LONDON — Nicole Farhi will be staging a show during London Fashion Week — and there’s not a stitch of clothing in it.
The designer has said farewell to the fashion business, and become a sculptor. Her showcase is to open at London’s Bowman Sculpture on Sept. 16 and run to Oct. 3.
Works include busts of Dame Judi Dench, Helena Bonham-Carter, Tom Stoppard, Anna Wintour, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Eduardo Paolozzi. Here, she talks about her career change, expressing herself in another medium — and her strange experience with Freud.
WWD: What inspired you to take on portrait sculpting?
Nicole Farhi: I had made a portrait of Eduardo Paolozzi who was both friend and mentor many years ago. When Eduardo introduced me to Francis Bacon, I was drawn to the intensity of his face and decided to sculpt it. It then occurred me to group different kinds of artists together — visual artists, actors, writers.
WWD: How does working on sculptures compare to working on fashion?
NF: I obviously have a strong sense of the line and form of the human body. I have been designing fashion all my life, surrounded by a wonderful, loyal team whom I am still in contact with, but now I spend most of my days alone in my studio.
WWD: What is the sculpting process like for you?
NF: The sculpting process is demanding because so many elements are involved. You have to create a work of art which can be viewed from so many different angles, and you have to feel it works from each. What’s more, the practical side, the delivery of the final object, involves so many different skills, from the first conception right through to the foundry, that you’re aware the slightest mistake at any stage can mar the final result. It’s nerve-wracking, but satisfying when you correct your worst errors.
WWD: Did anything interesting happen while you were creating these pieces?
NF: I had met Lucian Freud a couple of times. I admire his work and decided to make his portrait last year. Twice the bust was completed and fell down in the middle of the night when no one was in the studio. The soft clay smashed to the floor. It was as if an evil spirit was telling me not to make it, but I persevered, did it for the third time – and it will be in the show.
WWD: What are you trying to show in your work?
NF: I left the world of fashion two years ago without looking back. There is a [fashion] tie between the different busts. Each time I try to render the essence of their persona through their external forms. I am not seeking to represent a true likeness.
WWD: How long have you been working as a sculptor?
NF: I had been sculpting for almost 30 years at weekends and one day a week, but since 2012 I have been sculpting every day of the week. At a dinner party, I was lucky to meet Elizabeth White, a sculptor, who introduced me to Jean Gibson who was to become my teacher. Then, as I was casting my first bronze, I met Eduardo Paolozzi. We became friends and he followed my work closely until he died.
WWD: Do you have a favorite piece? Why is it your favorite?
NF: Probably the portrait of Eduardo. I think I have managed to represent his vitality, strength and spirit.