The Paris-based multidisciplinary artist and designer talks about his continuous exploration of the world of flowers and a fun new project with august jewellery maison Van Cleef & Arpels.
Options: What were the first things that came to mind when you were approached to collaborate with Van Cleef & Arpels? What did you feel you wanted to do, considering the maison’s provenance and history?
Alexandre Benjamin Navet: When they contacted me, it was about decorating some of the boutique interiors, to bring joy and express my sense of colour with flowers. The creative process started about two years ago and is still in progress. I presented a big sketchbook to the maison, filled with drawings of paintings from the Louvre — of Florentine and French art, in particular.
The first scope was not that big but we came up with many ideas, discussing things together on different, possible scales: from interior design to the windows and even the façades, to create an ensemble. My intention for this project was for people to feel as if they were walking in a giant sketchbook. I believe this kind of installation is pretty unexpected for a high jewellery boutique. The unexpected creates joy and emotion, I think.
What does it feel like to work with a brand that has a 115-year-old heritage?
I was given access to the maison’s archives, as I needed to understand its codes. I also did a lot of research on its history with flowers. Before freeing myself from these references, I needed to study and do a lot of research. This is an important part of my process and the interesting aspect of collaborations: to create a real dialogue and get out of my own comfort zone sometimes! The most inspiring part of this collaboration was the research. The brand’s creativity seems limitless and it sounds as if they have always been very playful.
You have worked with some of the best brands in the world. What are some of the main challenges you generally encounter?
The real plus in collaborations is that I can create original artworks and think about dedicated designs in every boutique. I have a general range of colours and a common vocabulary, but I adapt my palette to every place and expand it every time. For this instance, the maison is very open-minded and allowed me to express myself.
How would you classify your work, which is very often described as joyful?
It is not simple [to clarify my own work]. I use various media: painting, pastels for frescoes or artworks, aquarelle, drawing, interior design for textile or decoration, object design… Many of these media are integrated into my project with the maison. What I love most is setting up a dialogue with the space. I would say my work is generous and playful and I hope we managed to create the full experience I was dreaming of.
What is next in the creative pipeline?
I still have many ongoing projects with Van Cleef & Arpels and one of my paintings, View from the Terrace No 1, a 2020 work, is now displayed in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (MAD) as part of its Un printemps incertain (An uncertain spring) exhibition, which runs until Oct 3. I have also prepared a new exhibition with the Galerie Derouillon in Paris as well as work on some in situ frescoes in different but exciting places.
Paris, where you live, is home to so many breathtaking gardens and museums. Which are the places that have inspired you?
I could spend the whole day talking about Paris. The Louvre is always so impressive and I believe I will never be able to visit it all. The gardens of the Palais-Royal are also very inspiring and peaceful. It is a real experience to live in such a beautiful city.
Describe a perfect Parisian weekend for you.
One of the best plans would be to wake up early and head to one of the flea markets in Paris to search for new, beautiful objects with which to invent new stories. Afterwards, I would enjoy a nice lunch with friends on a terrace and spend the afternoon having a walk by Canal Saint-Martin.
This article first appeared on June 7, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.