We're all mad here: Clé de Peau holiday 2018

Over the past few years I've really been enjoying Clé de Peau's artist collaborations for their holiday collections.  They select artists with very different styles but ones that somehow always do an amazing job representing the brand's vision and aesthetic.  This year the company partnered with Italian surrealist illustrator Daria Petrilli, who, as you will see, is as mysterious as her dreamlike artwork. 

According to this interview with the Shiseido team responsible for the collection, Clé de Peau's makeup director Lucia Pieroni selected an Alice in Wonderland theme, or a "winter fairyland" per the translation of the French "féeries d'hiver".  Consisting of pale pinks and greys contrasting with bold berry and a dash of soft shimmer, the color scheme is meant to evoke a winter tea party in an English garden.  It was packaging designer Kaori Nagata who suggested collaborating with Petrilli and who translated her beautiful illustrations to equally gorgeous boxes and palette cases.  Simply put, the team was "mesmerized by [Petrilli's] talent."  They were also searching for an artist who could elevate a theme usually intended for children and create a grown-up version of Wonderland to match the style (and price tag) of a high-end line.  As Shiseido rep Saiko Kawahara notes, "Brands of low to mid price range create many products that are 'adorable,' but I think that is precisely why it is necessary to add some refinement, such as 'a grown-up joke' or 'spicy playfulness,' when a prestige brand attempts to create an 'adorable' product."  Indeed, while Disney-fied versions of Alice worked well on mid-end brands like Beyond, Paul & Joe and Urban Decay, I don't think they'd be appropriate for Clé de Peau.  And I don't mean that in a snooty way either - that style just wouldn't be a good fit for the brand.

Now let's get to the goodies!  I picked up the eye shadow quad, pressed powder, stick highlighter, and one of the lipsticks.  I think the colors for the makeup itself are lovely, but what really blew me away is the mix of aqua, light pink and fuchsia with hints of coral and deep wine throughout the packaging.

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The playing card embossing is a stroke of genius.

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I adore all the packaging, but the white rabbit peeking out of the box for the powder highlighter and the woman's rosy cheeks and chic dark lips on the outer case are possibly my favorites out of the collection.

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I'm also very fond of this flower lady, as she embodies the talking/singing flower garden Alice encounters.  (That was my favorite scene when I was little!)

Highlighter-stick

In addition to the key, checkerboard and playing card motifs, the names for each product were also carefully chosen to align with the Alice theme.  This lipstick, for example, is called Paint Me (the other is Follow Me), an homage to both painting the queen's roses red and the "eat me/drink me" signs in Lewis Carroll's classic book.  Meanwhile, the eyeshadow quad is named Tea Party, the pressed powder Pink Push Me, and the stick highlighter Light Me.  

Lipstick

Lipstick2

The company even came up with an ad featuring a poem for each item.  The animations are looking a little Monty Python to me, but that's probably just because I've been re-watching it on Netflix the past few weeks.  It's still pretty cute.  

The moisturizer is the one piece I did not buy, as I couldn't justify the $535 (!) price tag for just the outer packaging.  Even if the jar itself was decorated I still couldn't have bought it - too rich for my blood.  Still, it's beautiful, and the keyhole cut out, along with the cut-outs on the other boxes, emphasize a connection to the entire Clé de Peau brand.  Says Ayumi Nishimoto, another member of Shiseido's creative team, "Not only does this tie in with the holiday concept ('open the door to the extraordinary'), it is also brilliantly linked to Clé de Peau Beauté’s tagline, 'unlock the power of your radiance.'"  Indeed, "clé" is French for key, so this detail creates complete cohesion across the holiday collection and Clé de Peau line.  Now that's what I call synergy!

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Apologies for the lackluster photo, it was the only one I could find of the cutout.

Keyhole cutout

The keys were also used on the skincare sets, none of which I purchased but still covet.  

Cdp-set

Finally, there were some very nice gift boxes and bags featuring different images, which were offered with the purchase of any two items from the holiday collection at the Clé de Peau website.  Since I eagerly bought the collection as soon as it became available at Neiman Marcus (so I could use my store card and also get 10% cash back via Ebates), I missed this as well.  I might hunt for one on ebay.  

Giftbox_pc
(images from cledepeau-beaute.com)

As for the worldwide marketing of the collection, both online and in-store advertising were simply dazzling.  The advertising and design team created a truly magical video where Petrilli's illustrations spring to life.  Unlike the ad above, this one features much more sophisticated animations and cutting-edge 360 degree technology so that the viewer feels totally immersed in Wonderland.  Nishimoto and fellow team member Satoko Tomizawa explain:  "As global campaigns are launched in various countries around the world, it is necessary to create something that is highly versatile and universal. This time, we took on a new challenge of making not just a campaign video, but also a 360-degree video that anyone, anywhere, can experience through their smartphones. Viewers can enjoy more of the wonderland that we have created.  While remaining respectful of Daria’s illustrations, we paid special attention to giving the campaign videos a sense of worldliness unique to 3D animation. We asked the production studio Shirogumi, Inc. to produce the CGI for the story of a rabbit jumping through keyholes and traveling through wonderland."  

Additionally, I must say the set up at their Omotesando Hills location in Tokyo was spectacular, rivaling the decor used for Kathe Fraga's breathtaking collection last year.  Tomizawa states that the collection theme allowed the company to show a more whimsical side of the brand and push the boundaries of not only packaging but also store design. "We created a spatial experience, where visitors could enter as the mysterious wonderland as if their bodies had shrunk small. Not only was the Clé de Peau Beauté Store in Omotesando Hills in holiday mode, but entire complex invited visitors to experience wonderland. Large banners hung from ceiling to the floor, blownup packaging made their appearances in the staircase, a mysterious tea party setting along with the 360-degree video was on display. It was the first time that the holiday collection was featured in such a large-scale event. Inspired by the packaging design, we were able to expand on many playful ideas for digital and spatial design. Through this wonderland we were able to show a more imaginative, playful side of the prestige brand."  I would have loved to visit this magical setup!

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Cdp-keyhole
(images from shiseidogroup.com)

Now that we've covered the collection, let's delve into the world of the highly secretive Daria Petrilli.  Born in 1970 in Rome, she graduated with an MA in Communication and Design at the Università La Sapienza, then moved to London and completed a degree in Experimental Illustration at the London College of Communication, a school within the prestigious University of the Arts London.  Petrilli has been commissioned for magazines (most recently, her work accompanied a rather depressing piece about suicide in Oprah Magazine), children's books and has had several solo exhibitions.  Her illustrations also served as one of the inspirations for fashion label Delpozo's fall 2016 collection.  However, it seems that Petrilli prefers to remain out of the spotlight.  She has no website, Tumblr or Instagram.  The only social media platform she uses is Pinterest, and she uses it to highlight "illustrations made ​​for my personal joy, without bosses, and even publishers ...only for my pleasure."  She has granted only two interviews and her work has been discussed in just two brief articles that I was able to find online, and they're either in Italian or badly translated, so I'm not sure how much of it I'll be able to use.  As we know, relying on Google more often than not results in nonsensical translations, but I will try to decipher everything as best I can.  It's a shame she's not as willing to put herself out there as much as some artists are, because I'm dying to know her thoughts on working with Clé de Peau and her own approach to makeup.  The few photos I was able to find of Petrilli show her seemingly barefaced save for one. 

Anyway, onto her work. I won't pretend that I can explain it or provide any real insight, but here's a brief description. Many of Petrilli's illustrations depict ethereal, brooding women occupying dreamlike landscapes and interiors, often with animals.  As with other Surrealist imagery, the scenes are odd and even a little unsettling at times.  Most of the women appear melancholy and isolated; they seem to be alone even when other figures are included.  Perhaps one is meant to be the real self and other figures/animals are a projection of her innermost thoughts and feelings, or in true Surrealist style, a representation of the unconscious mind.  These women contrast with those in the Clé de Peau collection, who seem to be peacefully relaxing within the magical realm of Wonderland.

Daria-petrilli-lady-ofthe-ibis

Daria-petrilli-in-the-garden-of-good-and-evil

While she started out painting, admiring the Renaissance frescoes of her native Rome and using the techniques of the Old Masters, Petrilli found that digital illustration best suited her interest in creating surreal images. She describes how her artistic journey and search for her personal style was shaped by her upbringing in Rome as well as the birth of her daughter:  "Ever since I was a child I lost myself in the images of illustrated books and I was completely fascinated...Taking a course of classical studies and helped by the fact that I live in a city, Rome, immersed in antiquities and ancient splendor I have always had a passion for the history of art, with a predilection for certain representation and historical periods including one on all the surrealism...I was helped by the birth of my daughter, to keep up with her or put aside my commercial work, and I found myself spending a lot of time alone me and my computer. Prior to that I drew and painted especially with the classical techniques especially acrylic, oil, watercolor, pencils, and I used the digital as a compendium...I began to realize that I could convey in a fast and effective manner the ideas that came to me all the time. And I began to compose images like this for my simple pleasure of them without a purpose or aim at something...Digital manipulation was the element that allowed me to give it life, mixing, overlapping and painting my creations and have become increasingly personal."  In looking at her work, it's hard to believe these images are created digitally.  I could easily mistake them for paintings given how seamlessly the individual elements, strange though they might be, are combined.  When I think of digital art my mind immediately jumps to collages.  Not that there's anything wrong with that - I love me a good collage - but I imagine them to resemble cutouts jumbled together rather than the smoothness of paintings.  In the illustration below, for example, I feel as though I can practically see brushstrokes on the fish, and the transparency of the women's fingers also appear to have been rendered in paint.

Daria Petrilli - fish-hat

Petrilli is particularly enamored by birds because "their eyes fascinate me for that sense of primordial concern emanating", or translated another way, "To me they communicate a sense of primordial restlessness.”   Whatever the meaning of that may be, here are some of my favorite avian-themed works by the artist.

Daria-petrili-nest

Daria Petrilli

Daria Petrilli - a dream-in-china

Daria-petrilli-swan-lady

Stylistically, I'm seeing many different artistic influences in Petrilli's work.  Her appreciation for the Renaissance art she grew up with is exemplified in a variety of ways, such as the clothing her characters wear, use of perspective and generally muted background colors.   This one in particular reminds me of two Renaissance paintings:  da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine (both the woman's hairstyle and the position of her hands holding the bird look similar) and Piero della Francesca's Montefeltro Altarpiece, which has a pendant egg suspended in the background.  (Obviously there are entire books on symbolism in Renaissance and Surrealist art so attempting to go into more detail on my humble little blog would be a fruitless effort, but you can start with these two if you're so inclined.  There's also a veritable goldmine of books on women and surrealism, which are relevant given Petrilli's focus on portraying women.)

Daria-petrilli-ova
(images from pinterest)

Lady_with_an_Ermine
(image from wikipedia.org)

Piero-della-Francesca-Pala-Montefeltro
(image from pinacotecabrera.org)

Other surrealist artists may have influenced Petrilli.  In Hypnosis Double, the way the women are posed call to mind Frida Kahlo's Two Fridas.  And while the deer seem unharmed, perhaps they're a nod to The Wounded Deer.

Daria Petrilli

The-two-fridas
(image from fridakahlo.org)

I'm also seeing a resemblance between Petrilli's work and that of contemporary Surrealist Christian Schloe.  As a matter of fact, doing an image search I thought some of his works were Petrilli's.  

Christian-schloe

Metamorphosis
(images from facebook)

Despite these similarities, I'm not implying Petrilli's work is in any way derivative.  Her content and style are unique and deeply personal; the way in which she weaves together a variety of art history styles and techniques breathes new life into digital illustration and reflects her own individual artistic upbringing and training.  Another reason I think Clé de Peau made an excellent decision to commission her for an Alice in Wonderland inspired collection is that Petrilli has explored it before.  Below is Alice's Dream, along with other works that have the same motifs as the Clé de Peau collection: flamingos, keys, butterflies, flower-women hybrids, and a checker-printed floor.  Again, I'm sure there are hidden meanings in these but that's just way too much ground to cover here.

Daria-petrilli-alices-dream

Daria Petrilli - flamingo

Daria-petrilli-keystone

Daria-petrili-Hunter-butterflies

Daria-petrilli-checkerboard

Daria-petrilli-orchid-dress
(images from pinterest)

In conclusion, I'm massively impressed with both Petrilli's work and the Clé de Peau collection.  This year the company took a chance by exploring a more whimsical theme and succeeded thanks to Petrilli's imagery, which is a far more refined and elegant representation of Alice in Wonderland than any other makeup collection I've seen.  As I mentioned earlier, I absolutely adore the cutesy treatment used by other brands since it reminds me of my childhood, but this was a nice change of pace and obviously suits a luxury brand like Clé de Peau much better. I just wish I could have heard a little more from Petrilli's perspective about working on the collection.

What do you think?  What's your favorite illustration out of these?


Peace and longevity from Sulwhasoo

My heart skipped a beat when I spotted what Sulwhasoo had up their sleeve for this year's ShineClassic compacts. Every year the company collaborates with an artist who represents an aspect of Korean artisan culture to create a design for two compacts, a tradition Sulwhasoo began in 2003.  Master craftswoman Hong Jeong Sil was selected to produce the ShineClassic compacts for the 2018 holiday season.  We'll delve more into the traditional metal inlay technique known as ipsa that Hong used to create these stunning pieces, but first, let's take a look at them in all their glory.  Unlike last year's release (another that I never got around to writing about, sigh), this year I was so smitten with the design I got both compacts, steep price tag be damned.  I really try to only buy one since the designs are the same, just with different color schemes, but I simply couldn't resist these!

Even the boxes are works of art inside and out. 

Sulwhasoo 2018 ShineClassic compact

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So luxurious!

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The inside of the lids are etched in a metallic finish depicting a charming nature scene with trees, waterfalls, birds, deer and even a turtle.  According to the Sulwhasoo website, these "symbolize longevity and great fortune, carry the message 'One can achieve his or her purposes and lead a healthy, peaceful life.'"  As it turns out, the inclusion of these motifs is not accidental.  Like many Korean artists, Hong is inspired by a traditional group of ten symbols of longevity collectively known as Ship-jangsaeng:  Sun, mountains, water, cranes, turtles, pine trees, bamboo, mushrooms, deer and clouds. I thought the whole scene was merely cute and whimsical and that Hong just personally found these images enjoyable - I had no idea how culturally significant these motifs are.

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The intricacy of the compacts themselves is exquisite.

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Of course, I managed to nick the powder on this one...I must learn to control my excitement when handling Museum objects.

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Sulwhasoo-silver

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Here's some of the pamphlet that tells a little bit about the ipsa tradition.

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So what exactly is ipsa?  I'm afraid I can't go into too much detail since I completely didn't see this entire book on it until it was too late, but hopefully what I was able to gather online will suffice for now.  (I plan on ordering the book and updating this post accordingly, if I remember.)  Basically ipsa is the art of inlaying thin, delicate strands of silver, copper or gold onto a metal surface.  It's similar to damascene and other metal inlay techniques found around the globe, but two elements make ipsa uniquely Korean:  the focus on graceful lines and the preference for silver over other metals.  This very helpful article from Koreana magazine explains the history and general style of ipsa.  "During the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), it was developed into a brilliant art form, representing the epitome of metal craft.  Still, Korean metal inlay is unique for its emphasis on the 'art of lines.' The designs made with lines of a consistent width are simple yet artistic, basic yet whimsical. Designs expressing wishes for good fortune and prosperity, health and longevity, abundance and fertility, or images of the ten symbols of longevity (including birds and flowers, grass and insects, and landscape scenes with ducks in a stream under weeping willows), were crafted onto incense burners, braziers, tobacco cases, clasps, and stationery items, which were always kept close at hand and appreciated for their refined appearance...Though gold was rarer, silver was the preferred choice...Silver is rather plain by itself but radiates brilliance when combined with other materials. It has a subtle elegance that endures over time, rather than something fancy that can quickly fade. These qualities of silver appeal to the inherent nature of the Korean people, which is why silver was most commonly used for metal inlay work."  Hong's work for the Sulwhasoo compacts definitely represents the traditional ipsa style through the "basic yet whimsical" lines and symbols of longevity. 

Sulwhasoo-gold2

Like the other holiday collabs we've seen so far, ipsa requires precision and painstaking labor.  The patterns must be carefully drawn out on the surface before the inlay is applied.  Each strand of metal, some as thin as .25 millimeters, must be formed by hand and then attached to the surface individually. This means even a very simple line takes hours.  Over 30 types of tools are used - everything from pliers and hammers to tweezers and chisels.  As Hong says, it's essentially "embroidery with metal."  Sulwhasoo provided a few snapshots of the process, but I would have loved to see a video showing Hong creating the original design.

Embroider

Additionally, there are two main types of ipsa.  I'll let Koreana take over again:  "The first, called kkium-ipsa, involves incising a decorative design onto the surface of a metal object using a burin, and inlaying the threads of silver into the incisions. This technique was widely used during the Goryeo Dynasty. Because Goryeo had adopted Buddhism as its official religion and ideology, the metalworks that were produced primarily included bronze Buddhist implements, such as incense burners, incense cases, and kundikas. During the subsequent Joseon Dynasty, Buddhism was suppressed and supplanted by Confucianism. The production of bronze Buddhist implements thus diminished, while large quantities of ironware items were supplied to the royal palace and the homes of the elite class. Since the major material for metalworks was now iron instead of bronze, it was necessary for the metal inlay techniques to be adjusted accordingly.  This led to a second technique, jjoum-ipsa, in which the entire surface of a metal item is uniformly incised and then silver thread hammered into the incisions. This is the technique that Hong learned and applies in her works today. The surface has to be engraved four times, each time in a different direction, which calls for painstaking patience and perseverance."  There was only one design for Sulwhasoo intended for a small surface so it may not have taken that long, but the shapes clearly require a lifetime of skill.  I might be able to inlay a single pre-made strand of silver onto a surface in a straight line, but could I form many strands into deer and trees?  No way!

Production_process(images from sulwhasoo.com)

In addition to the Sulwhasoo compacts, another impressive example of the labor involved to produce an ipsa piece is this vase by Hong.  I can't even imagine how long it took, since it appears to use three different kinds of metal of varying lengths to form a pattern.  There must be hundreds of individual strands.

Vase

I also wanted to share this image from Hong's protege, who is taking ipsa in a very futuristic direction by creating a QR code that can be scanned and connected online.  The code is made with very thin strands of silver inlaid on an iron plate.  Again, each strand is handmade and applied individually.  It must take hours to get them to perfectly line up; otherwise, I suspect the code might not work.

Ipsa-qr
(image from ipsajangproject.tumblr.com)

The final element of the ipsa technique is making a black background (historically from burnt pine soot) or leaving it unfinished.  "Those parts of the surface not inlaid with silver thread are colored black, using traditional techniques, or left unfinished to emphasize the natural color and texture of the metal. The black background surface contrasts with the sheen of the silver thread and highlights its brilliance. In the past, the soot of burnt pine was mixed with vegetable oil to make the black coloring, but these days powdered graphite is used. After applying the black coloring, the surface is rubbed with vegetable oil and then polished to a lustrous finish."  I'm not sure how the background for the original design of the gold ShineClassic compact was created, but it's truly striking.  I am a bit puzzled as to why the silver toned compact is on a white background, however.

As did Yang Huazhen and Zhang Xiaodong, a Qiang embroiderer and kite maker, respectively, who collaborated with Shu Uemura, Hong answered the call of reviving a dying cultural tradition and more or less single-handedly brought it back from the verge of extinction. Born in 1947, she graduated in 1969 from Seoul Women's University with a degree in crafts, followed by a graduate degree at Seoul National University in 1971.  While studying there, she came across an old ipsa piece in an antiques district and it was "love at first sight":  "'The silver thread embroidery of the old metal artifact seemed to reveal the purity of the artist's heart and spirit. I was spellbound by the beauty and started to ask around about learning metal inlay. But I was surprised to find that it was a disappearing art. In a book, Human Cultural Treasures, that I had come across by chance, it said that 'traditional metal inlay is no longer practiced,' which bothered me so much I couldn't sleep that night.'"  Hong was struck by the fact that there were so few artisans left, and took it upon herself to learn ipsa in order to preserve Korea's cultural history. "It was almost like the book was assigning me a mission," she says.  After five years of searching, she found one of the few remaining ipsa artists, Lee Hak-eung, who took her on as an apprentice.  Even though Lee was nearing 80 years old and hadn't actively practiced ipsa in over 10 years, he agreed to be Hong's instructor.  At first he was reluctant to teach her ("Why do you want to learn this? It is a difficult road paved with poverty," he told her) but knowing that ipsa was nearly wiped out, coupled with Hong's dedication and talent, eventually he relented.  There was a steep learning curve, as Hong soon found out.  "The hardest part about learning everything was the lack of ‘curriculum,’ so to speak, because there was so little information available about ipsa at the time. Nobody had really researched it because hardly anyone even knew about it.  It had basically been abandoned," she says.

Hong-jeong-sil
(image from magazine.seoulselection.com)

Under Lee's tutelage, Hong quickly realized that ipsa needed to be officially recognized by the Korean government in order to not disappear completely.  For her, getting ipsa on the government's radar, along with educating a new generation about it, were just as important as learning its technique in terms of preservation.  “If people don’t know about it, then it won’t stay alive.  You can’t keep something alive simply by being very good at it, because then it ends with you. You have to let people know; you have to show them."  Hong submitted a comprehensive report documenting every ipsa piece she could find, and because of this effort, the craft was registered as an "important intangible cultural property" in 1983.  Hong went on to establish her own school, the Gilgeum Handicraft Research Institute, and in 1996 she was awarded the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Korea No. 78, making her the official holder of ipsa (Lee was the previous holder and had passed away in 1988).  Making ipsa modern was also an important lesson.  "I learned that metal inlay could not be done if the hands did not follow the heart. I also realized that although I was learning a traditional art I would have to develop it to fit modern times," Hong says.  While the Sulwhasoo compacts depict fairly traditional Korea motifs, Hong's other work expresses a more modern sensibility.  Take, for example, this sculptural paperweight/brush rest from 1980 that resembles a post-modern mountain range.

Hong Jeong Sil, paperweight, 1980
(image from ganoskin.com)

And the painterly flourishes on this vase from 2013 merge a classic silhouette with 21st century abstraction.  As Hong notes, "Tradition and modernity, past and present, aren’t separated by some boundary like some people think. They are inevitably linked.  The past isn’t over; it illuminates the present and helps reveal the future."

Hong Jeong Sil - Afterglow  2013
(image from constancychange.kr)

While Hong has made a career out of rescuing ipsa, she doesn't think Korea's modernization necessarily caused it to be almost completely erased from history.  In fact, she believes the modern era helped Korea reflect on its cultural heritage. Explains Hong, “Some people despair at the disposal of traditional culture that occurred throughout Korea’s often rushed modernization, but I think it couldn’t have been any other way. Only now can we afford to look back and reflect on what can be learned from our past, on what can be salvaged. Only now do we have the economic status that affords us the ability to value our traditional culture...Korea’s culture and traditional arts are getting more attention these days, not because they’ve gotten better or more beautiful – they’ve always been beautiful – but because people’s perceptions have changed.  Korea’s original sense of beauty, something only we can intuitively know, is finally getting some attention."  I'd add that it's far easier to connect with aspiring artisans and reach the public at large nowadays. While educating new generations via the usual methods (schools, museums, etc.) is critical, a beauty collaboration is a wonderful way of bringing people's attention to an otherwise little-known art form and in this way, helps preserve it. 

In conclusion, I thought Hong's work translated beautifully to the compacts.  While perhaps not as intricate as the original ipsa design they're based on, the engraving captures the essence of the technique and ipsa's overall style.  Ipsa is heavily focused on lines, and the beauty and grace of Hong's shapes remained intact on the compacts (i.e. they didn't get out of proportion or distorted).  Elaborate metal compacts such as Sulwshasoo's ShineClassics are obviously the perfect vehicle to showcase a historical metal inlay technique.  And as with all artist collabs, I'm happy to have learned about such a historic part of Korea's culture, and I appreciate people like Hong keeping it alive.  Hong is equally pleased to share her work: "I want to make Korean-style beauty known to the world. I want people to exclaim: 'So this is what Korea is about. This is the beauty of Korean silver inlay.'"  Mission accomplished!

What do you think of these?  Have you ever heard of ipsa? 


The gift of beauty: Shiseido x Ribbonesia

Baku-maeda-2

Yet again I find myself completely entranced by another artist collab this holiday season.  For their 2018 holiday collection, Shiseido teamed up with Japanese artist collective Ribbonesia.  Like last year's partnership with Sisyu, the product lineup is fairly small, consisting of two cushion compacts, puff, lipstick set and Shiseido's famous Ultimune serum.  I skipped the lipstick since the packaging design wasn't as interesting as the cushions and the serum since I try to avoid spending precious Museum dollars on skincare rather than makeup.  The chosen theme for the collaboration was "beauty is a gift", and according to this site, "[uses] satin to express the bud of life in nature and the red string of fate that connects people." Mmmkay. Unfortunately I couldn't really dig up much more information on how the collab came about or the particular designs on the makeup.  I will say that they are beyond festive.  Folding, looping, swirling shiny ribbons that form bows, flowers and even birds evoke a joyous holiday complete with beautifully wrapped presents.  The color scheme is also seasonally appropriate:  red and gold with hints of green, blue and pink are reminiscent of the multicolored strands of lights adorning a Christmas tree.

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Shiseido-ribbonesia

Ribbonesia-white-compact

Ribbonesia-black-compact-side

So who is Ribbonesia?  The group consists of artist Baku Maeda and creative director Toru Yoshikawa.  Maeda, who originally started out as an illustrator, began experimenting with ribbon designs in 2008.  Given their success, in 2010 he and Yoshikawa officially established Ribbonesia.  Maeda has a lifelong fascination with origami, so manipulating ribbon to make elaborate shapes came naturally.  (In fact, given Maeda's focus on animals, his designs remind me a bit of origami artist Hoang Tien Quyet, who I featured in this Guerlain post.)  Maybe it's because the Jen Stark/Smashbox collab is still fresh in my head, but elements of Ribbonesia's work sound similar: specifically, taking a fairly simple, flat material and creating very intricate and three-dimensional pieces entirely by hand.   Says Maeda, "Wrapping ribbons are everywhere, but they are purely decorative: familiar but unessential. We wanted to put it to use. It’s like three-dimensional painting: each twist is a brushstroke. The reflectiveness of ribbon and the way it reacts to light gives it a new face and new impressions at different angles, creating this wonderful energy. Of course, it can be tricky to use – you can’t make any shape you want. You have to work with the physics of the fabric, because it has its own tension and character. But that’s what makes it so interesting...growing up in Japan, I was always playing with paper and making origami. I think that has influenced the way I use my hands. I like tactile art: translating a flat illustration into a 3D object and forming flat ribbon into something with body."  I can only imagine how long each piece takes; it doesn't sound like Maeda uses any kind of advanced technology or shortcuts to make the shapes he does.  And like Stark's work, each piece shifts as viewers walk around it, albeit in different ways.

Ribbonesia-FullSizeRender15
(image from spoon-tamago.com)

I have to point out that it takes considerable skill to be able to go from 2D to 3D.  One of the menial tasks I'm required to perform on occasion at my miserable job is assembling bankers' boxes.  It usually takes me about 20 minutes and several tries before I get it right.  Needless to say, I'm always amazed by how artists can bend and fold various materials to create recognizable forms, and beautiful ones at that.

Octopus

Another similarity between Ribbonesia and Jen Stark is the focus on the complexity of natural forms and making it more visible.  While Maeda's work is more literal and doesn't delve as deeply into mathematical concepts, the two artists share a love of bringing overlooked natural phenomena to the surface.  "I look to nature for inspiration – animals, flowers, the seas and ocean. The movement of ribbon feels very organic, and the natural world is full of wonders. A lot of our art highlights the little things that you know are there but didn’t notice before," explains Maeda.   In addition to Ribbonesia, Maeda's other work (see his "leaf beasts" and "bit leaves" series) demonstrates his passion for emphasizing the often-missed parts of nature and transforming the mundane into something new and different.  “I do not consider myself a designer but as someone trying to create something that has never been seen before."

There were so many breathtaking designs in Ribbonesia's oeuvre that I had a significant amount of trouble narrowing down and organizing the images I wanted to feature in this post.  In the end I decided to go in rough chronological order, as I think it shows the evolution of Ribbonesia's work.  These whimsical animal brooches are fairly early on in Ribbonesia's history, around 2011 or so.  Once again, the idea of taking some ribbon and making a sculpture out of it blows my mind.  In addition to any sort of box, I can't fold a nice gift bow to save my life - hell, I can barely tie my shoes, and you can see my sad attempt at styling ribbon in my photos above - so while these are less intricate than Maeda's future creations, I'm still in awe.  Yes, these are the "simple" designs.  This particular image comes from a book of Ribbonesia's early work.  If only I had known about it before writing this post, I would have bought it since books are my favorite background for blog photos.  (The Ribbonesia scarf I obtained is pretty sweet though - the story of how I managed to get that will be in a later post.)

Ribbonesia-early
(image from pinterest)

Early-work
(images from ifitshipitshere.com)

Here they are in action.  I'd love a mermaid with scales made of different colored ribbon.  Or maybe even a little lipstick!

Wearable
(image from edgyjapan.jp)

As you can see, Ribbonesia began producing more complex designs.  I'm particularly fond of these Chinese zodiac critters. 

Chinese-zodiac

By 2013 Ribbonesia had reached new heights, literally and figuratively, with a series of incredibly elaborate headdresses.  I'm struck by the various patterns formed by intertwining different ribbon colors, such as the ears of the goat (?) on the left and the middle section of the piece on the right. 

Ribbonesia-headdress-2013

In 2015 Ribbonesia launched a forest-themed exhibition.  It was an absolutely magical wonderland that depicted a variety of flora and fauna in all sizes and colors. 

Forest-installation

I appreciate the strands of ribbons hanging down as garlands, as they heighten the energy and dynamism of the sculptures.  In their natural, basic state, they also serve as a reminder of how a simple material can be transformed into something magnificent.

Forest-deer

Forest-bear

Forest-bee-mushroom

Forest-small-shelves

A year later, Ribbonesia created a series called Eternal Cosmos.  When combined with titles like "Gift from God", the works' flowers and animals appear slightly less playful and perhaps linked to the spiritual realm.  This connection is an avenue Ribbonesia seeks to explore: "Ribbonesia focuses on natural shapes because we see an essential beauty in every regularity and complexity within the natural world, its necessity, and how it functions as a whole.  Normally beauty appears in nature as the ‘result’ of natural habitats being reborn over and over again. Ribbon forms are also the ‘result’ of elastic and tensile forces ‘working with each other’. This unexpected beauty is almost a ‘property of the gods’. Ribbonesia experiences this encounter between beauty and a universal nature, out into the cosmos, and beyond."

Vanitas-flore-2016

While the floral inspired piece above is beautiful, it's the sea creatures that captured my heart.  Crabs, squid, jellyfish and an octopus swim alongside sand dollars, shells and even coral.  These perfectly rendered seascapes are a testament to Maeda's incredible talent and creativity. 

Sea-moon-2016

Act-of-love-2016
(images from ribbonesia.com)

I know I'm repeating myself but I could sit there with a pile of ribbon for a hundred years and never figure out how to make anything that would remotely resemble an animal, let alone one with this kind of detail - look at the suckers!

Octopus-closeup

Last year Ribbonesia continued showcasing their work at an exhibition in Tokyo entitled Murmur.  I'm not exactly sure what this one was about, but the works are stunning.

Ribbonesia-murmur-ribbon-art-japan-5

Ribbonesia-murmur-ribbon-art-japan-9(images from japantrends.com)

Naturally, Ribbonesia caught the attention of various companies eager to collaborate.  In 2014 Ribbonesia was charged with designing the windows and interior spaces for Hong Kong department store Lane Crawford. 

Lane-crawford-window

Lane-crawford

Lane-crawford-closeup

This endeavor was followed up in 2017 with a holiday display for the Shibuya location of Japanese department store Seibu.

Seibu-shibuya-201(image from sogo-seibu.jp)

Earlier this year, Ribbonesia lent their talents to fashion label Comme des Garcons with a trio of t-shirts.

Ribbonesia-comme-des-garcons(images from @ribbonesia)

In light of these collaborations, it's no surprise Shiseido wanted to work with Ribbonesia.  While I liked the collection and obviously adore Ribbonesia's work, I'm not entirely sure it's the best fit for makeup or clothing.  Given the emphasis on three-dimensional contours, I feel that the magic of these ribbon sculptures is a bit diminished when applied to a 2d surface.  I'm not sure how a makeup collection could have been designed to maintain the texture and shapes of intricately folded ribbon, but seeing the designs on a flat cushion compact doesn't have quite the same impact as viewing a sculpture.  Maybe they could have gone the MAC Shiny Pretty Things route and embossed a bow or two onto a highlighter or blush to have some semblance of a 3d effect, or even somehow have ribbons affixed to the outer cases.  Having said that, I always appreciate an artist collab, especially when it's an artist I'm not familiar with, as it introduces me to a whole new body of work.  In this case I was delighted to learn that such a thing as ribbon art exists.  And the colors and designs are perfect for the holiday season. I just wish I had more information about how the collection came to be and if the designs were created by Ribbonesia especially for Shiseido.

What do you think of Ribbonesia and the collection?  Are you good at wrapping gifts?