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ART / INTERVIEWS / PAINTING & ILLUSTRATION

Through The Lens of History: Anne-Kristin Vaudour’s Eccentric Imperial Eyewear Collection

We learn a great many rules while traversing the winding path of life. Look both ways before crossing the road. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Always say please and thank you. Upon accidentally dropping a particularly excellent snack on the floor, only employ the five second rule if it is dry or it can be easily dusted off. Imagine if there was a rulebook for dream fulfillment, though – wow, what a time saver! – but ahhhh, the rollercoaster of life doesn’t work quite like that. Artists such as Anne-Kristin Vaudour can attest to the fact that the journey toward goal manifestation sometimes involves a bit of stumbling, an occasional detour, and maybe even a long-term simmer that scalds the psyche until…

w a i t   f o r   i t

…oooo you feel that burning sensation? Get used to it because real life still has other plans for you…

y o u   m e a n   I   h a v e   t o   w a i t   e v e n   l o n g e r?

… this isn’t a fast-food restaurant – it’s life. You’re darn tootin’ you have to wait longer.

Bills. Familial responsibilities. Career demands. Putting those very important things aside to nurture your creative passion is oftentimes easier said than done. Life will never fail to remind you: “Don’t forget to do this, that, and definitely those sixteen other things first!” After respecting its rules for the umpteenth time, however, you may decide…nope, nope, noooooo…there simply MUST be a better way to honor my soul! And that is why our interview with Anne-Kristin Vaudour will resonate, no matter your walk in life. If the primal scream emanating from your soul is so cacophonous that it’s actually throwing echolocating bats into a tizzy, then yep, it’s definitely time to rewrite the rules so your journey is enriched with creative fulfillment. Hello…leap of faith? My legs are flexed and ready jump…

I regarded being an artist as a wild fantasy, which is why I finally pursued my artistic path much later in life. Once I finally dared to share my artwork, though, I was so overcome with joy to see people’s positive reactions.

Interview With Anne-Kristin Vaudour

Was engaging in creative pastimes an important part of your family/academic background?

My mother appreciated art very much and as a child always liked to be creative and drew a lot. In the very bleak, grey, military Eastern Germany environment that I grew up in, however, being an artist was unthinkable. The idea of fostering an imaginative mind and pursuing your dreams didn’t yet exist.

What inspired your starry-eyed notion of one day becoming an artist?

On rare occasions, we visited castles when I was a child. Studying the ornate details carved into stone as well as the marvelous paintings and embroideries caused me to dream about creating beauty someday.

Travel to the West was banned in the former East Germany. Once the Berlin Wall came down, however, you embraced a globetrotting lifestyle. What made Asia especially appealing to you?

I quickly learned how much I loved being exposed to diverse cultural perspectives. I initially studied sinology and journalism at Leipzig University. Then in 1996, I focused on the Chinese language and journalism at Fudan University in Shanghai. Given how different life was there, it was as if I was on dopamine all the time. After my graduation, I moved to Hong Kong in 1997, which was love at first sight.

Each of my digital design interventions is relatively minimal yet my historical muses’ makeovers still end up being significant. That is a testament to the transformative power of fashion and accessories.

What prompted you to then move to Italy, and ultimately Singapore, which is now your home base?

My Hong Kong life was all about working hard and making money, but by the time I hit 30, I felt totally burned out. My childhood dream of becoming an artist constantly nagged me. Finally, I quit my job and studied fashion and costume design in Rome, where we were encouraged to think boldly and courageously cultivate our creative fantasies.  

Italy is wonderful, but you need to have sufficient funds to support your lifestyle, which is why I returned to Hong Kong. I ended up completing additional Italy-based art studies, and then my employer agreed to transfer me to Singapore, where I currently am with my husband and son.

Was studying the painting techniques of the old masters at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Macerata as utterly inspiring as it sounds?

I was totally addicted to going to the studio during that time. Stumbling upon a random Michelangelo, Raphael or Caravaggio merely by entering an Italian church certainly fueled for my passion for art even more. My instructors taught so many fascinating, ancient techniques that aren’t generally shared in conventional curriculums.

Based on the thematic content and aesthetic of your Imperial Eyewear Collection, you are clearly a history buff. Where did your interest in historical figures and classical art come from?

My mother devoured every history book or historic novel she could get her hands on, and her brain was like a library. In my formative years, I felt so trapped where I was living that my mind was so often filled with “fernweh” (a longing for distant and exotic places). The escapism of the historical genre was irresistible to me.

I exaggerate my eyeglass frames a bit (or a lot), often adding a bit of weirdness or unusual ornamentation to make them look surreal enough to make the beholder take pause.

Is your Imperial Eyewear Collection an artistic manifestation of the fashion and costume design training that you obtained at Rome’s Accademia Costume & Moda?   

My Imperial Eyewear Collection enables me to have a visual outlet for my creative dreams. It plays with the idea of me being a famous eyewear designer for the royal courts. Each of my digital design interventions is relatively minimal yet my historical muses’ makeovers still end up being significant. That is a testament to the transformative power of fashion and accessories.

Through this creative project, are you hoping to ignite interest in yesteryear’s painters, personalities, and fashions?

Contemporary audiences tend to pay attention to the fascinating masterpieces of the past when they are introduced to them in a modern context. In addition to enjoying the whimsy of my digital art, I hope that the beholder will develop an interest in historic portraits, learn about the backgrounds of the muses/original artists, and realize that history can inspire modern fashion. 

How does a historical artwork end up qualifying for an Imperial Eyewear Collection makeover?

I must be inspired enough by the portrayed person – as well as their interesting garments, extraordinary poses and expressive faces – to want to put glasses on them. I then research their life and personality so the eyewear I design for them complements their character.

You’re quite committed to conducting thorough background research in order to write biographies for each muse featured in your digitally tweaked artworks. Is that a non-negotiable aspect of your art?

I enjoy conducting historical research very much and am repeatedly reminded that so many fascinating stories are lost to us. When it is difficult to find facts about the portrayed person in a work of historical art, I often translate foreign texts. I only give up on my research after I’ve exhausted all avenues and still have no real material to use (which bothers me greatly).

My collectors are most fascinated by the unique stories behind each portrait and appreciate the altered narrative that my glasses bestow upon the muse.

Would you offer one example of how learning about the real-life personality of one of your muses directly impacted the design of their eyewear?

I often find surprising facts and make unexpected connections, especially when learning about lesser-known personalities. I learned that Grand Duchess Alexandra Pavlovna had such a sad and restricted life at Empress Maria Theresa’s court. She wasn’t allowed to wear jewellery because the empress was jealous of her beauty. That’s why I gave her the most dramatic black bat winged shades with elaborate carvings; Empress Maria Theresia would have exploded!

Once you find the perfect painting to use as your eyewear canvas, what steps do you take to bring your design to life?

I imagine that I have been commissioned by the person in a historical portrait to create one-of-a-kind glasses for them, considering the shape that might best suit their face as well as the occasion. I research the personality and background of each historical muse. I bear in mind the garments and accessories they are wearing so that the color and ornamentation on my final eyewear design is complementary. Then, I create 3-5 different options, ultimately narrowing it down to the best design.

Do the works of art in your Imperial Eyewear Collection begin as paper and pencil sketches, or is every aspect of their manifestation 100% digital?

Most of the process happens in my head. Once I have a clear idea and creative direction, each work of art requires about 2-3 days of entirely digital creation. These days, I even create all of my sketches using an iPad.

When your research doesn’t yield as much satisfaction as you might hope, do your creative efforts still take flight in the ‘less is more’ realm?

The less I know, the more my fantasy invents. In the reflection of the glasses of the Lady in Blue Dress portrayed as Diana, you can see the scene of the Queen of the Night. I imagined her sitting in the opera, watching the Magic Flute by Mozart. The Baroque Star has piano keys in the reflection of his lenses, which is a homage to Bryan May, who often wore aviator glasses and was sometimes compared to Bach.

In my formative years, I felt so trapped where I was living that my mind was so often filled with “fernweh” (a longing for distant and exotic places). The escapism of the historical genre was irresistible to me.

Many accessories bestow a transformative effect upon the wearer. Why does designing eyewear deliver the most creatively satisfying result through your artistic lens?

Shades and glasses – which take center stage on the face – are statement pieces that transform the wearer’s appearance by making them look cool, elegant, intellectual, eccentric, etc. Additionally, it’s a lot of fun to create bold, over-the-top designs since it’s a big departure from the conservative aspects of my real life.  

At what point in our history did eyewear shift over into unique, fashion-forward territory?

A very rare pair of fashionable Mughal glasses with emerald lenses (circa 1890) was recently auctioned by Sotheby’s. It was not until the 1940’s – 1950’s in Western culture that eyewear was used as a fashionable expression of style and personality.

Are you an eyewear addict? Which contemporary eyewear designers do you think are artsy creative geniuses?

I’m rarely able to find anything that appeals to me without breaking the bank. Nonetheless, I love the extravagant, Baroque-inspired looks of D&G and Prada. Urban Outfitters, Teresa Christiansen and Caretta Vintage also produce very unconventional eyewear. If money weren’t an issue, I’d love to own something created by Francis de Lara.

My Imperial Eyewear Collection enables me to have a visual outlet for my creative dreams. It plays with the idea of me being a famous eyewear designer for the royal courts.

Are your unique eyewear designs entirely the product of your imagination or do you draw from other sources of inspiration such as architecture, nature, etc.?

At the onset of my Imperial Eyewear Collection project, I Googled a lot of different eyewear designs. These days, however, I refer to the library inside my head. I receive a great deal of visual inspiration from luxury window shopping in Hong Kong and Singapore. Regarding my designs, I exaggerate my frames a bit (or a lot), often adding a bit of weirdness or unusual ornamentation to make them look surreal enough to make the beholder take pause.

Have you encountered any instance when – no matter what – you couldn’t figure out exactly how to create the right eyewear design to complement a historical costume?

I encountered that while working on my first Imperial Eyewear painting, which was a contemporized version of Alexander Roslin’s Portrait of a Girl Holding a Spaniel. I wanted to create a completely new and otherworldly style of eyewear that might have been worn back then, which ended up resembling motorbike goggles. I soon learned that incorporating a modern-day eyewear-inspired design made each portrait more relatable and even more realistic. I still have a special affection for that portrait.

Of all the aristocratic shades that you’ve designed for your Imperial Eyewear Collection thus far, which pair would you proudly don?

I’d go for the simple prêt-à-porter specs of Princess Charlotte of Belgium or Princess Sophie. However, while attending the Oscars, I’d definitely wear any of my fantastic, over-the-top haute couture designs :)

What aspect of your Imperial Eyewear Collection sells itself?

My collectors are most fascinated by the unique stories behind each portrait and appreciate the altered narrative that my glasses bestow upon the muse.

In addition to enjoying the whimsy of my digital art, I hope that the beholder will develop an interest in historic portraits, learn about the backgrounds of the muses/original artists, and realize that history can inspire modern fashion. 

Is creating your own real-world line of Imperial Eyewear-spawned designs a part of your to-do list?

It would be a dream to build a partnership with an experienced eyewear brand that is brave enough to explore unusual, quirky, lavish designs.

Would you enjoy time-hopping amid the annals of art history or would you want to permanently reside in a specific period?   

I’d love to observe Giotto when he painted the frescoes inside the Scrovegni chapel or spend a day watching Michelangelo, Da Vinci or Bronzino at work. I’d give anything for a night out in Venice during the 18th century, preferably during the carnival. What an experience court life at Versailles would be or how much would you learn by having a walk through the woods with Goethe. The list is endless.

My childhood dream of becoming an artist constantly nagged me. Finally, I quit my job and studied fashion and costume design in Rome, where we were encouraged to think boldly and courageously cultivate our creative fantasies.  

It seems like the joy that you experienced during the creative process is present in each of your completed words of art. As you continue to expand upon your ongoing series of historical portraiture interventions, do you have an inner sense that – yes – this is the right creative path?

I am definitely having a lot of fun because each portrait challenges me in various ways plus it satisfies my thirst for historic knowledge, fashion and style. Artistically, I haven’t even travelled half of the road, but I am very excited about what the future holds.

When obstacles in life prevent us from acting on our goals, we sometimes romanticize or even glorify them. Now that you’re hard at work manifesting your art dreams, has your creative journey been as sweet as you imagined it would be?

It’s all been incredibly satisfying. I regarded being an artist as a wild fantasy, which is why I finally pursued my artistic path much later in life. Once I finally dared to share my artwork, though, I was so overcome with joy to see people’s positive reactions. It’s so interesting to connect with others and learn how differently they consume the same piece of art. That’s really encouraged me to continue working harder to refine my skills while also taking the necessary steps to ensure that my creative endeavor is financially sustainable, as well.

anne-kristin-vaudour-cleopatra-eyewear

Anne-Kristin Vaudour Social Media Accounts

Website | Instagram | FacebookTwitter

Imperial Eyewear Collection Social Media Accounts

Website | Instagram

About Author

Longtime eco-journalist, art wordsmith and creativity connoisseur. Anything that hovers in the right-brained spectrum or is born out of unbridled imagination elevates my spirit. I probably revere mother nature's ever-changing shazaamy brush strokes more than the average humanoid. Technicolor art supplies make me weak in the knees, as do wet-nosed luvvies.

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