Click on image for larger view
Click on image for larger view.
In my second visit to Paris, after 13 years of being in the United States, I again paid a visit to Mr. & Mrs. Schoffer. I did not realize that Nicolas had suffered a severe heart attach which left him paralized on his right side. It took sometime for the nurse to wheel Nicolas into the studio where I once again renewed my aquaintence with him. He told me how he had taken up computer graphics on the Apple Macintosh computer a year earlier. Coincidentally I too had aquired an Apple computer the ones that had an 8 inch screen, 8mhz engine and 1mb of ram and no hard drive. It seems incomprehensible that many of us started with this new tool when compared to today's computers in the 21st century. Nicolas had been pioneering computer graphics, and I was able to see his new work as well as a brochure of an exhibition he held at the Galerie Denise Rene on 196 boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris, June 9 - September 23 1989, showing his work. On the left is a piece Nicolas exhibited titled: Ordigraphic 1988/1989 42x29.7cm. On the right is an earlier graphic Nicolas did when still in the metal cutting and fabrication style. Circa 1987.
This led to my demonstrationg my own new found techniques, and we both had a wonderful sharing experience which led to my writing the following short story:
For many months I had been contemplating a trip to Paris. Not that this was the first time because at one time I was contemplating going to Paris 13 years ago. On both occasions I finally ended up flying to Paris. Paris, France is a city full of memories for me, and it allows for a lot of dreams and fantasies to take place on what it would be like to walk on the world stage as an artist or as a designer. The first time I went to Paris, I thought, if ever there was a place I would have to visit before I die it would have to be Paris. After all, I used to say to myself, if ever there was a glimmer of hope that I would be a world class artist then most assuredly I should move to Paris. This story is about my second trip to Paris, and this time I am contemplating what it would be like to be a famous fashion designer. I flew from JFK airport in New York on November 15th 1988, and arrived in Luxembourg at 11:30 A.M. the next day. I bought a pack of cigarettes before I left the airport even though I told myself I would not smoke. On the plane that evening I decided to go to the back of the plane and have a cigarette. This set of circumstances resulted in my meeting Sheila Smith, who was a Scottish rock and roll singer. We never stopped talking until I left her in Iceland where I continued on my flight to Luxembourg, and she to England. When I arrived in Luxembourg I had to take a bus from the Luxembourg airport to the train station, and it was now that I realized I was on the ground in Europe for the first time in 13 years. A lot had happened in 13 years, and I was anticipating my first look at the city I remembered so well after living in it for a year; that city being Paris.
The train was on its way to Metz, and from there I would transfer to Paris. The country side was beautiful, and I could not help but be aware of a beautiful French girl curled up in a seat with a book on her lap. In contrast to her serenity my cabin was full of three French businessmen who were working feverishly to complete a project I assumed would be consummated in Paris. Finally the train pulled into Gard de Est at 8 P.M. I slowly walked beside the train thinking of the streets of Paris, and wondering how familiar everything would be after 13 years. I had to put my luggage in a locker, and at the same time ward off panhandlers. When I emerged into the early evening Paris air I could hear those familiar sirens. I noticed my old metro map from 1975 would not do so I went back into the train station and bought a new one. At first I was a bit disoriented so I immediately went to a cafe and had some coffee as I studied the metro map. Slowly I recognized all the metro stops and began my decent into the Paris metro. The smell of the rubber wheels from the metro trains was a familiar odor and it immediately brought back all my memories between 1974 and 1975. My mind was racing as I prepared to go to Chalet metro station where I would look for Mothers; a cafe I used to visit quite frequently. When the metro doors opened I could hear lots of reggae music and this too brought memories of my former visit. Somehow the magic in the air was gone. Perhaps my innocence and curiosity had been changed and I realized now how important it was to have a strong financial base to operate from. In 1975 1 would live day to day and wander through the parks and cathedrals looking for art and a new cafe. Once I began to walk in the metro I found myself on a mechanical walkway and I recalled seeing Brit pass by on the opposite walkway. Brit was a Swedish girl I knew from 1975. But this was 1988, and now I was trying to remember how to exit onto the streets. Once I was out on the streets I tried to imagine what I did 13 years ago. The cars were speeding by and there were headlights every where. I looked frantically up and down the streets trying to get oriented.
I walked through small alleys and finally in the distance I saw a neon Statute of Liberty, and knew I had found my first familiar landmark ... i.e. Mothers. A small glass of red wine made me feel as if I had never left Paris. The chef from 13 years ago was still there, and as I listened I could hear the sounds of many people speaking what could only be French. The hour was near midnight and I was not able to reach my good friend Patrice which meant I was in need of lodging. As I sat drinking my wine my mind raced as I tried to imagine what secrets a young couple were sharing as they entangled their legs around each other underneath the table. I learned the metro would close at midnight so I had to hurry through the metro again, but this time to reach Gallieni metro station and then reach the youth hostel at midnight where I did find one remaining bed. The evening was full of dreams where I entertained all the possibilities of my journey. The dreams seemed to be in very distinct sections and it was as if each section contained a message of what it was I was suppose to do. Once I was at the breakfast table I knew my morning ritual with coffee was different when the coffee came in a bowl with dry milk, hot water, and some French bread. I sat there drinking my coffee and watching the music videos. I was familiar with music videos, but it seemed quite out of place as I recalled my coffee rituals in Paris 13 years ago. Somehow everything seemed very fast paced. I was fast paced too, I noticed, as I immediately went to retrieve my brief case from the luggage locker and went directly to the office of the Journal du Textile.
My reason to be in France this time was to lecture on recent advancements in computer-aided-design in the apparel industry. This I was going to do in Lyon the following week at Imagica, sponsored by the Chambre De Commerce ET D'Industrie De Lyon, and for me it was essential to make all the fashion contacts I could. This was Paris, the fashion capital of the world, and I imagined I would launch the latest line of clothes right from the computer. It was an exciting time for me, and I was filled with more enthusiasm than I had felt in a very long time. Finally, I met Cathrine Guyot who was the editor of the Journal du Textile. She gave me names of designers both in Paris and in Lyon where it was I was going to lecture. I began to notice I was not the same man as I was in 1975. There was a new sense of determinism that I was playing out, and I wanted that energy to help me fulfill my dreams in Paris. Somehow I had to create a new line of fashion, and I only had a few weeks to do it in. It was an impossible dream, but somehow I knew there was a way. By now the metro was easy to understand even though it was filled with twice as many people as I remembered in 1975. My official home was in the United States, and it was from this location that I had created the skills to become a journalist for the apparel industry. Fashion was a new intoxicant, and I was all eyes as I watched the colors of skirts, pants and sweaters stream by me at a dizzying rate of speed. I knew that this trip would let me see why fashion and textiles were so important in our culture. I became absorbed into the Paris nights, and was only limited in my penetration of the city by the amount of money I had with me. Humanity and the energy of the individual began to fill my veins. Paris was like a walking dream, and there were only a few contacts remaining from my stay 13 years ago. I knew I had a home base across the Atlantic, and only a few memories remaining which I could rely on in Paris.
When 5 P.M. came I was off to the metro St. Michel where I was going to meet Patrice Warrener, a laser sculptor extrordinaire, who I first met in 1974. Would I recognize him and would he recognize me? We were both lovers of a young woman at different times in Paris. For me the affair was when I was living in Paris, and then when I left in 1975 Patrice sought her favors and charm. I went to a cafe called the "Favorite Cafe" and finally relaxed with two beers and smoked my cigarettes and waited until Patrice would arrive. It was here at this cafe that I felt I was now ingrained into the Paris lifestyle, and now I could contemplate my need to design a new line of fashion on the computer. Patrice arrived, and we did recognize one another, and it was a wonderful reunion, and finally I connected with a person I knew 13 years ago. The bridge in time had finally been crossed, and it was at this crossing I finally realized my difference as a man in Paris in 1988 as compared to the man I was in 1975. 1 had the feeling I was a bit wiser. Patrice was anxious to drive me around the city, and show me some of the new architecture. The first place we went too was the new glass pyramid at the Musee du Louvre. It was a magnificent experience. The irony of seeing this new structure was in the fact that when I left Paris in 1975 1 was commissioned by the United States Embassy to construct a laser pyramid at the American Cultural Center.
The Exhibition was to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the United States and the title of the exhibition was "Join or Die" which was the motto on the flag of the original 13 colonies. To commemorate the completion of the pyramid at the Lourve, Patrice was commissioned to put lasers over the new structure in the shape of a pyramid. After 13 years everything seemed to come full circle. It was hard for me to believe that my home was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I felt as though I was catapulted through time to see my memories become solidified in a real structure. Everything became magical even though I knew It was the real world I was walking in. My past all of a sudden seemed very remote, and all I could think of then was my mission to create fashion in the city of Paris. My plans for the next day were to visit the showroom of Jean Paul Gaultier, the leading designer in Paris, and my old friend, Nicolas Schoffer, who I had not seen since 1975. Nicolas is one of the top sculptors in the world, and known for his cybernetic light sculptures. Somehow I felt that I was walking in my own projected thoughts of 13 years ago. Everything seemed familiar, but also very new. I did not want anything to happen that would take away from this new found sense of magic which is the only word I can use to explain my experiences. The morning brought on more thoughts of how I was to accomplish my goals. I now had the sense that I was uneasy with being in Paris, In a strange way a lot of the magic had slipped away during the night, and now I was more concerned with my professionalism in the city. I knew I had to increase my knowledge of computers while I was in France and I also knew I had to be creative. The sound of the door bell at Schoffers home was the same. I became frozen in time when I heard it. I really did not know which time I was in . Everything seemed to collapse into one time, and I stood there half numb waiting for the door to open. The door did open, and to my delight Mrs Schoffer greeted me with her familiar smile, and again I met my friend from 13 years earlier. However, something had changed. The robust Nicolas Schoffer was not as robust as I remembered him. He appeared very frail, but still maintained his alertness. I learned he suffered a major stroke several years earlier, and now was confined to his quarters with with his right side completely paralyzed. He walked very slowly, and had to use his left hand to do his work. Mrs Schoffer had done wonders in his recovery.
Nicolas was used to working with large pieces of steel, and enormous kinetic sculptures. In 1975 1 was helping him re-design blue prints for a cybernetic light tower that would of been, if built, 153 feet higher than the Eiffel Tower. But, now his condition was far different than I remembered. It was at this point in time I knew how long I had been away from Paris. From once creating with lasers in Paris, when I was in love with the artists life style, to now with my interests in computers and fashion I wondered if the two of us would find a common ground on which to communicate. When I asked Mrs. Schoffer how Nicolas did his sketches she immediately responded with.."the computer of course". I asked what kind of a computer Nicolas was using, and she said a Macintosh. Coincidentally I also was using a Macintosh, and even though I could not speak fluent French I knew that the operating language inside of the computer was universal, and it did not matter where I was in the world, I could still use the Macintosh. For the first time I felt we would be able to really communicate with one another, and felt a new sense of renewed collaboration. The years all of a sudden melted away, and once again I was relating to Nicolas one on one. His condition was very severe, and with his nurse it took quite a while before we were both sitting in his studio in front of the Macintosh. I told Mrs. Schoffer I was able to operate the system, and even though the commands were in French I knew the layout of the menu structure, and was able to pull up the tools I wanted to work with. Nicolas was using MacPaint and MacDraw for his new series of prints of which he exhibited in Paris at the Denise Rene Gallery in June of 1989.
Click on image for larger view.
One of the techniques I have enjoyed was taking a drawing from MacDraw, and cut and pasting it into MacPaint for enhancement, and then bringing it back to MacDraw. Then I would take the image and elongate it, and print out a single image on 2 to 6 sheets of paper. The technique made Nicolas very happy, and finally we found ourselves working on the Macintosh. Language differences quickly faded away, and a new sense of sharing ideas began to develop. Then Nicolas asked me what I was really doing with the computer. I said I was designing clothes on the computer using silhouettes of the human figure. All of a sudden I realized I was going to create a fashion model right on the computer screen. Here I was thinking I would have to expect miracles to ever exhibit my designs on a runway in Paris, and then have those designs approved by the fashion critics if ever I was going to be a successful Paris designer. Instead I found myself about to create my own woman on the computer screen, and dress her up at the same time. I was also under a time constraint because Schoffer's health would not permit him to stay long at the computer. Within a few minutes I had the basic outline of the model all drawn in. Quickly I cut and pasted her over to MacPaint. It was here I gave her a hat to wear, a full skirt, a new pair of shoes with very pointed heels, a necklace and a beautiful wide leather belt. I pleated the skirt in long pleats from the waist and created multiple folds on the top of the dress. Then I drew in some fabric textures, and she was ready to be transported back to MacDraw where I elongated her to about 6 feet and printed her out on the laser printer. Nicolas thought she was far to thin, and that I ought to fatten her up a bit. When the computer model was fully printed out she was draped over the silhouette of an outline of a woman which was anchored to the floor.
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A handbag was placed over her shoulder, and many of the fashion items were colored in with pastel chalk. The only thing she could not do was talk and walk. Nicolas was getting very tired at this point so we gave the model a name of Lady VDB, and saved her in the computer where she is to this day. Lady VDB is frozen in the computer. I knew it was the beginning of my career in computer fashion design in Paris, but how was I ever going to get her out on the runway. I would have to animate her, and give her new clothes and fabrics to experience and wear. The time was drawing near and I had to leave. I bid my farewell, and when the door closed behind me I felt as though I had left my long sought after model in the computer. She was stored in all those chips and memory amongst all those geometric shapes Nicolas had spent so much time drawing. As I looked around at all the buildings looming over my head, and I felt a kinship with my model in the computer. We both had to find a way out of the grid so we could walk on the runways of Paris. All my plans to create fashion had just happened in an instant, and then was frozen in time. I completed my lecture in Lyon, and all the time I wondered of Lady VDB in the computer. It was as if a part of me was locked up looking for a way out into the world. I am back in Pittsburgh now writing my story on my Macintosh, and wondering if I will ever be able to release Lady VDB from the chips in Paris. © wvdb 1990
History of Published Fashion articles dealing with CAD-CAM during the period 1987-1990 by Willard Van De Bogart