At any given moment, the ever-inspired designer Gary Graham has a handful of elaborate ideas percolating, and when there’s an opportunity to translate one into his ready-to-wear, the real fun begins. For his first-ever resort collection, exclusively available at Barneys this season, he tapped into one of his all time favorite books, “Our Lady of the Flowers” by Jean Genet. The poetic novel was published in 1943 and is set in the Parisian underworld.
“At the beginning of the book, there’s a funeral procession for Divine, one of the main characters who is a transvestite, held outside her garret in Paris,” explains Graham of the unconventional inspiration. “It’s just so beautifully written, and it’s pretty punk rock in terms of the point of view. It’s all written from a prison cell. Jean Genet was a real outsider and an interesting person. He creates a lot of romantic imagery surrounding the degenerates and outsiders.” Graham took the inspiration a step further and conceptualized the funeral scene performed as a ballet.
He imagined that the ballet would be performed in a set inspired by Conical Intersect (pictured in the above collage), an installation created by Gordon Matta-Clark for the 1975 Paris Biennale, which featured a radical incision through two adjacent 17th century buildings designated for demolition near the Centre Georges Pompidou.
“There’s nothing literal about the inspiration whatsoever, so if the theme seems kind of dark, just think of it as a beautiful theatrical procession. There’s lace and chiffon, and a lot of black. It’s really just about those vintage-inspired elements,” explains Graham.
A swatch of antique fabric the designer found at the Port de Clingnancourt flea market in Paris featuring a Louis Culafroy print (Louis Culafroy is Divine’s real name in the book) was what sparked Graham’s elaborate concept and specifically the gorgeous chiffon gown in the collection.
“It’s just so fun conceiving of these fantasy projects and creating mini worlds, but I don’t need to impose it on the consumer,” says Graham. “They can dive as deep or shallow as they want, even if I go far with my own research. At the end of the day, I love the idea of these pieces working back with someone’s own wardrobe, whether it be with other pieces from my own collections or other designers.”