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Tanagras: from Picasso to Alaïa

Words by Albert Shyong

Pieter Mulier’s Tanagra-inspired Azzedine Alaïa dress.
White tanagra by Pablo Picasso.

Named after the Boeotian town in central Greece where they were first discovered, tanagras are terracotta figurines mass produced during Classical Antiquity in Ancient Greece. The palm-sized statuettes depict the quotidian lives of mostly women in various poses, dressed in garments and accessories common during that era. Sought after for their beauty and as a glimpse into millennia past, tanagras caught the eye of many European collectors after prolific excavations began in the 1800s. The figurines soon made their way into the trove of references inspiring many artists, including Pablo Picasso himself. In his interpretation of the forms and garments that comprise the terracotta pieces, the Spanish artist sculpted his own series of tanagras during the 1940s and 1950s, exaggerating the proportions with a distinctly Cubist twist.

Terracotta draped woman (3rd century BC). 
Tanagra with drapery
 (1951), Pablo Picasso.

For the maison Alaïa’s Summer Autumn 2022 collection, Belgian creative director Pieter Mulier paid homage to the Spanish master in an exercise of meta-appropriation stretching from 4th century BC to the 20th century, recontextualised in the realms of fashion. Six dresses in the collection are conceptualised with Picasso’s Tanagras as the design inspiration, produced in collaboration between the Picasso Administration and the Alaïa atelier. Reflecting the variety of the ceramic sculptures, the dresses range in simplicity and density yet are united in a silhouette that plays with a body-conscious form and concealed face enveloped by a turtleneck. Knitted in a complex jacquard technique, they capture the delicate textures and colours of the paintwork found on Picasso’s sculptures, thus establishing a dialogue through time and space with unlikely treasure troves of creativity entwined under Mulier’s watch.

Discover the limited-edition pieces at Gagosian Shop.

Read more about tanagras at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Pieter Mulier’s Tanagra-inspired Azzedine Alaïa dresses in Paris

Alaïa Summer Autumn 2022

Alaïa Summer Autumn 2022

Alaïa Summer Autumn 2022

Alaïa Summer Autumn 2022

Alaïa Summer Autumn 2022

Alaïa Summer Autumn 2022

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