When the couturier and the artist found the same source of inspiration (the famous Menines immortalized by Diego Velàzquez), the frontier between their respective disciplines dissolved. Below, a conversation between Rolland and Valdes.
Manolo Valdes answers to Stephane Rolland
It seems the Meninas keep haunting us throughout the centuries. What do you find so striking about them?
The Reina Mariana and the Infanta Margarita came into my universe during my first visits to the Prado Museum when I was a teenager. Early on, I wanted to comment on them through painting. I felt that I had to place myself in front of them with my easel the same way that the Impressionists placed their easels in front of a landscape.
Can you walk us through the creation of your Meninas?
When I painted them for the first time, I understood that those images were not going to leave my head. Immediately after that first time, I encountered Picasso’s series on the Meninas. They were referenced in books such as those by author Rafael Alberti and even in music. I realized that with the new stimuli I could continue my conversations about the Meninas. To this day, I keep the conversation going by trying new materials such as wood, marble, bronze and resin always with the hope that every new version will complete the discourse.
What did you want to express through these monumental sculptures? What do they represent in your eyes?
Monumental sculpture at first was a challenge for me because I had to confront it on two separate fronts (1) large scale and (2) her dialogue with her surroundings. I soon discovered that they had their own life because I would see them vastly differently depending on where they were being exhibited. I was surprised when I saw them at the Botanical garden in NYC covered in snow and then I saw them in Arizona in a desert like landscape next to the cacti with blinding lights. Seeing them in St. Petersburg during their white nights gave me a new discourse as it did seeing them in Palais-Royal in Paris surrounded by such beautiful architecture. It was equally stimulating to see them exhibited in Beijing, Singapore, and South Korea. These changes in location give me such emotion because I can see they have a life of their own.
Have you ever been inspired by fashion?
Fashion is always present. The meninas that we are discussing have garments that were drawn,designed, and constructed. With time, fashion changes shape and constantly maintains my interest alive. I can tell you that when I leaf through a fashion magazine or stand in front of a store window I never stop looking. When I go to the Metropolitan Museum in NYC I always without fail visit the wing that has been dedicated to fashion and its creators. I’ve created sculptures like “La Pamela” or other busts with headpieces that I’m sure go very well with fashion. I’ve painted shoes and hats that are also very complimentary of fashion.
Dearest Manolo, what is your takes on the Meninas I imagined in my new collection ? I loved seeing the drawings. Once realized, the plain black dress has beautiful volume in the sleeves and the headpieces has the same level as a beautiful sculpture. It has a wonderful rhythm. The transparency of the gold headpiece is my favorite. The black dress with the gold stripe captivated me. Both the color and the proportions are beautiful. The contrast between the two pieces cannot be more precise. Because the volume of the sleeves is diminished the volume of the skirt has excellent proportions. The magic of the Meninas is that from one single painting many ideas have come. One idea,then two, then three etc.…It’s really satisfying for me to see that it keeps giving ideas in places like your new collection. I’m proud to also be part of the chain.
Stephane Rolland answers to Manolo Valdes
My dear Stéphane! How do you link sculpture, architecture and art within your Couture designs?
To me, these three fields make one and by blending them, I come to create the balance, structure and dynamic of a gown.
Beside fashion, do you practice an art form yourself?
I usually run after time! But whenever I can, I paint, I draw… and I seriously consider making, hopefully in a near future, a book of drawings as well as an exhibition.
You were inspired by the Meninas exhibition I hosted in Paris in 2005. What emotions did this exhibition bring that still inspire you today?
Besides the fact I have always admired Velázquez, the first time I found out about the “Manolo Valdés Meninas”, it was a real visual choc. When I talk about balance and strength, your Meninas made of resin, wood or metal are the perfect example. The curves of the skirt, the minimalism of the sleeves and the graphism of the hairstyle all create the perfect balance. When you had the brilliant idea to develop them infinitely, like a procession in the corridors of the palace, it was simply magical!
What are you trying to achieve with the Meninas from your Spring-Summer 2021 collection?
I’ve been attracted to the Meninas like a real magnet for years. I think it was time for me to pay tribute to their creator. With this in mind, I decided to create this collection that reinterprets the rigor and the allure of the 17th Century Spanish court.
In what ways do you think both our interpretations of the Meninas meet?
These different interpretations both evolve in a logical way and become timeless. I’ve always been associated to sculpture and architecture. There goes another demonstration!