and crucial, to make things with your own two hands. Coupled with an awareness for ethical production and the artistry of local makers, even more so. What are the core tenets on which the idea behind S A Y A Designs is based?

I have always had a deep respect for the hand-made and appreciated the heart behind its craftsmanship. This has become of more importance to me, defiantly in many ways due to the increased dependance we have on technology.

The core contents of S A Y A also highlight the key concepts of the circular economy. Which, in short, is making sure a respectful exchange happens along every step of the way; this requires slowing things down, learning and listening…

For me, S A Y A is a way of creating a platform to stand up for a cause I am passionate about whilst being creative, which is what I love most.

Why hairpins? Why not something else?

I had worn and adored them for years, first inspired by a gift from my partner who bought me one from a trip back from Beijing 6 years ago. It was red with hand painted flowers and it was so beautiful, it gave me little insight into the elegance of traditional Chinese culture. When it came to deciding what to design, I wanted something that was small, functional, and most of all unique! I joined all the dots, and S A Y A was born! I thought about how it would be something that would be a pleasure to use everyday and what a reminder it would be of supporting a cause you believe in.

That’s wonderful. Is there any significance to the name S A Y A ?

Yes! S A Y A means ‘I’ or ‘my’ in the Indonesian language depending on your turn of phrase. So S A Y A Designs means ‘my designs’. I loved the fact that it was fundamentally linked to Indonesia.

One could say that you design first and foremost for yourself, making sure your designs reflect who you are and your own values. I think that’s very important and it just shows in your unique products. Who else do you design for?

Yes, fundamentally I would say so. I also design for women who appreciate a more organic style which I think appeals to a more subtle sense of beauty… They are very tactile objects and shapes!

In this regard, could you tell me a little about the materials you use and why?

Our hairpins are made from reclaimed root wood left behind by loggers in Indonesia. Some have been in the ground for decades and simply abandoned in ex plantation sites. The root wood we use currently are tamarind, teak and rosewood. I felt there was such an interesting story to be told here coming from root to tree… and found the circular business model was able to support the idea and raise awareness towards the global issues we face around deforestation.
 
SAYA designs mini pandans

SAYA Designs mini pandans  
What are the perks and challenges of an ethically produced beauty brand on the island of Bali?

We are still very much in a young stage of the business and so have many more bridges to cross… I would say some of the perks are that it really is an island of opportunity… So if your work hard and follow things up, you can manifest ideas very quickly… The craftsmanship here is so skilful, and for me that was one of the hugely inspiring factors.

Challenges are that it can also be a place that is hard to sustain things, it takes a long time and large amounts of work go towards building strong structures and frameworks to build things long term. Getting things done sometimes can be hard, especially when you have responsibilities in contrasting hemispheres, extreme weather conditions and cultural parallels. The key I think is being open to adapt where necessary.

You mention the craftsmanship of the people of Indonesia. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from the community of craftsmen in Bali you work with?

One of the most important creative aspects they taught me was that respecting and understanding your material is fundamental in your design… This was a light bulb for me!

How do you see the future of fashion? Because so many of the people I admire and come in contact with prefer mindful shopping and meaningful brands, such like yours. Are things starting to change?

I definitely feel that things are changing, this is what I look forward to watching most in 2018! Everything we buy is like casting a vote for the direction we want to move in and I think this movement is defiantly making headway…

I think once bigger brands start feeling pressured to ‘go green’, capitalism can turn upside down. If we can all compete to be greener, cleaner, more ethical… that would be what drives the change. I do feel like the pressure is growing from the consumer end, so we just need to keep telling these stories and providing options until everyone cant help but be faced with the reality of what’s happening.
 
SAYA designs

SAYA Designs 
How much talent, how much hard work and how much luck would you say that is involved in a successful brand?

I would say its an equal amount of all three. Hard work definitely keeps the wheel turning!

Who and what inspires you?

I am inspired by many, many people, but especially artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and Barbara Hepworth, whose organic forms I love. Activists like Dian Fossey, who was an American Conservationist in 1966 who went out to live alone in the jungle to protect mountain gorillas. She was so brave and courageous, especially at a time that when hardly any people, let alone women, were doing what she way doing. She inspires me a lot!

What advice would you give someone with their own idea or dream?

Surround yourself by people who encourage and inspire you. Refine your ideas, be brave, find ways to make things happen and forget about the fear of failing.
 
SAYA Designs

SAYA Designs 

Why Bali? What made you start a new life and a brand there?

I love the environment and community here, I first moved to work for an adult arts school and then realised what kind of life was here… Lots of start-ups, co working spaces and environmental based businesses. Bigger world issues also hit home allot more here as they are more visible… so that triggered allot of ideas and passion.

One favourite thing to do in Bali and which you would miss if you lived anywhere else in the world.

Seeing the colourful Balinese daily life around you and its never ending smell of incense…

What does style mean to you?

Style is about feeling good in what you wear and celebrating your own character.

One thing you can not start the day without: Cup of coffee!

Where would we find you when not working?

Walking in nature or in museums.

You wish people appreciated more: The power we have…

What makes you happy at the end of the day?

Knowing I can enjoy the company of good friends, good books or good cup of tea…
 
SAYA designs interview

SAYA Designs  

You can find S A Y A Designs here:
Website and Shop: sayadesigns.com | Instagram: @saya_designs
Facebook: @sayadesignscom

 
photos: 1-6: Classiq / 7-12: S A Y A Designs

Posted by classiq in Beauty & Beautiful Living, Interviews, Style | | Comments Off on S A Y A Designs: Turning Heads for the Right Reasons