A love story for the ages: Kathe Fraga for Clé de Peau
December 29, 2017
I was positively giddy when I heard the news that artist Kathe Fraga had been selected to collaborate with Clé de Peau for their holiday 2017 collection. Kathe (yes, we're on a first-name basis!) is very talented in her own right, of course, and I knew she'd create a beautiful collection, but the other reason I was ecstatic was that she has kindly been following my ramblings for a few years, so I was very pleased to see a Museum supporter nab such a high-profile beauty collaboration. Fortunately there was an abundance of information on how the collaboration came to be and Kathe also very nicely answered some other questions I had, so let's get to it!
A detailed entry at Kathe's blog explains the concept and process for the collection as envisioned by Clé de Peau's Creative Director Lucia Pieroni. Pieroni wanted to do a love story/narrative entitled "Nuit de Chine" inspired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2015 China: Through The Looking Glass exhibition. Via email I asked Kathe for a few more details about the collection's theme and her role in helping it come to life. She said: "I believe that CPB Creative Director, Lucia Pieroni, discovered my work via social media. As you know, she was very inspired by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition, China: Through the Looking Glass. If you scroll through Lucia’s Insta account, you’ll see her 'wall' with a variety of different images that she used to guide and create the Nuit De Chine collection and love story-a number of my paintings and cards are on this mood board. I discovered through Facebook, and a number of the designers that I’m FB friends with, that the NY exhibit was offering a catalog of the event. I ordered it and found out much later that Lucia had the same catalog-so we were on the same 'wavelength' even before we met!" The collection took a year and a half (!) to produce. Clé de Peau selected six original paintings for the collection, 4 of which appeared on the items (the others, I believe, were used for store displays/backdrops and PR materials.)
The skincare set features Kathe's painting "Premonition".
"Distance" was chosen for the nail polish set.
I couldn't seem to find a larger version of this.
The eye pencil set shows "Encounter".
"Passion" is the name of the painting that appears on the coffret. Kathe also did pencil sketches of the embossing on the colors inside.
Here's "Nuit de Chine", which appeared on Clé de Peau store banners in Japan.
Kathe also painted some beautiful makeup pouches with 18kt gold at several launch events at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco and Dallas. Sadly these were available for in-store customers only, so obviously I wasn't able to get my hands on one...but I would have loved to meet Kathe and have my initials hand-painted in gold!
Let's learn a little more about Kathe and her style.1 She explains how her frequent childhood moves due to her father's Navy career influenced her signature fusion of art forms from all over the globe: "Growing up, I had the opportunity to live in a variety of places that have influenced my inspiration and the direction of my art. From a young age, I have lived in South America, both coasts of the U.S. and in Europe. The stained glass and gilded interiors of old world Quito, the pinks and golds and pastels of Paris, the bright reds of Copenhagen, the easygoing style of beach towns in California and the buttoned up vibe of New York have all been a part of my direction. But there was one moment that had an enormous impact - when my father returned from an overseas trip to Japan. He surprised my mother with the most beautiful dark green silk kimono jacket with the most exquisite Chinoiserie patterns in bright orange, red, pink, blue - an unexpected pairing of hues and motifs and I was in love! It opened the door to the joy of combining lovely dense patterns and blocks of colors, which you’ll see in many of my paintings."
Another point to consider is how modern and fresh these look. Let's face it, florals can look stuffy and frumpy real fast which is one of the reasons I'm not usually drawn to them. But these are totally updated and contemporary - there's no mistaking them for some hideous floral pattern you'd find on a cheap sofa. While their styles and mediums are completely different, Kathe's work reminds me a little bit of Olympia Le-Tan's in that they're both able to modernize things we normally associate with being outdated (in Le-Tan's case, embroidery).
One of the reasons I believe Clé de Peau tapped Kathe for this collection is their shared passion for bold hues and unexpected color pairings. Pieroni wanted very rich shades suited for the holidays, and Kathe's unique color schemes fit the bill perfectly. Her childhood travels as well as the abundance of nature surrounding her island home in the Pacific Northwest contribute to her love of color. "Color reacting to color is a big influence for me. It’s exciting, for example, to paint a bold wide swath of red and then layer it with bright orange and then add a subdued branch of soft little pink blossoms to create a surprising mix of modern and sweet small detail. Nature inspires me. From the overwhelming beauty of the blooming Yoshino cherry trees at the University of Washington, to the multi-colored little forest mushrooms that spring up along our wooded trails in the fall, the colors of the Pacific Northwest are wonderful inspirations. (That green moss in our Island forests is the most spectacular green ever!) Our Island beaches, rich with oyster and clam and mussel shells, also hold hidden treasures." I love the colors in all of her paintings, but I'm really struck by the orange, green, and red combined with the soft pink and purples in this one.
Another aspect of Kathe's work I adore is the slightly faded, worn look of some of her pieces, a quality that was inspired by her time in France. "Living in France and experiencing Europe and its beauty—old, decaying, historic—this memory guides me every day in my color choices and how I like my paintings to appear worn and with a story—like they were plastered panels in an old French mansion and had been cut away and preserved just before the wrecking ball hit...My ‘French Wallpaper Series’ is all about color, texture, the love of old, the whispers from generations that came before, of relationships...I paint over some parts of my paintings to give a suggestion of a story that was being told but interrupted by another. Have you ever lived in an old house that you’ve fixed up…perhaps a bedroom or the kitchen? You take down a cabinet or pull down a window molding and then there, like treasure, like a voice from the past, you see a lovely old patterned wallpaper that’s been hiding till now. It’s just magical. Who put it there? What was their life all about in this home? What was their story? I see my paintings as parts of a larger frescoed wall, taken from a place from long ago. That’s why flowers will run off the edges, or patterns will continue beyond the canvas." The idea of archeological treasure being rediscovered and rescued for preservation is very appealing to the art historian in me. What can I say? I just appreciate old things and believe they need to be cared for somehow, even if they're worn and faded. I believe the wear tells their history.
(images from kathefraga.com and instagram)
Combined with the modern style and rich colors, it's this storytelling ability that clinched the Clé de Peau collection. Lucia Pieroni wanted to share the journey of a couple in love, and fortunately most of the stories Kathe tells via her paintings center on themes of love. As she says in the video below, "Everywhere I look, I see love stories...when I think about love, you'll see in a lot of my paintings, I never use a single animal. I use deer and birds and butterflies, and typically they're always in a pair, because I think that tells a story of love and relationship and trust and color. I don't think true love can ever fade, and I also believe it lasts over generations. I think when two people fall in love, maybe their story continues and they fall in love again and again and again."
As you might have guessed, I love this collection and was so happy to see Kathe's work on Clé de Peau's packaging. While I've been impressed with Pieroni's careful selection of artists for previous Clé de Peau holiday collections, I think this one was the most inspired and most appropriate for both the brand and Pieroni's vision - there was really no better artist to make her ideas come to life. For example, I enjoyed last year's collaboration with Ashley Longshore and admired how she shifted her style ever so slightly to fit the Clé de Peau aesthetic, but with this year's there was no modifying necessary. Kathe's work was just a natural fit all around. And on a personal level, Kathe genuinely seems like a nice person who has not only been supporting the Museum but has also been incredibly friendly and humble even though she's hugely successful - I so appreciate that she's not too "important" to follow me on social media and answer my inane questions. She is one artist I'm not afraid to approach and for that I am grateful.
What do you think? Oh, and if you'd like more of Kathe's lovely work, she has note cards and pillows available...but I'm still dreaming of owning this painting for my living room (despite the title, haha!).2
1 Kathe frequently refers to her work as "Chinoiserie-inspired". While I don't think her work is culturally appropriative - I maintain that it's more of a mix of various artistic styles she's observed during her travels - I want to briefly note that the jury is still out as to whether Chinoiserie is a type of cultural appropriation, particularly as it applies to the decorative arts. The aforementioned Met show that both Kathe and Lucia Pieroni were so inspired by had its share of critics. And Chinoiserie's roots in the 17th century are certainly based on colonialism and "otherness", i.e. Westerners fetishizing so-called "exotic" cultures. However, I believe in Kathe's case, her use of "Chinoiserie-inspired" is merely a descriptive phrase to help people understand her style and not actual Chinoiserie. Obviously cultural appropriation is something I'm sensitive to and if I thought Kathe's work was appropriation I'd discuss it in full, but when I look at her paintings I see a unique take on the global art styles she appreciates, not a bland rip-off of various cultures that's oblivious to the actual history and meaning of their art or some idealized fantasy of places she's never been.
2 If I was going to buy any of Kathe's work it would obviously be one of the paintings she did for this collaboration, but Clé de Peau has purchased all the pieces for their headquarters in Japan. :(