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  • Maria Pergay – Mistress of Silver

    Maria Pergay – Mistress of Silver - Contemporary Cluster

    French designer Maria Pergay has left an indelible mark on the history of design. Her work remains a symbol of excellence. With ideas that are always ahead of their time, Maria was quite simply a visionary.

    A pioneer of stainless-steel objects and furniture, Pergay said that she favours steel for its strength and availability, among other qualities. Pergay made her name in the 1960’s when she was approached by Uginox, a French stainless-steel company, to design small decorative objects.

     

    When Pergay began her career in post-war France, modernism in Europe was energetically accelerating.  Young architects were developing an approach to interiors and furniture meant to accommodate the pressing requirements of urbanization.  In the midst of this moment, when classical decoration was being relegated to the past, Pergay’s early designs came to life.  Architectural Digest describe Maria Pergay as the unstoppable matron of modernism.

    Born with a sensitivity to luxury, her furniture and objects fulfilled curiosities far from the norms of the time. Her career began while creating ornate metal elements for window displays in Paris’s fashionable boutiques. With her creativity piqued, she began experimenting with silver, soon producing a complete collection of distinct, contemporary pieces in the late 1950s.  And her designs were embraced by fashion houses including Christian Dior and Hermes. 

     

     Maria Pergay buckle box top

     

    The vast uniqueness of the silver objects set the tone for a lifelong tendency to challenge current trends and work outside the boundaries of her contemporaries. In addition, Pergay’s silver work functioned as a catalyst for her innovative works made of stainless steel. Pergay’s usage of this material not only became her trademark but also changed the face of French decoration in the 1970’s.

    All the while, furniture design remained a harshly male-dominated field which relegated design work by women to trite ‘decoration.  As a mother of four without formal training particular to furniture, nor outside support, Pergay pursued her creative instincts working relatively alone.  Drawing from a multitude of sources, she was provoked by antiquity, Japanese art and the innate nature of her materials — conjuring a voice so individual that many of her pieces would not receive recognition until years after they were created. 

    Much like Eileen Gray, whose genius was also widely neglected because of her gender,  Pergay created for her own pleasure — exhibiting and selling to clients, while quietly receiving important private commissions. In this way, she maintained a diverse and lengthy career, working enthusiastically even today.

    Much in the way that Pergay’s innovative work landed her outside of the French modernist movement of the 1950s and 1960s, neither does she conform to the mainstream of today’s contemporary design.  When questioned, she refuses to be designated solely as an artist, designer or decorator, but describes herself as a servant to her own creative impulses, particularly as a “captor of ideas.”  Moreover, she defies the demand to produce using one theme over a singular period of time, rather creating as her ideas come, without schedule or structure.

    Despite the absence of a calculated artistic agenda, retrospect makes clear the consistent core vision maintained by Pergay throughout her career. She worked in broad strokes, concentrating on the physicality of ideas rather than the details.
    Having pioneered the use of stainless steel in furniture, she ceaselessly challenged the inherent limitations of her primary material. She introduced and revisited materials and motifs — not with a sense of repetition — but rather as manifestations of her creative vocabulary.  Pergay never belonged to a distinct design movement or group of designers, an individual content indulging in the framework of her own imagination rather than the influences of her contemporaries.

    She was among a handful of designers of her generation who continued to work up until her death in 2023 — a remarkable accomplishment.  According to Wallpaper.com, Pergay had a key role in the contemporary design canon.  


    Contemporary Cluster currently have several rare exquisite pieces from the Maria Pergay Collection. In her favourite medium of silver these pieces are available for viewing on our online store or in person at 67 Macleay St. Potts Point. 

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  • The Story of Jeanne Lanvin and her Paris design house

    The Story of Jeanne Lanvin and her Paris design house - Contemporary Cluster

    The story of Lanvin begins in 1889, when Jeanne Lanvin had just turned twenty-two and finished her milliner’s apprenticeship.  She opened her first hat shop on the upper level of a store located in the heart of Paris at 16 Rue Boissy d’Anglas. Even at that young age, her talent was truly dazzling.

    Four years later, Jeanne Lanvin’s crowning point came when she obtained a commercial lease on the prestigious Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and established her eponymous fashion house. Her success was instant and Parisians would flock to her boutique, named “Lanvin (Mademoiselle Jeanne) Modes.”

    But it was the birth of her daughter Marguerite in 1897 that turned Jeanne Lanvin’s world upside-down. A tightly-bound relationship formed between Jeanne and her daughter.  Marguerite became her muse and Jeanne would use luxurious fabrics to create the wardrobe of every little girl’s dreams. The elegant Marguerite was quickly noticed by her friends’ mothers, who in turn became customers of the Lanvin fashion house.

    Faced with this new commercial success, and now a savvy businesswoman, Jeanne Lanvin opened a children’s clothing department in 1908 and devoted an entire section of her store to this new thriving business. In 1909, orders for children’s clothing began to exceed those for hats.

    Jeanne Lanvin decided it was time for her fashion house to enter into a new era: that year, she opened a Young Ladies’ and Women’s department. Mothers and daughters would come and choose their Lanvin outfits together. Day clothes, evening dresses, coats, and lingerie: Paris fell in love with the entire scope of Lanvin’s creations.

    Ambitious and determined, Jeanne Lanvin became a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture (Parisian Fashion Council) that same year, officially switching her status from milliner to designer.

    In 1924, Lanvin Perfumes set up shop at 4 Rond-Point des Champs-Elysées. For the former milliner, it was obvious: perfume was an essential accessory on a woman’s dressing table.

    Lanvin perfume

    The first fragrance was American: My Sin formulated by Maria Zède and launched in the United States in 1925, was an immediate success. But it wasn’t until 1927 that the legendary fragrance Arpege was born in France.

    To celebrate her daughters thirtieth birthday, Jeanne Lanvin wanted to give her daughter Marguerite - by now Countess Marie-Blanche de Polignac - a unique perfume developed by renowned perfumer André Fraysse. When Marie-Blanche smelled this composition for the first time, featuring notes of Bulgarian rose, Grasse jasmine, honeysuckle, and lily of the valley, she exclaimed: “It’s like an arpeggio.” It was a complete triumph, and Arpège became the ultimate symbol of Jeanne’s love for her daughter.

    In 1933, true to her pioneering spirit, Jeanne Lanvin launched the very first “eau mixte” for men and women: L’eau de Lanvin.

    Fast forward to 2009 and in celebration of Lanvin's 120th anniversary, Alber Elbaz, in collaboration with Chinese craftsman Franz, designed seven limited porcelain figurines in tribute to the label's founder Jeanne Lanvin for the Miss Lanvin Doll Collection. Choosing key silhouettes from the season, only 800 are now produced per season - securing their place in fashion history. They are chic and sassy, oozing with the Parisian charm for which the French fashion brand is known.

    Lanvin doll

    But these precious, porcelain collector’s items are not for playing with. In fact, they are not for little girls at all, but savvy fashionistas wanting to capture a slice of Lanvin history - all wrapped up in Lanvin's iconic baby blue and navy packaging.

    Much later, as an established fashion designer, Jeanne Lanvin sold her dolls displayed in the windows, sometimes giving them as gifts to her customers’ daughters. Today, the brand continues her legacy with Miss Lanvin Dolls.

     

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