The Art of Fashion
Say Yes! An insider's diary of the Stella McCartney fashion show
Stella McCartney is known for incorporating unusual backdrops into her fashion shows — she once created an entire live garden to showcase her collection. When the designer presented her spring 2010 collection in Paris, she commissioned artist and former Houstonian Trey Speegle to do a large painting based on a vintage 1950’s paint-by-number of the Arc de Triomphe.
Here's Trey’s diary of the before, during, and after of "YES!"
New York: August 2009
I was spending two full weeks in August out of Manhattan, with near-perfect weather at my converted barn in upstate New York when I got an e-mail asking me if I’d like to make a painting for Stella McCartney’s upcoming show in Paris.
It was less than a month away... but, sure. Sounds exciting. So, I proposed a few ideas.
Initially, Stella said she was thinking of an English pastoral scene. I had one or two vintage originals in mind that would do that trick but what I really loved was one of the Arc de Triomphe. The original had been in the Smithsonian Paint by Number Retrospective in 2001, which featured many paintings from my rather large collection.
Back then, it numbered about 500; today it's over 2500 — and counting.
After a little back and forth, Stella said she liked the Arc de Triomphe as well, along with a simple bold YES, also my first idea.
She said her inspiration for the collection was optimism and the fabrics were atypically colorful for her. In fact, the palette of the painting and collection were nearly identical.
After some deliberation as to whether to create the painting in New York digitally and “blow it up” onto canvas, it was decided that I should come to London and paint the whole, huge, 18 x 31 foot thing there.
Gainsbury and Whiting, who produce Stella runway shows, set me up with a scenic studio called Souvenir i. The owner, Simon, and a crew of between four and eight, along with myself, painted for 12+ hours a day for four straight days. They were all fantastic to work with. When I expressed doubts that we wouldn’t finish on time, they reassured me that we would.
The largest work I had ever done before was a 4 X 11-foot diptych titled, "WHAT KIND OF WORLD DO YOU WANT?", with '50's rocket ships flying through the galaxy. But after a big push Thursday night, we DID finish by Friday afternoon and it was rolled onto a massive tube and loaded onto a truck bound for Paris the next morning.
I had a free evening and afternoon and was delighted to visit with my old Vanity Fair co-worker Miles Chapman, now a jewelry designer, and my ex-Vogue boss Mickey Soutendijk, now a photographer. (My first publishing jobs were in the arts departments of Vogue and Vanity Fair, among others.) Like me, neither is involved in publishing anymore —a sign of the times? Or just our life trajectories? Whatever.
But I think maybe my career change was well-timed, given the state of print these days.
I took the Eurostar to Paris Sunday morning, checked into the tiniest room ever at a boutique hotel in Les Halles and then strolled past the Louvre, Le Tuleries, and down the Champs de Elysee, taking photos the entire way. There was an outdoor exhibit of French Vogue covers and I shot many of them thinking of my friend Joan Juliet Buck who edited that magazine for six years. She still writes for magazines back in the States.
After a tourist-y dinner at a sidewalk café in the shadow of the monument I had just been painting endlessly, I arrived at the Palais de Tokyo just in time to see the enormous canvas being installed. The space, usually an art gallery, was long and narrow and totally white... a perfect venue to showcase the work.
A half wall at the edge of the bleacher-type risers was blocking the view somewhat, so it was removed and replaced with a wrought iron railing that worked very well with imagery in the painting. As an inside joke, I had altered, from the original vintage piece, a shop awning on the far left to say “la McCartney” with the “S-t-e-l” cut off at the edge. This was partially obscured now, as well as my stylized "signature", but it couldn’t be helped.
The next morning I dressed in my favorite Paul Smith shirt and my new Treton sneakers, so as not to offend Stella’s “no leather” fashion stance. I’m a vegetarian too and stand with many of her beliefs. We hadn’t met yet and I didn’t want to offend her first thing and get off on the wrong foot, so to speak.
The models ran through the show in their street clothes and later Stella’s handsome husband arrived backstage with their three ADORABLY cute children, who Stella showed around while the models were being made up, coiffed and dressed.
I was not surprised to see my old magazine friends and colleagues sitting in the front row. We had all started out pretty young and now many of them, Joe Zee, Linda Wells, Hal Rubenstein and Michael Roberts, hold top positions at Elle, Allure, In Style and Vanity Fair. They were surprised to see me, as art directors rarely get to attend shows, especially not in Paris.
Linda Wells said “Hi! What are YOU doing here?”
“I painted THAT. "I said, "Didn’t you read the press release?”
“I’ve NEVER read a press release... but I will now!”
I was seated in the third row of the “friends and family” section... and natch, the paparazzi went nuts for the A-list front row. Lined up like celebrity sitting ducks were Charlotte Rampling, Gwyneth Paltrow (one of Stella’s best pals), her legendary dad, Sir Paul, and his girlfriend Nancy Shevell.
Actually, they were in front of Chrissie Hynde, who was in front of me. I introduced myself and said I was a BIG fan (LOVE The Pretenders). Some hot, young front-row girls arrived and were flashed to death.
I said to Chrissie, “Who’s that? I can’t see...”
She snarked, “Apparently someone who’s cured cancer.”
The show was over in less than 15 minutes... all that work of Stella’s (and all of those hours in London too) for such a quick burst.
But that’s fashion.
With the painting as a backdrop, it really set the tone for the upbeat mood and color palette. It was a beautiful collection and everyone seemed to really like it and I was proud to have been a small part of it all.
Stella did lots of TV press and I hung around waiting to get my picture taken with her in front of my piece. As we were about to be shot, Stella posed with her Dad for pictures and then introduced me to him.
I had JUST bought all four Beatles PBN’s on eBay (for $400! a steal) which are REALLY rare. I lugged the “Paul” there with me. I showed it to him and Stella.
The 40+ year-old painting was kind of sloppily done and included a “signature" that was painted in long ago. He signed next to that, in my silver pen “OR Paul McCartney ‘09”. He said he had never even SEEN one... so presumably, I have the ONLY signed Paul McCartney Beatles paint-by-number!
The party later that night was in a small nightclub on the left bank....there was a VIP area that I was ACTUALLY allowed in to... Gwyeneth (who is lovely in person and very tall and a good dancer), Michael Stipe and his boyfriend, Thomas, whom I chatted with a bit (seems we have mutual friends in New York), Stella’s husband and brother, loads of IMPOSSIBLY good- looking and chicly dressed young people and Sir Paul with Nancy, again. (They said “Hi” and we shook hands... old friends, you know.)
When I said goodnight and thanked Stella, she thanked me back and said “You’re in the gang now”... that was sweet of her to say... but I’m sure at the next gang meeting, I might be turned away.
But hey, again, that’s fashion... they have GOT to be on to something new.
As my late pal Michael O'Donoghue, who I inherited my collection from, famously said, "A thing of beauty is a joy for... about 2 or 3 weeks and then you have to get a new thing of beauty."
So, hey, I'm always working on something new.
Trey Speegle has created an exclusive line of home products for Anthropologie, as well as an online gallery featuring some of his original artwork, collages, mono prints and special limited editions. He also just returned from Art Basel Miami, where he designed custom shirts and prints for Fred Perry at Interview's Luxury Automat.