Comme des Garçons have once again eschewed tradition, turning a fashion film into a documentary-style commission by Paris-based British artist Katerina Jebb. The short is part of The Film Project, an initiative organized by Emma Reeves for Selfridges in London, celebrating the store’s new designer womenswear floors. The century-old retailer invited seven designers to express their aesthetics and ethos through the medium of film.
While Comme des Garçons’ spring ’12 collection made eerie references to the cycle of birth, marriage and death, Jebb looked beyond fashion, shaping a tender portrait of a 97-year-old French pianist with a weakness for Bach. “My own approach is intuitive, I make things based on my desires and curiosity,” she says.
Seated at the grand piano in the salon of her Parisian apartment, grand dame Madeleine Malraux illuminates the screen, making a philosophical monologue on movement and the human body, musing on the cerebral connection between thought and action.
“The project was not advertising, and the subject was not clothing,” says Jebb. “The subject was the spirit of a woman who has obviously lived a rich and diverse life, and still plays concerts and practices the piano for three hours every day.”
Madeleine’s serenity belies an illustrious past—abandoning a promising career as a concert pianist to play another role, that of the diplomat’s wife to her late husband, the celebrated novelist and French Minister of Cultural Affairs André Malraux. Having spent decade after decade amongst the Parisian intelligentsia, one can only begin to imagine Madeleine’s stories; however, a glimpse at her agile and weathered hands upon the ivory keys begins to paint the picture. “A pianist should have hands that are a little abnormal, whether one likes it or not,” she states, before launching into a deft, jangling melody, visually intertwined with the fading scenery of her eclectic surroundings—photographs of gentlemen, the forms of marble statues, and the imperfect reflections of passing vehicles and strangers.