Iconic feminist artist and beauty influencer? The lesser-known impact of Niki de Saint Phalle on the world of skin care


While Niki de Saint Phalle has long been touted as a feminist and fashion icon, the interdisciplinary artist’s contributions to beauty also deserve to be honored. Along with its celebrations of the female form, Saint Phalle has helped define the look of iconic Swiss skincare brand La Prairie.

Born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, and raised in New York City, Saint Phalle developed an artistic practice that pushed against conventional norms of femininity, sexuality and worth and ultimately cemented her place as the only female figure. of the New Realism movement. Her approach to blurring the lines between fine art and commercial arts and the observer and muse has carried over into her personal life as well. During her teenage years, she built a successful modeling career appearing in the pages of Life and Vogue, and later, she became a staple of the city’s nightlife with her friend Andy Warhol.

Saint Phalle’s impact on La Prairie is most evident in his Skin Caviar collection, whose iconic blue packaging was inspired by his paintings and a chance encounter with the Swiss team in 1982. While developing a line of fragrances eponymous to fund his ambitious sculptural park, The Tarot Garden, Saint Phalle’s use of a shockingly bright cobalt blue caught the attention of the La Prairie team, who at the time shared the same design studio. “[Saint Phalle] was working at a time when the color palettes of contemporary art were really subdued, ”explains Ruba Katrib, who organized the“ Niki de Saint Phalle: Structures for Life ”exhibition now open at MoMA PS1. “I think it was definitely something she was doing to shock but also to further complicate ideas of taste, femininity and pleasure.”

The cobalt blue of Saint Phalle Nana exhibited at an exhibition in Germany, 1992

Getty Images / United Archives

Immediately seduced by the hue that the artist herself described as “the color of joy and luck”, La Prairie ultimately decided that there was only one color that could symbolize the essence. of the brand’s emblematic line. Continuing its appreciation for Saint Phalle, the beauty brand has spearheaded the current PS1 exhibition to celebrate and raise awareness of the artist’s lifelong work.

But Saint Phalle’s legacy of mixing allure with political advantage went beyond his palette. Some of his best-known works of art, the Girls were a collection of sinuous sculptures that often appeared in motion and were intentionally alluring. “When they were first manufactured in the 1960s, the Girls were these exaggerated female forms, and they were on a large scale, functioning like these monumental sculptures that were really a counterpoint to the representation of femininity in the days when a lot of monuments depicting women’s bodies were made by men, ”explains Katrib. “The Girls evoked figures of goddesses, but they were also very provocative, sometimes even considered scandalous. “

Saint Phalle’s approach to body positivity through his sculptural work at a time when narrow ideals of the female form were still mass produced was bold and created an important dialogue around desirability and sexual attraction while by helping to open up the parameters of how beauty is understood. As she said, “To me my sculptures represent the magnified woman’s world, the illusion of greatness of women, women in today’s world, the power of women.”

“Niki de Saint Phalle: Structures for Life” will run until September 6, 2021. More information here.

Originally appeared on Vogue

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