Alexandre Benjamin Navet is the winner of the Grand Prix Design Parade Toulon Van Cleef & Arpels in 2017. The French artist will be exploring the world of flowers for the first time and is bringing plant shapes and dazzling colors into bloom in the window displays Van Cleef & Arpels’ boutiques located in Al Kayyat, Jeddah, and Centria Mall, Riyadh this November. Recreating a sketchbook feel, the project will continue through the year with a large-format interior design concept: a joyful blend of pastel drawing and architecture.
How did you come across the Maison and first envision this collaboration?
I met Van Cleef & Arpels’ teams for the first time at Design Parade Toulon 2017. I had never worked with a High Jewelry Maison before that, but it was a world that fascinated me for its imagination and creative power. I trained in industrial design: it’s very different from jewelry, but I can see links between them. For me, jewelry and design are both fields of controlled, strict, and precise expertise, yet ones that require out-of-the-box thinking to create exceptional pieces. Also, I share Maison’s passion for drawing. Its pictorial archives reveal the importance it has always allotted the technique. For me, that love for drawing was the real starting point for our collaboration and the first connection between us.
The project focuses on the theme of flowers – a subject you are not usually associated with. What attracted you to it?
I have been drawing vases for several years: I say they are like actors on a stage, elements in a theater production. But people often point out that there are never any flowers in my vases. So I thought it was funny and exciting that – when we met – the Maison invited me to draw some, leaving a lot of room for the energy of color. The idea was to present flowers in bloom, but also the colors that come to life. My palette is already rich, but I expanded it to create drawings that are both a personal signature and the fruit of this collaboration with Van Cleef & Arpels.
It’s a dialogue, an exchange, a conversation.
How did you prepare for this collaboration?
I’m someone who needs to understand the codes of a universe before freeing myself from them. When I create a fresco in a space, I always proceed in the same way: I research its history and seek inspiration in historical records, photos, and Pictures. I did a lot of research for this project, studying and gathering material. The first sketchbook that I presented to the Maison was full of drawings of paintings from the Louvre, of Florentine and French art in particular. I began to like that, and then the “follies” arrived: the flowers took on the form of a fantasy.
What techniques did you use for the window displays?
The flowers and stems were drawn on paper, using pencils with intense vegetal pigments that yield deep colors that I don’t mix. I then cut them up, reassembled them, and stuck them down to create unique drawings. They are not just flowers in vases, but flowers that seem to have grown in and emerged from the vases. I wanted to create the illusion that they had appeared in the windows during the night as if by magic. It reminds me of that beautiful moment when you find yourself looking at a garden covered in dew, with flowers that have just bloomed. That’s how the project feels for me: it’s as if the Maison came to meet me at a table with empty vases, and fabulous flowers had bloomed in them the next day.
The second part of the collaboration involves large-format scenery. How was that different from the first part?
A High Jewelry boutique is a nice place, you feel safe there. But it also feels quite solemn and imposing. I thought it would be the ideal place for an unexpected A project like this. The unexpected creates joy and emotion. The in situ scenery is a development of the window displays but on a different scale. We leave the scale of jewelry behind and move to that of interior design, we move from the scale of the hand to that of the body. I couldn’t create the same thing, because you experience it differently. In a window display, you see every detail: the flowers’ pistils, the sharp outlines, the different-colored stems. For the architecture, I will be concentrating more on making panels for wall sections and arches. The use of pastels gives such a vibration to the colors that it will feel as if the drawings were done on the spot. The idea is creating large-scale elements alongside details that are adapted to each boutique: carpets, embroidered cushions, or library scenery. I really want to set up an artistic dialogue with space.
What kind of impression has this collaboration left you with?
It’s not over yet, but I’m struck by its energy. Our encounter has focused on the image of the flower and that has required me to step outside my familiar codes. It has been and still is, a real pleasure to work on this project. I don’t impose anything, nothing is imposed on me: it’s a dialogue. It was important to me that this collaboration should have a human dimension, and it has. The wonderful thing is that my drawings are displayed both in the windows and inside the boutiques, creating an ensemble. I want to give visitors the impression of walking through an open sketchbook. Introducing the dream-like quality of drawing to real life is a genuine achievement.