Belle Époque

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The hats and scarves are a few steps away from the perfect shade of lipstick; the children’s department is on top of three floors dedicated to cutting-edge women’s fashion. Elegant lingerie, hardy cookware, bestselling books and plush linens – all of these must-haves can be found in the 70,000m2 of the consumer heaven that is Galeries Lafayette, one of France’s best-known department stores.

First established in the 19th century, department stores have long inspired creatives. Emile Zola first published Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies’ Paradise) in 1883, for example (after its serialisation in the Gil Blas periodical), tracing the rise of a draper’s shop – from humble beginnings to Paris’s number one shopping destination. “By increasing sales tenfold, by making luxury democratic, shops were becoming a terrible agency for spending, ravaging households, working hand in hand with the latest extravagances in fashion, growing ever-more expensive,” wrote the French author.

Those words still ring true 150 years later. So when Philippe Jarrigeon was asked to celebrate 25 years of innovation in fashion, the fantastic and terrible ‘grands magasins’ – as they are known in France – crystallised his thinking.

The commission came from the National Association for the Development of the Fashion Arts (ANDAM), a body devoted to promoting emerging designers that awards €575,000 annually to promising creatives. Past recipients Martin Margiela and Viktor & Rolf have become household names off the back of it, but many more have benefited from its support over the years, so to celebrate its 25th anniversary ANDAM asked Jarrigeon to reinterpret 15 of its most iconic prizewinners. The resulting series will go on show at the department store’s La Galerie des Galeries this autumn.

“At first I was a little taken aback by their request,” says the 30-year-old. “There wasn’t much time – four months – to conceive and produce a series of relevant and powerful images. But when I was given the names of the chosen few – from the severe Christophe Lemaire to ultra-glam Anthony Vaccarello – I couldn’t help but be excited about the challenge of melding their contrasting styles into a unified body of work.”

Contrast Martin Margiela, known for his enigmatic deconstructionist designs, with Gareth Pugh’s outrageous sculptural couture, for example; and Jean Touitou, founder of A.P.C, known for his minimalist style, with Jeremy Scott’s bold, energetic and ironic outfits, and you get a sense of the enormity of the challenge. “Eventually, it became obvious that the way to orchestrate these different visual universes was to be found in the defining characteristics of the grand magasin,” says Jarrigeon. “Department stores are the places where disparate styles cohabit on a daily basis. And then it was simply a matter of applying a tautology.

Since the exhibition space is called La Galerie des Galeries and is located on the first floor of a department store, the show had to be entitled Grand Magasin and be a representation of what a department store is today.” But while this idea inspired him, it also meant he needed to do a lot of research. The Beaujolais native had spent his early days in more contemporary shopping malls, and now prefers boutiques, but he says the ANDAM commission gave him a new appreciation for these consumerist temples.

“I was fascinated by the contrast between the idealised life projected by the clothes, the different displays built around them, and the banality of the day-to-day – like the bandaids salespeople put on their feet to heal blisters, the layers of make-up they apply to hide fatigue, the sandwiches they gulp down in the employees’ staircase or the bus-loads of Asian customers arriving all at once,” he says. “The department store is a constantly evolving collage of different sounds and sights – a space where everything is possible.”

He began devising his own grand magasin, complete with window displays, customers and staff, then thought about where each designer would belong and how they would fit in. “For instance, when it came to Viktor & Rolf, I could either celebrate their surrealist haute couture or their prêt-à-porter tribute to the uniform,” he says. “The latter made more sense and I envisioned these clothes as part of a sales personnel’s dress code. Other designers – such as Gareth Pugh, who creates spectacular outfits – made more sense in display windows.”

The entire series was shot over one weekend – half in a studio housed in Galeries Lafayette, the other half in the department store itself, on floors made chaotic by the highly popular seasonal markdowns. Even on Sundays, when the store was closed to the public, it seemed to have a mind of its own – the piped music playing on and on, repeating the same song over and over again. “In this context, bringing so many elements together in a short period of time and assembling them in such a way as to create a birthday cake, I had the impression of doing a performance,” says Jarrigeon.

Early-years Jarrigeon honed his unique aesthetic at the prestigious École Cantonale d’Arts de Lausanne in Switzerland, which he entered as a trainee industrial designer but left as a photographer obsessed with the object. After graduating he moved to Paris, where he started working as a graphic designer but collaborated on small photoshoots when he could. Part image-maker, part sculptor, Jarrigeon manipulates reality rather than recording it, whether he is constructing an elaborate set or creating a vibrant composition. He examines each object and its shape, colour and texture, comparing it to the pieces he is using and deciding how they fit together.

When shooting a portrait, he uses the sitter as if they were a character in a play rather than trying to achieve an authentic representation; in Grand Magasin, a redhead donning Yazbukey’s fun jewellery plays the commanding manager, while three women dressed in Véronique Leroy’s colourful suits are cheerful employees.

Jarrigeon’s playful yet meticulously composed images soon attracted attention, and his work was exhibited at the prestigious International Festival of Fashion and Photography in Hyères when he was just 26. His work was on show at the Fotomuseum Winterthur the following year, and by the time he was 30 had worked with Chanel, Dries Van Noten, Kenzo, Hermès, Dyptique and Roger Vivier, and had been featured in Wallpaper* magazine, Numéro, Le Monde M Magazine, Double and Vogue, among others.

“His photography shows a great sense of colour and décor,” says Elsa Janssen, the director of La Galerie des Galeries. “He creates installations that bristle with objects, people, animals, materials and flashy colours. Whether in his portraits, still life or fashion shoots, precise framing underscores the humour or irony of his perspective.”

“Photography is about paying attention to and deliberately looking at everything,” he says. “It is not just the act of capturing a moment, it’s about choices. I never fully adhered to the concept of the Decisive Moment – Henri Cartier-Bresson shot extensively, his genius was in knowing which of his frames to single out from the rest when looking through his contact sheets. It’s that selection process, that act of authorship, that matters.”

For him, he adds, putting together a shoot is like preparing a meal. “You’re bringing together different elements around the table – an actor, a model, a certain type of lighting, objects or a specific colour,” he says. “You cook with these, hoping to create an enjoyable experience.”

Like any inventive chef, he’s open to a touch of serendipity; he also has a taste for fusion, mixing cutting-edge design with the everyday. He often casts his models in the street, for example, and for Grand Magasin used department store employees. “The idea is to transgress the conventions of the stereotypical fashion body as defined by the size of the clothes that designers lend us,” he says. “It’s a way to make an idealised world a tad more real and underline its inherent triviality.”

This approach also has something satirical about it, something he emphasises by transforming his living models into inanimate mannequins. It brings to mind Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida, and in particular his observation that “however lifelike we strive to make it (and this frenzy to be lifelike can only be our mythic denial of an apprehension of death), photography is a kind of primitive theatre, a kind of tableau vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead”.

Jarrigeon is celebrating fashion and its pop aesthetic, but he’s also offering a darker critique of consumerism. “After all, the experience of going to a grand magasin is all about being attracted by something shiny and rejected by something uncomfortable,” he says. “Plus, you always head for the escalators moving in the opposite direction to where you intend to go.”

Grand Magasin is on show at La Galerie des Galeries from 23 September until 15 November.

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