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Interview: Roger Vivier’s Fall Muse, Ambra Medda

As we close the sixth edition of Abu Dhabi Art we’re reminded of the power of collaborations between the worlds of art and fashion. Features Editor Caterina Minthe sat down with Roger Vivier brand ambassador Ines de la Fressange to become better acquainted with Ambra Medda, one of the design world’s more remarkable powerhouses and this season’s face of the iconic French maison.

It’s Paris Fashion Week and I’m sitting in a room on the second floor of the Roger Vivier Faubourg Saint-Honoré boutique, a mere stone’s throw away from the Elysées Palace and apparently just across the street from an old apartment belonging to Coco Chanel (Ines de la Fressange will later tell me that Coco was hated by her neighbors because she was too noisy). Seated to my left is 32-year-old Ambra Medda, already a veritable design veteran. And while our interview should have started, we’re not yet engaged in conversation because W magazine’s Editor in Chief, Stefano Tonchi, has entered the room and, delighted to see Medda, has pulled up a chair. The two are now chatting in Italian, apparently oblivious to the rest of us. I try not to eavesdrop and instead study the walls, which are embellished with an impressive 20,000 silver leaves.

Suddenly, Roger Vivier brand ambassador Ines de la Fressange blows through the door like a bouillon cube of energy, stunning in black tailored slacks, a ruffled white blouse, and black blazer. She’s just as you would expect her to be—Parisian elegance personified. Were I to open a picture dictionary and look up the phrase “je ne sais quoi,” I wouldn’t be surprised to see a portrait of de la Fressange winking back at me. But, just as quickly as she enters, she rushes out again and so I begin to observe the slender yet steely young Medda, the face of Roger Vivier’s Fall 2014 campaign.

I’d first heard of Medda about five years ago, when a girlfriend told me about the Italian-Austrian polyglot who had co-founded Design Miami in 2005 along with her (former) partner, the prominent property developer Craig Robbins. During her time as Design Miami Director, Medda opened the doors for shoppers like Brad Pitt and played host to the likes of Zaha Hadid at her and Robbins’ design-laden Miami pad. While Medda channels a calm demeanor, I surmise that it must just be a mask for her ferocious—and quite possibly obsessive—ambition.

In June 2013, Medda launched L’ArcoBaleno, an e-commerce platform dedicated to design. On it, you can find a carved sunset lamp by Alban Le Henry, retailing for US $4,373; a Swedish throw cushion with birds by Marianne Richter for US $14,000 (yes, three zeroes); or read a feature story about Anne Holtrop’s hand-painted furniture. Studying Medda, I also note that her features—almond eyes, thin lips, and wide smile—share an uncanny resemblance to those of fashion butterfly Olivia Palermo, although Medda is a more intellectual version of the petite brunette.

“Of course, Ambra is not a socialite,” Ines de la Fressange proclaims, re-entering the room and sitting down with us at the table. I notice that she’s exchanged her white ruffle blouse for a more streamlined shirt, which she has casually half-tucked into her trousers. She air kisses Stefano Tonchi as he bids us farewell. “It was so obvious [the choice of Medda as the face of Roger Vivier’s Fall 2014 collection]—totally obvious. But it’s not easy to find someone who is not a model, but who is very beautiful—because we need the pictures, and somebody who is doing something interesting, and who is from a world that is quite close [to fashion]. And, someone who is also international, because we [Roger Vivier] are supposed to be French, but we don’t want to be too French.”

Indeed, the Roger Vivier shoe and handbag brand, launched by the French fashion designer (1907—1998) who was responsible for creating the stiletto heel (1954) and whose Pilgrim pumps with buckle are a House signature, maintains its factories in Italy. Today, the brand boasts boutiques all over the world, from Florida, to Dubai, to Singapore.

Following Roger Vivier’s Spring 2014 campaign, which featured the diminutive Russian online entrepreneur Miroslava Duma, Ambra Medda stepped into the buckled Roger Vivier shoes (today, she’s wearing a pair of stunning gold Pilgrims). And while Medda might play a less prominent role than Duma in the fashion world, her comparative position in the art and design world is far more powerful.

With Medda’s appointment comes a reminder of Roger Vivier’s close connection to the world of art. Orphaned at the age of nine, Vivier went on to study sculpture at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He went on, of course, to design shoes. So beautiful were his “sculptures” that they even caught the eye of Princess Elizabeth II of England, who chose him to design her shoes for her coronation in 1953. Christian Dior also commissioned Vivier to design the shoes for his first collection in 1953 and continued to do so for a decade.

“For me, life is about collaboration,” explains Medda. For her partnership with the Roger Vivier maison, Medda fronts a limited edition booklet, photographed by Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello, which features the collection and focuses on the structural Miss Viv’ bag. This bag was originally created in 2009 for France’s former first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, in support of her namesake foundation. Now, the Miss Viv’ bag comes in a limited edition and includes a Miss Viv’ edition especially named after Medda’s website. L’ArcoBaleno is the Italian word for rainbow; fittingly, the bag is crafted with an array of multicolor sequins and satin and silver metal details.

“Design and fashion partnerships can be forced,” explains Medda, “And you can feel like there is not a depth to it, but sometimes when a big fashion brand brings on an artist [or in Medda’s case, a creative entrepreneur], it can create really unexpected results. It’s the way you go about these things. A lot of fashion houses are often looking to art to be inspired and it produces really interesting, unexpected results. But it can be done in a really bad or boring way, too.”

“She could be my daughter,” smiles Ines de la Fressange as she poses next to Ambra Medda for one final shot before it is our turn to bid the duo adieu.
Interview by Caterina Minthe

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