Peter Knapp: “I was a little too radical, conceptual, Slavik loved the history of art in its entirety”

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Peter Knapp photographed by Slavik at the age of 43 in 1974, in the restaurant L'Assiette au bœuf, in Paris.

“After completing my art studies at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich, I went to Paris to immerse myself in this mythical city. It was 1951 and I quickly realized that in reality France was behind in terms of design and graphics… In Switzerland, we were very influenced by the Bauhaus and its modernity. Function and beauty were very important to us.

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In this regard, Paris disappointed me until I stumbled across the windows of Galeries Lafayette, which dazzled me: the clothes and the decorations had been passed to white. I felt a real creative shock. I then inquired about the identity of their creator. It was the first time that I heard the name of Slavik, who was then responsible for the windows.

“We immediately became friends, my Swiss identity amused him and its surreal side fascinated me. “

After our meeting, he quickly ushered me into the department store where I took care of the typography, the logo, the catalogs, the posters and the set design and, from 1955, the artistic direction. We left the ship together after winning a competition to make pavilions for the Universal Exhibition in Brussels.

We were very complementary: I had a modernist education, inspired by the architects Mies van Der Rohe or Eero Saarinen, he was more influenced by surrealism and Jean Cocteau. We immediately became friends, my Swiss identity amused him and its surreal side fascinated me. I was a little too radical, conceptual, he loved the history of art in its entirety, from Bosch to Magritte. He opened my eye to this story.

“Slavik was fun and likable, he had an elegance, an imagination, something Edgar Poe. “

Our professional paths separated in 1960, but we remained friends until his death in 2014. Slavik was fun and likable, he had an elegance, an imagination, something of Edgar Poe. I liked to listen to him, he took care of his language, he invented words. We would go on vacation together and discuss art and cars. He owned a Mercedes 300 SL while I was more Porsche or Ferrari. But we no longer spoke about work because we had taken different paths.

At that time, he started to design restaurants, including the Plate au bœuf, on the Champs-Elysées, where he took this photo of me in 1974. I was 43 at the time and I can be seen in conversation with Christine. Simonet, a young journalist from the magazine She who will become my wife. This is one of the few photos taken by Slavik, who didn’t even have a camera. He had borrowed mine for this one.

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It was not easy to start making a “retrospective” book because we started it without archives. Slavik did not put down the designs for any of his lights or seats, which made Charlotte Perriand scream. He preferred to live in the moment. “

Slavik, the Drugstore years, by Pascal Bonafoux, Peter Knapp, Géraldine Cerf de Dudzeele and Philippe Maynial, Norma, 352 pages, 55 €.

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Peter Knapp: “I was a little too radical, conceptual, Slavik loved the history of art in its entirety”

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