How Chanel and Peter Marino supersized Jean-Michel Othoniel
The French sculptor says the US architect's fashion commissions helped him work towards 'the monumental'
Can a fashion boutique commission ever really actually challenge a fine artist? You’d be forgiven for thinking that the creators of the paintings, sculptures and other works that adorn the world’s flagship stores are rewarded financially, rather than creatively. Yet, one of the art world’s most fruitful commercial partnerships has also pushed the boundaries of commercial sculpture.
Though well established within the European gallery system, Othoniel still wasn’t especially well off and, as he says in his new Contemporary Artist Series book, “was just getting by like a student.”
Marino – a well respected US architect and collector, with an excellent reputation when it came to fashion and retail design – helped change that, by commissioning huge works from the French sculptor, who had created large-scale pieces before, but also tended towards bijou, intricate pieces.
Marino liked Othoniel’s work not only because it was beautiful; the architect was also “struck by the convergence between the artist’s work and the iconography of Chanel, one of his longtime clients,” writes author Brad Goldfarb in our book Peter Marino: Art Architecture.
Marino has commissioned over 15 pieces from Othoniel, including massive sculptures for Chanel’s New Bond Street shop in London, and its Manhattan flagship store on 57th Street.
These large-scale strands of hand-blown glass ‘pearls’ weren’t simple creations. “It was a feat just to find someone who could make the steel to hold the three tons of glass beads,” says Marino in his book. “The lining of the work was an incredible piece of sculpture on its own.”
Yet the sculptures not only gilded Chanel’s retail spaces; they also pushed Othoniel’s artistic talents.
“Working with an architect like Peter and responding to the demands of commissions in response to his architectural spaces gently led my work towards the monumental,” Othoniel explains to the writer Gay Gassmann in his book. “Then we did several projects together, each crazier than the last.”
The sculptor expands on this relationship in our Peter Marino book, saying, “Peter pushes me in terms of scale—to make something almost architectural and in proportion with the size of the building. Many are things I might never have had the chance to build otherwise.”
You can see Othoniel‘s latest works by visiting his current solo exhibition, on at Perrotin in Shanghai until February 22. If you want to view some of his biggest, and most challenging pieces, take a detour to your nearest Chanel flagship.