How does the old saying go? One door closes and another one opens? Such is the case for former fashion designer Nicole Farhi. After 30 years creating understated ready-to-wear, she has embarked on a new chapter as a fully-fledged sculptress. So has she found her calling?
On what is officially the hottest day of the year so far, London, or leafy Hampstead to be precise, feels oppressive under thundery skies and the potent scent of flowering oak pollen. In contrast, here inside the renovated greenhouse, which sits at the back of Nicole Farhi’s 18th Century home, light in dazzling proportions and slightly cooler air provides the perfect respite from the muggy outdoors.
For those who still associate Farhi as the head of her eponymous ready-to-wear label, this is not a place for designing clothes or even growing pot plants. Instead, this is where Farhi the fashion-designer-turned sculptress, creates impressive works of art.
On first meeting, I’m struck by Farhi’s thick mane of honey-coloured curls and pale green eyes. A sing song of an accent also reminds me that she is French – despite the fact that she has has lived in the UK for the past 30 years.
To recap on 69-year-old Farhi’s career to date, her fashion brand, which was previously owned by French Connection, was sold to the private equity company OpenGate Capital in 2010. In many ways she believes it was a blessing. The need to create art through her hands has always come straight from the gut.
“As a student in Paris, I studied both fashion and art,” she recalls. And even though I went on to design fashion for over 30 years, I’d still find time to work on my art at weekends or whenever I could.”
It is also worth mentioning here that Farhi was tutored and mentored by the great Eduardo Paolozzi. His influence can be seen in a variety of her early work – from sketches to the clay sculptures of his large head and fists.
“Eduardo had an inner strength and a kind of wildness as if he came from the earth, the sea… All the elements were in him that’s why I did this particular head sculpture,” she says pointing to a bronze work, which is notable for its raw, jagged edges.
It was thanks to the encouragement of a close friend that Farhi decided to approach sculpture galleries with her work. Robert Bowman, director at London’s ‘Bowman Sculpture’ was among the first to see her vast collection of pieces and immediately offered her a slot at his gallery. Her first show, ‘From The Neck Up’, an exhibit of busts opened in 2014, two years to the day that she ceased designing for her fashion label.
So what next? Judging by the amount of hands – from charcoal sketches of rotund baby hands to bronze and more sinister black aluminium casts of the real thing, which are dotted around the studio, I take it that this is the theme of her next show.
“I like to watch pianists, dancers and conductors in their own environment, playing or dancing,” she says. “I often revisit my subjects and ask them to hold a specific pose for me which I’ll then photograph and work from that. I’ve been working on this project non-stop since last October. I might show in a year’s time let’s see. Unlike the fast-pace of fashion, I have the luxury of taking as long as I like to create and only have myself to answer to.”
Images © Atlanta Rascher
Finally, Farhi will also be participating in the upcoming edition of Brown’s London Art Weekend. She was asked by the organisers to take a stroll around Mayfair and list her top five galleries currently showing sculpture. Her musings can be read here.