By KURT MCVEY, JUL. 2016
"I woke up this morning thinking that would be a fabulous way to make a dress,” says the delightfully effervescent fashion designer Nanette Lepore over rich black coffee and an impromptu snack of thinly sliced, local, fried zucchini served in the living room of her beautiful and eclectic Amagansett home, which has been only slightly transformed this past weekend into a salon style gallery for the second group exhibition from Lepore Savage Gallery, titled, In Bloom. “The black and white florals,” continues Ms. Lepore as her charming painter and Irish folk singing husband Bob Savage joins us, “when you put in those deep pinks, blues, and oranges, it just balances things out nicely.”
Ms. Lepore is talking about the exhibition’s twenty commissioned paintings by John Gordon Gauld, Sebastian Blanck, and Sam Trioli, respectively, though it’s easy to get a bit bemused, as the designer’s meditations on colors, shapes, patterns, and silhouettes could easily be at home in discussions over the husband and wife duo’s latest fashion line. With In Bloom (or: What Do Flowers Dream of at Night?), especially, a subtle, fluorescent, and at times nocturnal meditation on life, death, and all its flickering minutia, which embraces the resurgence of highly skilled yet steadfastly conceptual renderings of flowers and other still life ephemera, the direct cross-pollination of the aesthetics between art and fashion seems to be the point, but by no means exclusively. “Having our own gallery, we set the tone and get to write the narrative,” says Ms. Lepore. “We’re inclusive and family oriented people. We enjoy featuring accessible art, and yes, that means people can afford it, but primarily, just like the artists who make the work, it warms up our space.”
Lepore Savage Gallery’s inaugural exhibition, Rose is a Rose, which opened in October of 2015 in the couple’s West Village townhouse and was also curated by a young, long-time family friend and current Christies masters candidate Kara Brooks, saw mixed-media artist Lori Field, one of eight featured artists, commissioned to provide designs for at least one dress in the Nanette Lepore fashion line not long after the exhibition came down last fall. “I just loved Lori’s works,” says Ms. Lepore. “Especially her wacky people, animals, and fairies, which are cut out and floating in space. It’s all very mystical and a bit charmed. The dresses will be bold and fun, but certainly ready to wear.”
It’s clear that Ms. Lepore has no trouble dream mining the artistic works populating In Bloom for similar sartorial inspiration, while simultaneously appreciating the paintings for what they are and not just sample patterns and color swabs. “ I was raised by an abstract painter, so there was always color,” says Ms. Lepore, alluding to her 85 year old father, James Lepore, who still spends the vast majority of his free time in the studio.
“He was my instructor,” adds Mr. Savage, with a slight mischievous twinkle in his eye. James Lepore, Nanette‘s father, was a seemingly “cool” professor of Painting and Art History at Youngstown State University in Ohio where he befriended a younger, part-time teacher, transfixing Irish Folk singer, and full time painter, Bob Savage. Both recently divorced, James and Bob would hang out on Fridays at The Motor Bar on Wick Avenue in Youngstown, a raucous drinking haunt for artists, bikers, poets and unbuttoned professors.
“My dad kept telling me about his friend Bob and I kept telling him, adamantly, that I didn’t want to meet any of his friends,” recalls Ms. Lepore with a playful eye roll.
“But then she saw me sing ‘Peggy Gordon’ I believe,” says an enduringly confident Mr. Savage, still fully aware of the potent and irresistible romantic effects of a well-sung Irish folk ballad. “Or was it ‘Dirty Old Town?’ Either way, the rest is history.”
“Not so fast. Bob told me within two seconds of getting offstage that his girlfriend was nineteen and I told him that my boyfriend at the time was thirty-six, so I didn’t care,” recalls Ms. Lepore with an irreverent chuckle. The duo reconnected months later at ye old Motor Bar once more. Bob was singing again, and it was then that a deal was made. Nanette’s older brother would take Bob’s nineteen year old off his hands and Nanette would give her father’s teaching and drinking buddy a shot. “After having many bad boyfriends, I wanted someone to come hang around my family,” says Ms. Lepore. “We throw a lot of parties at home and a lot of people come to us. I needed to date someone who would spend hours and hours with my family.”
Lepore Savage Gallery seems to be an extension of this particular appreciation of humans, friendship, family, love and loss, and how art can help us contextualize these simple and powerful things. It’s fitting that In Bloom opened, much like a satellite operation in stark juxtaposition to Art Southampton and the smaller and mostly irrelevant Art Market + Design, two fairs that featured a litany of mostly recycled work that still smelled of Basel Miami, let alone Frieze, while the attached diagnosis of “social event” seems to have slipped further and further into the derogatory.
“For us, this is fun,” says Ms. Lepore, as she gets up to put on another pot of coffee. “There’s no commitment-nothing at stake except to see where it leads us. Right now it’s leading us to meet a lot of new, great people in our lives. So far it’s been socially invigorating.” WM
Kurt McVey is a writer based in New York City.
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