Daisy de Villeneuve
by Guy Sangster Adams
The multi-coloured, felt-tip rendered, pop cultural celebration of the work of illustrator and product designer, Daisy de Villeneuve, imparts an emphatic joie de vivre. In fact, the only thing monochromatic about de Villeneuve in recent months has been the twice life size, black and white photograph of her that loomed large outside Gap Europe stores as part of the Gap Icon campaign. Photographed by Mikael Jansson and styled by Marie Amelie-Sauve, the series also featured Giles Deacon, Camille Bidault Waddington, and Ines de la Fressange. Though, as befits her style, de Villeneuve has been returned to full colour for the Christmas Gap Holiday campaign.
It is intriguing that she is now being iconicised, as her use of felt-tip pens lends a distinct and intentional iconoclasm to her designs, in their debunking of photoshop perfection. “I really love the way in which the pen mark shows through when it’s reproduced,” she says, “it’s very handmade and raw”. But her use of felt-tip pens does not come out of a particularly considered retrograde rebellion, she uses the medium because she always has: “ever since I was four, my mum would set me up in the kitchen with a little table with colouring books and felt-tips.”
Although, as the daughter of parents who understand only too well the realities of ‘iconic status’, for her own sanity de Villeneuve has had to develop a healthy iconoclasm. Her father is Justin de Villeneuve, the celebrated 60s fashion photographer, whose images of Twiggy are cited as launching her as a model, and her mother is Jan de Villeneuve, one of the most celebrated models of the 1960s and 1970s. When I ask her to what degree this has affected her own creative expression and choice of metier, she replies that when she was growing up “fashion was not a part of my parents lives, it was their history, however, both my parents had worked in creative fields and I’m hugely influenced by their sources of inspiration.”
Music is a key influence on de Villeneuve. When she was born, her dad was working as a record producer and band manager, and she has his extensive record collection from this time. “I remember my parents had a little music room,” she says, “and he would have clients or friends over and he would play records, that’s why I know all about those musicians from the 70s”. An abiding and primary influence from this period is Ziggy Stardust. “Every time I play that album, or look at it, I just think it’s very inspiring; I find all those costumes and make-up fascinating.” One of her most prized possessions is the photograph her dad took of Ziggy-era Bowie and Twiggy for the cover of the album Pin-ups. It sits on her desk and is inscribed simply, ‘For Daisy’.
De Villeneuve continues to add to her vinyl collection, trawling the second-hand shops in Notting Hill for records from the 1980s, whose sleeve graphics also inform her work. She has a real collecting bug, which she shares with the artist Peter Blake. “I absolutely love his work,” she says. Peter Blake is a family friend, and his wife, Chrissy, is Godmother to de Villeneuve’s sister, the photographer Poppy de Villeneuve. “We grew up knowing him and so we knew his work,” de Villeneuve explains, “and when I was about 13, I used to collect James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, and Coca Cola and pop art type stuff like he did, so that was a big influence.” She continues to add to her eclectic collections, and when in America finds “massive potato chip tins to put all my felt tip pens in” and recently “picked up an old Pepsi crate.” She also has a large collection of royal memorabilia, with a particular passion for commemorative tins, which the V&A inadvertently tapped into when they approached her to design a t-shirt featuring a miniature of Queen Elizabeth I from the museum’s collection, for the launch of the museum’s new shop in March 2006. The end result gives Elizabeth a distinctly rock star edge.
But one of de Villeneuve’s most formative influences was Biba. She has described herself as ‘the last Biba baby’. Born two months prematurely in the summer of 1975, de Villeneuve was too little to wear ordinary baby clothes, and so at first she wore Biba doll’s clothes. “We have some dungarees at home that were for a doll that I used to wear, and in fact I think they’re on a doll now!” she says. Barbara Hulanicki, the creator of Biba, and a family friend, sent Daisy a dark purple canvas Biba pram that also served as her bed for the first year, replete, as Daisy says, with Biba “gold satin and black lace duvet and small pillows in beige and black satin with lace trim”. Daisy’s birth coincided with Biba’s closing down sale, so not only did her mother dress her completely in Biba dolls and baby clothes, she also bought an array of Biba furniture and fixtures and fittings including a bamboo highchair, and furniture from the Wendy house that children visiting Biba played in. As an adult, wherever Daisy has lived, she has “always had a leopard print Biba cover and tiger stripe Biba cushions on my sofa or on my bed, I love all that stuff.”
As teenagers, de Villeneuve and her sister rummaged through their mum’s wardrobe and found it a treasure trove of Biba clothes. Later, whilst studying at Parson’s School of Design in New York and Paris, de Villeneuve’s teamed army fatigues, sneakers, and worn-out Biba t-shirts in pale orange, lavender, sky blue, and navy. She still continues the Biba influence in her personal aesthetic, “I think my choice of make-up is similar to a Biba palette, I always wear dark lipsticks and nail polish.”
Though perhaps the most tangible link to Biba in her work, is the sheer breadth of products that have carried her designs, including shoe boxes, knickers, bathrobes, beach towels, hot water bottles, aprons, mugs, picnic sets, purses, shopping bags, and fortune cookies.
Her designs can currently be found in Habitat and Boots. For Habitat’s VIP collection, she has designed a rug, which reinterprets a classic image of her mother. Against a green edged, purple background, Jan de Villeneuve’s face is both turned to profile and alabaster, which is heightened by the bright pink of her lips, and hair, which echoes Jane Fonda’s style in the film Klute. Whilst her Boots cosmetics bags feature collaged pop cultural faces with feather cuts, spikes, and ruler straight fringes, evoking Ziggy Stardust, Betty Page, and Visage, in black, pink and white; female fans at a fantasy gig of all one’s rock and pop fashion icons. She has also designed a range of beauty product Christmas Gifts for Boots. Which includes, a black vanity case, with a multi-coloured make-up motif of lipsticks, eye-shadows, nail varnish bottles, and false eyelashes; a pop art take on vintage luggage labels. The interior is hot pink lined with a star motif, which is repeated on the scissors, nail clippers, and files. There is also an Eyes & Blush Set, with pink and black brushes, the packaging featuring the faces from her cosmetic bags with multi-coloured eye make-up, and a Look at Me! compact mirror in a bright yellow case emblazoned with red hearts.
In the face of which, it would seem that de Villeneuve’s ‘Big Sister’ Gap alter ego issued a clear proclamation in black and white, for women to paint not only the town, but their eyes, their nails, their hair… red, pink, green, blue… as resistance would be not only futile but decidedly churlish.
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