Celine New Bond Street: A Carnival of Materials, Furniture and Art
The French maison opens Celine New Bond Street, an art-filled flagship store in central London. Artworks commissioned by Nika Neelova and Leilah Babirye and a striking contemporary material palette contrast with the Grade II listed Edwardian building, reflecting Artistic Director Hedi Slimane’s vision of discerning opulence
Approach the Baroque-style facade on Celine New Bond Street, London’s new flagship, and you’ll be greeted not by handbags, shoes and clothing, but by a statement of material integrity and modernist rigor: sitting in a street-facing window is a sculpture by the artist Marie Lund, who places a copper wing against blocks of clay. Perfectly disarming and seductive, this is a gateway to Celine Artistic Director Hedi Slimane’s arena of discerning opulence.
With its veined marble floors, flip-up mirrors and glowing shelves, the shop – located at 40 New Bond Street – exudes a brutalist neoclassical atmosphere somewhere between a 15th-century Dutch still life and the luminous hotel suite. 2001: A space odyssey. It is a sculptural space, awash with stone, granite, marble, reclaimed oak, concrete, polished stainless steel and brass. A carnival of materials, furniture and works of art that is elemental and wonderful.
The shoe hall on the ground floor is located in a diamond-shaped space, fitted with mirrored panels that fragment the displays into new formations
Enter Celine New Bond Street, the art-filled central London flagship of the French maison
Slimane’s intent was to interact with the Grade II listed Edwardian building in two unique ways. The 345 m² ground floor is dedicated to women, formulated around the aura of French elegance and classic luxury. An octagonal room – originally designed in the manner of an Italian cave with panels of fine shellwork – is now dedicated to the Celine Haute Parfumerie collection. Long shelves and racks float in space. Two of London-based artist Nika Neelova’s wooden railing sculptures hang from the ceiling. ‘This assignment was an interesting way to let go of something and let it take on a life and place in the world of its own. One that stands outside institutions and galleries,” she says.
Mirrored panels along the walls fragment all the works on display into new formations. “It almost creates an endless loop wherever you look, with all the artists coming together. I am very interested in this hybrid model in which disciplines start crossing each other and blurring boundaries’, says Neelova. ‘Looking at references from outside the fashion world within the context of a store is a great way to let things evolve. This feels like the perfect art exhibition.’
Above: Edwardian ceiling moldings as seen in the mirrored panels. Above: A fur-covered chair brings an unexpected touch of warmth to the ground floor
The huge 466 m² floor plan is punctuated by numerous pieces that are part of the Celine Art Project, which invites contemporary artists to create works especially for shops around the world. Sneak into the men’s section in the basement and you’ll be greeted by a polished cast bronze bell by artist Davina Semo – which you may ring – hovering above a nook of eclectic wooden stools, chairs and books about Auguste Rodin, Charlotte Perriand and Otto Dix . Here the walls have a smooth white finish, the floor a fine smog tinted concrete.
The works of art create a unique tension between what constitutes public and private space, exhibition and exhibitor, material and meaning. This reinterpretation of form, place and value is what appealed to New York-based sculptor Leilah Babirye, whose 2.7-meter wooden totem stands on the ground floor in front of a mirrored concertina. It signals a change in space from one room to another. “In this context, I feel like the piece appeals to a lot of people – it opens up a lot of the dialogue I’m trying to discuss in the work itself,” she says. ‘I’ve never done anything for a shop or public space before, so I’m curious how people react and interact with it. I didn’t know Celine before because I’m not a fashion person. I’m an artist.’
Leila Babirye, Najunga of the Kuchu Ngaali clan (crested crane), a 2.7 m wooden totem on the ground floor of Celine New Bond Street. Courtesy of Gordon Robichaux, New York and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London
With her large-scale ceramic pieces, wooden sculptures, masks, drawings and paintings, Babirye explores the clan hierarchy in the kingdom of Buganda, a Bantu enclave in her native Uganda. Her use of found materials is a way to grapple with LGBTQ+ history and “the feeling of being called trash.” titled Najunga of the Kuchu Ngaali (Crested Crane) ClanThe piece is an unshakable tower of dark wood, wax, glue, acrylic, bolts, washers, nails, aluminum, braided bicycle tire inner tubes, and welded metal. In July, she was commissioned to create the piece. “That was also really hard for me because I don’t work like that — with someone telling me they want something that looks like another piece I’ve made,” Babiyre says. ‘I don’t have any sketches. I never know what I’m going to make the next time I’m cutting or if I’ll find the same materials. I’m just looking at the material. The material drives me to do whatever happens.’
This matter issue is what stands out most in Slimane’s curatorial act. Both Babirye and Neelova’s pieces are embedded in a veiled meaning, their material provenance being just as important as their conceptual weight. “I have a pile of stuff that I’ve picked up from all over, even from scrap heaps. It’s surprising to see the difference in what people throw away here in the US,” says Babirye. ‘Where I come from, it’s hard to find things because people use things. So if someone from home sees my work with spoons, forks, knives, they ask, “Do you buy them?” and I have to explain that I find them in the street.’
Neelovas Lemniscate XI and Lemniscate XIV are made from reclaimed railings that reassemble them into sweeping orchestral objects. They resonate with Slimane’s preoccupation with imagining something we think we’ve seen before — jeans, varsity jackets, tailored skirts — but which feel oddly new under his leadership.
Above: Nika Neelova’s sculptures, Lemniscate XI and Lemniscate XIV, which are made from reclaimed railings and suspended from the ceiling of Celine New Bond Street. Thanks to the artist. Above: Neelova, photographed on Celine New Bond Street on November 1, 2021
“I think there is a contrast to the works on display in that sense because my pieces are based on rescued and repurposed architectural fragments, but I chose the handrail because it’s something specially shaped to fit in the palm of the hand.” . It’s something designed based on human proportions and it choreographs the body through space. I think there’s a nice crossover in that fashion is so much built around the human body and human proportions,” says Neelova. ‘I had read somewhere that wooden stair railings collect microscopic pieces of skin over time. And so for me these pieces also carry with them the memories of all the people who came into contact with them. They carry the DNA of hundreds and hundreds of people.’
Dealing with the human body is the modus operandi of fashion. In one of the menswear fitting rooms is a 1670 oil painting of a young man dressed in steel body armor and white silk sash. Entitled Portrait of Maximilien de Bethune Duc de Sully and of the Flemish school, it remarkably connects to Slimane’s own continuous photographic ode to youth and beauty. It adds another layer to the store as a space for mortal contemplation. I