Pink Provocateur: Marie Beltrami
Marie Beltrami is a multifaceted maven of fashion and art, with a career as eclectic and absurdist as her Parisian apartment. Beltrami’s living quarters are influenced by the many lives she’s lived, from spoken word poet to burlesque dancer to perfumier and political activist. The walls, covered in scribbled messages from illustrious friends, carry the eye from one bizarre object to the next, piecing together the history of an authentic creator.
Curious by nature, Beltrami is never satisfied with just one project. She was a pioneer in the repurposing of found objects and is responsible for the unmistakable “Ticket de metro” bag and “Pour Tonton” shirt, which helped campaign French President François Mitterrand into his second term in the 80s. After 18 years of working with photographer Jean-Paul Goude, the man behind Grace Jones’ most iconic images, Beltrami is still pushing boundaries. In her recent Des Slypes et des Souris exhibition, a selection of her small, gold animal jewelry was displayed alongside a new collection of accessories, made entirely from underwear purchased in the red light district. A rare bird in a ruthless industry, Beltrami is fearless in her creation. In the words of the pink lady, herself, “My freedom makes me eccentric, and my eccentricity gives me freedom and creativity.”
I spent almost every breathing moment at his side. Working with him was very intense. It was a very sentimental collaboration and friendship. Had he asked me to walk on water, that’s what I would’ve done. It didn’t leave time for anything else in my life. That’s why now I want to go back to where I left things 18 years ago and focus on my own work. I used to do a lot of object renewal, taking [things] out of context and giving them a second life…And now it seems like everybody is doing it.
You were one of the first designers to make accessories from vintage clothing and repurposed objects, right?
Exactly, I made the “Ticket de metro” bag and the shirt “Pour Tonton.” It was the first time a designer would dabble with politics. I really liked Mitterrand, but didn’t vote at the time so I thought of a way to act out. I asked friends to sign the shirt and then everyone followed, making petitions for Tonton. It was a huge buzz.
Do you feel like it is more difficult to create that kind of buzz nowadays?
Of course. Things are less spontaneous now. It’s more difficult to surprise people because they have access to everything. Everyone can dabble in fashion. People go from one thing to another with incredible pace. You can be forgotten very quickly.
There is no more mystery, and it saddens me. We know too much about too many things. Even in fashion, seasons go by so fast with more and more collections per year. People can’t even take the time to appreciate things anymore. That’s why I don’t want to create collections dictated by seasons; I think it is not the way people want to live nowadays. I wish we wouldn’t be flooded by information like we are today. To me, it kills spontaneity and innocence, especially for children.
Actually, I just wrote this poem: je ne veux rien savoir pour tout inventer (I would like to know nothing in order to invent everything). People are restless and feel the need to share things with the whole world instantly. That’s why I tell my friends, there is no Instagramming in my house, this is my secret haven! Soon I am going to ask them to leave their phones at the door like the Queen of England.
What was your first creative endeavor?
When I first arrived in Paris in 1975 I started out as a seamstress. I would make nightgowns for the Princess Marina of Greece and Niki de Saint Phalle. These women, they were used to couture houses, so it was very difficult meet their expectations, especially for me who never had proper training. I invented myself as a couturière! That’s how I learned to sew and started getting inspired by the touch of fabric and material. I am very tactile and I need to have anything and everything around me for inspiration. Anything could catch my eye.
Do you feel your creative process is more about interaction or more of an intimate nature?
There is a real intimacy because I need to feel things in order to express them. For example, with writing, I need real emotions when I work on a poem. I am very sensitive and romantic, I need to be transported. But for my accessories, it is more about everyday inspirations. It’s all very spontaneous. An encounter of some sort. I love these moments. In my life, that’s what matters most, the moment something or someone strikes me. L’instant de l’instinct ou l’instinct de l’instant (the instant of the instinct or the instinct of the instant).
Like a coup de foudre [falling head over heels].
Then follows the process of taking things to another level. Like with the Slype bags. I wanted to make accessories with lingerie, it reminded me of a time when I used to do striptease.
You used to do striptease shows?
A long time ago, yes, I used to do it at a fair. I loved it, it was a real party! Like in Fellini movies. Fellini always takes me back to my youth, with the communicantes [people taking communion] etc… It moves me when I think of it. I like the theatre, I think I have an exhibitionist side maybe. I can’t do striptease anymore, obviously. But I really miss the feeling. I used to love these moments on stage.
What strength did this experience give you?
I don’t know, I think it gave me self-confidence. When you are on stage, especially with striptease, there is a sense of empowerment, which is very addictive. It’s funny because I had this power of seduction when on stage which is not something I would do in everyday life with people, the context is different. I would seduce people with my creations, that’s how I reach out to people in my everyday life.
The eye seems to be a recurring symbol in your work. What is the significance of the symbol for you?
It comes from my childhood. I went to a nunnery as a child. You would always feel like you had the “eye of God” watching you. So I grew up with this image of an eye in the sky looking down on us, observing. Also, I was always scared of being anointed to be a nun! I feared God would strike me with this light, summoning me to be a nun, which I really didn’t want to become. But through time, this eye became more playful and mischievous. I even have one portrayed as a cheeky devil.
Is writing also a big part of your life?
Yes, I started writing when I first came to Paris. You know, people would do a lot of drugs at the time, and I was in love with this boy who was hooked. I wanted to be stronger than heroin to him, but that’s impossible. So writing was my outlet. Now I am working on a story I wrote, called Inga Binga. It’s the story of a spy who has to save the world. She meets many other characters along the way, like the moon, who becomes her pal and comes down to Earth, but has to go back or else she will create climatic catastrophes on Earth! Of course, there’s a love story and a villain. The mistress of memories who steals all of her memories…But there are so many characters; I have to organize the storyline everyday because my imagination is unbridled when I write! It’s good to have an overflowing imagination, but the hardest part is to channel it. Everybody tells me it’s a great story but what a mess it is! And why Inga Binga? Because I loved the sound of this name, it was the nickname of Inga Harvard, the fiancée of JFK’s older brother. I fell in love with the name, and she has pink hair like me!
Tell me more about your pink hair!
Well, a while ago, I was working on the set of this film where I styled the dancers with pink wigs. I really liked the color, so I kept one for myself. Whenever I would wear it people would be so nice to me, smiling at me, etc. So, I went to my hairdresser’s and asked her to do exactly the same look but for real this time. I started to think we should have a pink hair day, it would make everyone cheerful, wouldn’t that be great?
I heard you’ve given yourself many names?
Yes, what I always tell people is that there are four of us. First, Marie-Claude, my birth name. This name represents my childhood so it always makes me feel nostalgic. Then I used the name Marie-Laure when I was about 17. Then came Marie and Rima. Each name represents one side of my personality and also a stage in my life. But, now, we all coexist happily together in casino online.
What is your WILD Wish?
It is my dream to see the Earth from outer space. Even if I couldn’t come back to Earth, I wouldn’t mind. I love the idea of infinite space and the unknown. It’s something you don’t encounter in everyday life. Imagine meeting someone from an unknown world. A nice one of course! That would be amazing.