Originally from Oradea, Bihor county, the artist Mircea Cantor – currently based in Paris – is the first Romanian invited to answer the challenge of the famous fashion house Dior to reimagine the iconic “Lady Dior” bag. According to Elle magazine, the Romanian artist wanted to pay tribute to his own origins, but also to the creativity and skillful hands of artisans everywhere. He revealed that he was inspired by the motifs woven on the kohăneş kojok from Vașău, the place of his grandmother’s heritage.
For those familiar with the work of artist Mircea Cantor, the news that he has been selected in flattering company to celebrate the spectacular intersection of visual arts and fashion in a project by the legendary house of Dior should not have come as a surprise. The last few years, especially since 2011, since he won the prestigious Duchamp prize, have meant a steady rise in his notoriety, in parallel with a continuous evolution of his artistic practice. Cantor exhibited worldwide, took part in significant projects and explored new ideas, while continuing, in certain aspects of his work, to capitalize on ancient local symbols, perhaps out of a natural inclination for a the home whom he left for many years, but from whom he never really parted.
The artist was asked about his performance for the creation of two Lady Dior bags, one black and one beige, in which the hands of the house’s artisans embroidered, printed, twisted and interwoven old Romanian datins with that savoir faire specific to the French house.
“The idea of doing something together existed for several years, it seemed that it died out over time, but we met again now, and I made them the proposal,” he says. “I came with the notebooks, with the original sketches made with Japanese brushes, with ink. I told them I wanted to do something with the garden of paradise. Until then, I was thinking of working with artisans both from Romania and with those of Dior, to have a permanent connection with manufacturing, with manual work, with people, not with machines, in the project. It shouldn’t just be a product that a machine can make on its own, something that silk-screens onto skin. And, more than the manual process, let this be included savoir faire typical of the French, this care for know howthe technological, handicraft, to see how it’s done”, Mircea Cantor told Elle magazine.
He chose as inspiration for the project an element of folk clothing closely related to the places where his grandparents came from – the Cohan cojocul, a women’s vest specific to the Bihor area, originating from Vasčau. Along with the Binšen kojocol, says Cantor, there are festive robes, worn on special occasions, but which speak of the craftsmanship of the famous kojocarie centers in the area. “There are different motifs on them, you say they look alike, but they don’t. The one from Beiuș is much more geometric, more articulated in terms of symbolism and composition, much more fragmented. The one I used seems to have a much more simplistic influence: the garden is the first thing that comes to mind, the garden of heaven, then the expulsion from heaven… Maybe the traditional embroidery on his back doesn’t even show that, but that’s what I call it, because usually several flowers placed in a composition symmetrical symbolizes the archetype of the Garden of Eden. And, unlike the one in Bihor, here everything is very floral, very rich, I would even say a little exaggerated, but that’s what makes it beautiful. Although the communities are located at small distances, because people did not travel much a century ago, each had its own identity.”
He was attracted to the idea of this garden, he says, because it is a universal one, which anyone can recognize and associate with something deeply imprinted in their own culture and mind. “The paradise motif is very common in embroidery, in traditional Romanian compositions, especially on the back, worn by women. I think it has to do with conveying the idea of beauty. And I felt that, especially in the times we live in, we need this beauty, a garden that is as visible as possible to the disaster that is happening around us, that it is political, that it is ecological… As an artist, I felt the need to bring this side of reality, of beauty, of sublimation, through this garden, with the ropes that segment the bag, which are at the same time an allusion to French gardens. It is, basically, an overlap of layers, from the gardens of Versailles to the garden of heaven, which appears in many frescoes, always with central, symmetrical motifs. I also saw them in Venice, on all kinds of palazzos, where the fountain or a flower has a central role, and then there are two birds next to it. It’s always a symmetrical thing. And then, putting it on a bag, it’s like you’re no longer in the garden, but carrying it with you.” Read more in the magazine Elle.