I usually avoid Rockefeller Center, just because it’s always so crowded, but on one early-summer afternoon I found myself cutting through the plaza and then stopping short in front of the Anne Fontaine boutique.
I’m really not familiar with the Anne Fontaine brand, but a quick internet search reveals that the designer launched her first collection in 1993, is known for her reinterpretations of the classic white shirt for women, and has expanded to eighty stores worldwide (including three in New York). What I still don’t know: why did the windows of Anne Fontaine’s stores recently feature arrangements of photographs inspired by the work of artist Annette Messager?
While Fontaine is known for rethinking the white shirt, Messager is recognized for combining various materials and media in frequently unsettling installations that address subjects and stereotypes of feminine identity.
In her series Mes Voeux (My Vows, 1988-91), Messager brought together scores of black-and-white photographs in dense groupings, with each photo suspended from the wall by a length of string. The images are difficult to distinguish when you first approach one of these works, because they are so closely packed…
…but a closer look reveals fragments of bodies: eyes, ears, nipples, necks, fingers, ears, navels, and so on. As the Guggenheim Museum‘s website explains,
“Together the photographs form an inclusive representation of humanity that is equally old and young, masculine and feminine, sensual and base, and often simultaneously humorous and poignant. Ultimately, they reflect an understanding of humanity that is not categorized by physical difference.”
The title My Vows is a reference to the religious practice of leaving small offerings at a pilgrimage site, often to support prayers for healing.
The shapes and sizes of Messager’s Vows vary, but the materials and imagery are always the same.
So, how do we end up at Anne Fontaine’s Rockefeller Center storefront? I have no idea. Is one of the company’s visual merchandisers a Messager fan? The Fontaine photo-collage does include a few anatomical details, mainly eyes, but they’re mingled with landscapes, city views, and shots of models wearing Fontaine’s designs. I like seeing references to the visual arts in fashion retail. However, it’s just too bad that Messager’s concept has been neutralized and reduced to a display technique that wouldn’t be out of place in a Pottery Barn catalogue.