Then&Now- special edition

Sonia Delaunay, swimsuits, 1928                                                    Lea Gottlieb for Gottex, inspired by Sonia Delaunay, 1998

I mentioned here before a paper I wrote as an under-grad student on the Swimwear house Gottex. This fall semester, I am studying yet again the work of the founder and designer Lea Gottlieb. For my research I am going back to some of the people I interviewed, some of the source I reviewed, and yes, strangely enough to reading my own paper- which was written in collaboration with my peer Eli Korman. In our paper we focused on the influence of artists and art movements on Gottlieb’s designs, while my new paper will center more on the branding of the company, contrasting and comparing the marketing strategies in Israel, Europe and the US. In addition I will dedicate part of my paper to the textiles and how it was developed and sourced.

Gottlieb was inspired by many things, but some of the strongest influences come from the art world. Sissi Rosenbaum, which oversaw all Gottex collections from 1984 to 1997, told me Gottlieb traveled the world seeking for inspiration, stopping at cities to visit interesting museum exhibitions and art-books stores. One artist which particularly influenced her was Sonia Delaunay.  It is interesting that the two women have very much in common, not only in their visual language and artistic style but also in their personal life. They share passions and were driven, it seems, by similar desires and ideas. While  Gottlieb- the designer- ‘played’ with art, deconstructing famous artworks to fit her needs as a designer,  Delaunay- the artist- ‘played’ with fashion design, using her artistic background and extensive color study to create strikingly beautiful and unique designs.   Even biographically there are similarities, they are both of Jewish Eastern- European background (Delaunay was born Sarah Stern, to a Jewish family in the Ukraine, Gottlieb was born in Hungary), both were adopted by their relatives as young girls, and both married to strong men which were their partners in life and work, yet they were successful by their own rights.

I bring here an edited excerpt from the chapter Eli and I wrote on these two creative and passionate women.

“Gottlieb designed numerous pieces that were directly inspired by Delaunay; however, the similarity in their creative styles is reflected in Gottlieb’s designs as a whole.

Delaunay was influenced by the Cubist movement, which maybe one of the reasons she was encouraged to experiment with the collage technique. At the turn of the century this technique mirrored the modern diversity;  for Delaunay it gave the opportunity to combine separate elements into one cohesive language, it was a tool she used to express the diversity of the sources which influenced her art and design- from her childhood in Russia and the Ukraine, her years in Paris, Portugal and Spain, the artists she admired (among them Van Gogh, Mattise and Gaugain) and the visual study of color and form she develop with her husband, the artist Robert Delaunay.

In her designs, Delaunay combined solid and printed fabrics, symmetrical and asymmetrical forms, colors reflected in urban landscapes and those reflected in rural life, and she pieced together letters and words. In 1911 she made a patchwork quilt for her son Charles (now at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris), it was made of small pieces of fabric which together created an abstract surface of color and form.  Her friends interpreted it as a cubist piece of art, but for Delaunay herself it was continuation of the tradition of Russian peasants she witnessed as a young girl. The abstract forms and bold colors of the quilt marked a turning point in her approach to art and design, an approach she later developed into a distinctive and individual visual language.

Gottlieb may not cut and piece together actual pieces of fabrics to create a surface (although she sometimes does), but the principles of collage are at the center of her work.  When Gottlieb uses a famous piece of art to create a print for a swimsuit she always gives it a personal interpretation. At first glance the print may seem an exact replication of the original, Montes’ or Mattise’s painting for example, but a closer look unravels Gottlieb’s unique touch and ability to deconstruct and reconstruct almost every inspiration she uses.

Delaunay aspired to create garments which harmonizes with the feminine figure, in letters from 1968 to the French publisher Jacques Damase (published in April 1980 in Le Jardin des Modes), she attacks a “certain designer” who copied a famous work of art and pasted it onto a dress without researching and understanding the meaning of that work, and only in order to shock and provoke (referring to Yves Saint Laurent and his Mondrian dress).  But Gottlieb is not guilty of that crime, as any work of art she references is filtered and reinterpreted. She takes each work of art apart, reorganizing elements of it in perfect harmony and with careful attention to the fit and the wearer’s body. The end result always reflects the artist’s world as well as her own.

Both Delaunay and Gottlieb do not separate their life from their art. Each in her own way, they fuse everyday life with art and design. Delaunay believed that art should not be confined to the studio or gallery space, but be part of each and every aspect of life. She dedicated herself to making the world beautiful- by painting and by designing everything from cloths to fabrics, theater costumes, rugs, cars, game cards and furniture. In her eyes fashion and design are a continuation of abstract art. Her liberated use of color and form paved the way to new type of dress, which like Chanel offered a more relaxed and practical fit, only with added drama of strong colors. Delaunay found a way to merge Fine Art with Applied Art- without constrains of surface and limits of color she brought Fine Art into her fashion design and made life and art inseparable.  After World War I, Delaunay experienced a burst of creativity in many different aspects, but most importantly she started to view dress differently. She had the urge to change what she perceived as dreary and dull clothes by continuing her color study on wearable textiles. She was the first to wear her own dresses which corresponded with her paintings[1]. The waist-less, straight and simple silhouette of the 1920s was a perfect surface to showcase her approach to color and form- the short dresses allowed freedom of movement and became almost walking versions of her paintings.

If Delaunay brings art to every aspect of life, then Gottlieb does exactly the opposite, she brings all aspects of life to create her personal artwork. By meticulously collecting ideas and inspiration from different cultures and countries she pieces together a rich visual world of beauty. In her travels around the world she endlessly absorbs the landscapes and local folklore; she finds inspiration not only in art  but also in music, dance, nature and color. The new world she creates by bringing all these components together is expressed with the tools of the fashion designer- textiles, color, cut and fit. Much like Delaunay Gottlieb turns her designs into ‘living paintings’. By walking a fine line between the original recognized artwork and the new creation she constructs an object that stands independently- related to the original yet completely new and unique.”

For both Gottlieb and Delaunay design, art and creativity were inseparable part of life. For each of them work was essential as breathing air and they constantly thrived to challenge the boundaries that separate art and design.


[1] Sischy Ingrid, Art\Fashion 1997 p.57

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6 Responses to Then&Now- special edition

  1. je vient de recevoir votre courrier Email
    J’ai lu quelques un de tes commentaires, j’aime bien (tes questions pertinentes )avec Nurit Bat-Yaar, sur son “Livre-Album Israel 1948-2008 Fashion-Art” ou je me trouve aussi,
    pour le présent article je ne les pas encore lu, mes il y a une chose qui ma frapper et je les toujours penser, de c’est deux Femmes Mme Delaunay et Mme Gottelib presque de la même époque elles ont la même inspiration de dessins et couleurs je ne connais pas les derniers de Mme Gottelib a suivre………

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  6. Jackie says:

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