Inside Art Basel’s VIP lounge, a woman looks out at the throngs of art collectors who mingle about the powder-blue carpet. She has no face, and yet, her face says everything.
Those who go up to her—a piece called Blue Portrait, by Swiss-Dutch photographer Manon Wertenbroek—are confronted, theoretically, by their own image, by way of the reflective material the artist uses and the fact that the woman’s anonymous appearance allows anyone to see herself in it. At the same time, the piece remains perfectly ambiguous—a comment partly on universality, and partly on the visual aspects of beauty and the age-old adage that it lies within the eye of the beholder.
It is a fitting piece to welcome guests into La Prairie’s Art Basel Pavilion. Because yes, the Swiss brand sells beauty and skin care products—but as Wertenbroek acknowledges, it does so without promoting unrealistic feminine ideals. “Beauty brands sometimes have these beauty standards and push women into a certain stereotype, and it can be very difficult for women to relate to our own identity when it comes to beauty,” the artist says, seated inside a quiet conference room at the Bürgenstock Resort in Lucerne, Switzerland the day after her art is revealed at the pavilion. La Prairie, on the other hand, “is not gendered—it’s just about science, it’s about taking care of your skin and yourself. So it has this very precise focus and that’s why I felt so free, because they put no pressure on any women or men.” Wertenbroek was commissioned by the luxury company, which in June 2018 celebrated its second year as Art Basel’s only beauty sponsor, to create three exclusive pieces for its pavilion. The resulting works—Blue Portrait, Mirrors, and Window Glimpse—represent three pillars of La Prairie’s ethos: indulgence, aesthetics and design, and science.
Wertenbroek, who grew up in the Lake Geneva city of Lausanne, employs a layered photographic practise that involves manipulating colour, perception, and reflection to generate her desired effects. Carving lines and shapes into reflective paper, she creates a story within a story; one flat piece is abstracted into many, angled and mirrored into something entirely new and entirely hers.
“I first started using this technique when I was in school,” she says, referencing her education at École Cantonale d’art de Lausanne. Upon realizing that she did not have the patience to pursue precision in sculpture or painting, she found a home in image-making. “I felt that I could be very precise in photography,” she reflects. “I was attracted to the frame and to the flatness, the fact that photography can be the conclusion of an experimental process. During my studies I tried out so many different things and I came to use this mirror paper. For a long time, I didn’t even know why I was attracted to this shiny, reflective surface—and at some point, like a year or two ago, I felt that it’s so obvious, because my whole work is about introspection and portraiture, emotions, but also self-reflection. So it’s super linked to the actual object of mirrors.”
Paired with Wertenbroek’s three pieces (and skin care products, of course) at the La Prairie Pavilion is Pouf serpent bleu by the late French-American sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle. Her giant uncoiling snake sits on a base painted cobalt blue—a common colour in the artist’s body of work, which is actually what inspired La Prairie to adopt it as the signature shade of its lavish Skin Caviar Collection. It has been more than 30 years since the brand shared its first Skin Caviar product with the world in 1987, changing the faces of high-class women around the world with its ground-breaking use of real caviar extract, which has been shown to nourish, firm, and lift the skin. The innovations never cease, however, and the art fair was also the launching pad for the La Prairie research and development team’s latest anti-aging revolution: Caviar Premier.
Dr. Jacqueline Hill, La Prairie’s director of strategic innovation and science, has been working on Caviar Premier and its integration into the Skin Caviar Collection (among other projects) since she joined the company four years ago. For her, the ability to experiment freely with the world’s most exclusive and expensive ingredients is part of what distinguishes La Prairie in terms of modernization, singularity, and quality. “It’s great to be able to work with a brand where you’re able to formulate to your heart’s desire with active ingredients and you don’t need to look at the bottom line,” Hill says, her supple, milky skin acting as the best testament to her work. “We really look at choosing the ingredients based on performance, not on price.”
As such, delving deeper into caviar research felt like a natural progression, and the ultra luxurious result, Caviar Premier, is a truly unique mimetics formula that further harnesses the benefits of the ingredient through advanced bioengineering. When the Skin Caviar Luxe Cream is remastered with Caviar Premier, the product has even more moisturizing, lifting, and refining capabilities than before. “We don’t even consider it to be two different versions,” says La Prairie global chief marketing officer Greg Prodromides. “We consider this the same version, augmented. Magnified. Even more potent.” The reimagined Skin Caviar Luxe Cream, along with Luxe Cream Sheer and Luxe Sleep Mask, officially launched in September; in Vancouver’s rapidly growing luxury market (Canadian La Prairie sales jumped by a whopping 30 per cent in 2017), they are available at Holt Renfrew and Nordstrom.
“What is interesting is this blurring of culture in Vancouver,” says La Prairie CEO Patrick Rasquinet, admitting that he is due to make his first visit to the city. Swiss-born Rasquinet describes the brand according to five core values: Swissness, innovation, performance, luxury, and service. “There is no compromise,” he asserts. “These five values drive us in our everyday business life, and we do everything to stay true to these values.” What does change is the way in which the ideals are expressed. In 2018, that means commissioning the work of budding artist Wertenbroek, and allowing her the opportunity to show at Art Basel—the most prestigious contemporary art fair in the world—for the very first time. Present in all three of her pieces at the show is La Prairie’s classic Skin Caviar blue, reinterpreted through her lens. Beauty, after all, is easy to notice but difficult to define.
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