2 October 2018

Rarebooks Paris holds first public exhibition in Athens

Interview by Anastasia Patellis

@Rarebooksparis is a gold dust porthole into a unique aesthetic world. Though operating through an instagram feed, it has managed to preserve the quality of a meditative and creative thought process that seems to have disappeared long ago. For many of its 50k + followers it acts as a well of aesthetic inspiration. For those acute enough to dm in time it is an agora of hard-to-find, out of print books, tomes, magazines and ephemera spanning the genres of fashion, architecture and design.

The operation is run out of the apartment of an elusive Paris based collector and former designer who previously worked for several fashion houses most notably and formatively, Martin Margiela. The spirit of the house feels encrypted, living and breathing in algorithm of the feed - conceptual, curious, and irreverent.

It seems only natural that the choice of location for the collector’s first public exhibition would be equally mysterious. On the 23rd of May, Rarebooks held its first ever public exhibition in Athens on a small side street between the Acropolis and Ermou. The Gallery is called Radio Athènes, run by Helena Papadopoulos and is known locally and internationally for its innovative and captivating programming.

I spoke with the enigmatic collector about his project and why he decided to hold his first exhibition in Athens.

How did Rarebooks begin?

Rare books instagram has been in existence since 2013 but it wasn’t the kind of operation it was today, it was very casual. While working in between two design houses I was cleaning up and wanted to get rid of some books. I posted a few things without a real intention of selling and there was interest straight away.
Having been based in Paris and working 15 odd years as a designer for different houses I had amassed a huge amount of research material, notably books, so I had books everywhere and they were all really interesting.

Any books you can recall having trouble giving up?

Yes, but luckily they were relocated and replaced afterwards so it hasn’t been a drama – generally I’m okay with losing material because I know it will go to someone, somewhere that will really treasure them and understand their value. That’s itself is quite consoling so I’m ok with the ebb and flow. For everything that you love you never know when you are going to discover something new that you love with equal passion in the future.

Did you start collecting books before designing for Margiela? Are there any particular books that inspired your approach to design and visual imagination?

Yes I wouldn’t have considered myself a collector but I was an avid consumer of this kind of imagery from my teens like many people who were touched by The Face and i-d, magazines of their time. There are many books that have been sources of inspiration directly and indirectly and not just for collections but presentations, castings etc.

What was the first book you were really excited about?

I was attracted to a certain genre, for example the very first time I came to Paris, I was living in London at the time, I walked into a book store called La Hune which still exists today and I found a copy of purple prose which at the time was in Francs. It was more of an art critique book but my eyes devoured it and I bought it even though I didn’t really know what it was. I always had a certain intuition of what was interesting or what might develop a cult following down the track. It was an instinctive thing but I think the reason why Rare Books worked so well from the beginning was because of my background. I had a very clear understanding about how the fashion industry has changed over the years, namely, as the creative process has become shorter and shorter, creative people are extremely hungry for inspiration and need to find it quickly and efficiently, therefore Rare Books tapped into a niche for creative people, although their not the only clientele but certainly the majority of people who buy books from us.

It’s difficult in this day in age when looking for inspiration to find images online that not everyone has already consumed over and over again

Exactly especially as everything is digitized, shared, pinned, you name it, I think people do still have a real passion for books or printed material – personally if I do find something that I see that is striking I want it in my possession. There’s a satisfaction that you just don’t get when you’re looking at a screen. When you look at an image that is digital you look at it once and it gets lost somewhere, lets say in a feed and you are less likely to revisit it. There’s something very disposable about it. Whereas if its physical you do have a tendency to come back to it and keep looking at it the same way you would a work of art or a painting or a photograph that you love or something that you physically have in your house or in your environment.

You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that your selections are largely based on intuition and this is something that I think makes your collection so unique. Our inspiration and attraction to things is often largely influenced by our experiences are there any significant experiences or people in your life that have guided your taste and interests?

I think it’s really a cumulative experience of travelling, talking to people, and discovering. If you have your eyes and ears open it’s an exponential chain of events that’s very organic where things feed off each other.

It’s funny how life often brings you spontaneously to a certain juncture that you don’t necessarily control and that ends up dictating your vision and taste

Absolutely – I’m a firm believer in not having a master plan. Lets say I wanted to make a research trip to source some books– I’m not going to spend hours researching the place beforehand. I would choose a destination, make sure I’m open to what’s around me, wander get lost. It’s about having the ability to trust your intuition.

What was it that drew you to Athens for your first every public showing of your collection?

Equal parts fate and equal parts interest in such an amazing city. I had followed and admired the programming of Radio Athènes for number of years so last year when I was in Athens visiting some galleries I contacted Helena to see if she wanted to meet. If there’s someone’s work I admired I often make contact because people that share a similar interest or aesthetic generally get on quite well. It’s an interesting way for collaborations to be born in a very direct manner. She said she really liked what we were doing and because she is quite a savvy programmer she knew that for the year of 2018 Athens would be announced the UNESCO book capital. It makes sense to me to have this kind of exhibition in a city like Athens. A lot of publications that were chosen for this exhibition are a time capsule of a certain period in fashion of 90s, early 2000s that in my opinion are the strongest visually in terms of artistic direction, interest, and production value so its really a pleasure to bring it to Athens and share it with an audience that wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to have access to those kinds of publications whereas in Paris perhaps people already own them or are more familiar with them.

Do you see yourself exhibiting your collection in other cities in the future?

If I continued it would always be in an off- location/ destination something peculiar or site specific. The idea is not to have a temporary pop up bookstore. Its an educational and giving experience.

What do you think of Athens?

I love Athens. There are so many creative people and so many interesting things to see in this city but it takes work because a lot of the beauty is hidden under layers of dust, pollution, and time. You have to dig. There are certain obvious aspects that are beautiful in terms of history and but there’s also a whole layer of of interest that is either forgotten or waiting to be re-discovered, and that’s where the treasure lies.

People speak a lot about the economic crisis but I think that Athenians have managed to turn it around into something that’s reinforced their resilience and what has come out of it creatively makes it even stronger. Creative people are like that, their best results happen under the most difficult circumstances,. As a designer when you have 2 hours left to finish your collection the best ideas come. Athens is one of the places where the circumstances are the most difficult currently and its made people brilliantly creative because of it.

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