PARIS — SCAD Lacoste, the French branch of the Savannah College of Art and Design, is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a series of events, including the inauguration of a permanent fashion museum designed to draw tourists to the picturesque medieval village in Provence that is home to its campus.
SCAD president and founder Paula Wallace attended the opening on Saturday of the first exhibition at the SCAD FASH Lacoste, an offshoot of the museum opened in Atlanta in 2015. Taking up 1,625 square feet on two floors, the institution is housed in a building with a terrace offering spectacular views of the valley below.
Its inaugural show is dedicated to Cuban-born American designer Isabel Toledo, whose husband, illustrator Ruben Toledo, spoke to WWD from Lacoste about the emotional process of honoring his late wife’s work.
Best known for creating First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2009 inauguration ceremony look, Toledo, who passed away in 2019, had a strong connection with France, having shown her collections in Paris from 1991 to 1995. After stopping runway shows in 1998, she switched to working on her own schedule, cementing her reputation as a designer’s designer.
“She’s always been an independent designer, a kind of in-the-know designer with really excellent work, and I think that the French public with a relationship with fashion is primed to really appreciate her,” said Christina Frank, assistant director of fashion exhibitions at SCAD FASH.
The exhibition features 16 garments alongside a large-scale installation of works by Ruben Toledo. It also includes mementos of their life together, illustrating how their creative process was intertwined. “Being a university, it’s something we really want to drive into our students, that they both made each other better artists,” Frank said.
Cédric Maros, director of SCAD Lacoste, said the venue would eventually host two exhibitions a year during the high tourist season, between April and October, with a view to creating a dialogue between the U.S. and France.
“We did this in one way by bringing Pierre Cardin to Atlanta. But it’s natural to also do it in the other direction. I think we’ll always have this mix of designers who are known to the general public and others who are discoveries, even if they are well established in the world of fashion,” he said.
The exhibition marks the kickoff of a busy year for the institution, which on April 1 welcomed students from around the world at the start of its spring session, marking the first time students were back on-ground for a full educational quarter since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Maros said the summer sessions were already fully booked, prompting officials at the university to consider offering full degree studies at the location, which hosts eight-week study abroad programs.
“That’s one of the options we’re exploring, because now we know demand is back. We have waiting lists for our upcoming sessions, so we’re in a growth phase,” he said.
In the meantime, the venue is hosting an animation festival until May 7, to be followed by a film fest from July 1 to 4 that will include a tribute to Belgian-born director Agnès Varda. Both events are designed to highlight SCAD’s strength in film and animation courses.
“Each year at the Oscars, several hundred alumni are featured in the credits of the nominated films, and that was the case again this year,” Maros said.
Among the other planned events is the opening in September of a new sculpture garden. From late June to September, a light show will take place on the central street of the village on Friday and Saturday nights. “This year, we really want to let people know that this is not an elitist place for just a handful of people. It’s open to all,” said Maros, noting that all events are free.
With state-of-the-art facilities housed in more than 30 renovated historic buildings, the university offers students a unique setting, in addition to hosting art residencies by SCAD alumni. The school traces its roots back to American painter Bernard Pfriem, who founded the first art conservatory in the village after World War II.
“In the beginning, SCAD Lacoste was more focused on fine arts, such as painting, sculpture, photography and engraving. Now we also teach very high-tech subjects, so we have to adapt, and it’s not at all incompatible to study these topics in a medieval village,” Maros said.
Lacoste is also home to the castle formerly owned by the Marquis de Sade, which was bought and restored by Cardin, who launched an annual summer festival. All of these efforts have contributed to putting the village, which is home to just a few hundred permanent residents, on the map. “Whether in terms of culture, tourism or the economy, we’re now seen as a key player in the area,” Maros said.
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