The films and books which inspired Notre Jardin

22 September 2015

As we start releasing new pieces for autumn/winter we wanted to revisit some of the books and films that influenced our garden philosophy and inspired our current collection – ‘Notre Jardin’.

 

The full title of the collection, ‘Il faut cultiver Notre Jardin’, comes from Voltaire’s novella Candide. First published in 1759 it still holds life lessons for today. The story follows the journey of Candide and his retinue as they travel the world witnessing executions and slavery, being thrown into prisons, finding El Dorado, coming into great riches and falling into poverty. 

Voltaire’s satirical take on the contemporary world was a direct response and dismissal of the popular philosophy of the time that we are living in ‘the best of all possible worlds’. After taking his characters on a rollercoaster ride across the world, in which they find their fate is completely out of their own control, Voltaire settles the cast in Turkey where Candide pronounces: ‘Il faut cultiver notre jardin.’

Voltaire was telling us not to be concerned with the greater machinations of the world, but to grow our own garden, both literally and metaphorically. This is very much our philosophy at Travail en Famille, the only fashion brand where you will find a 23-year-old man making silk scarves with his mother.

From a very different era, ‘Another Year’, directed by Mike Leigh, is a bleak yet beautiful film exploring middle aged happiness and unhappiness. At the centre of the film Tom and Gerri live a contented married life. Together we see them working on their allotment through the 4 seasons, ploughing, planting and harvesting, as their friends dip in and out of unhappiness. The alcoholic Mary tries to put a brave face on things whilst flirting with younger men, the equally alcoholic Ken fruitlessly pursues Mary and Ronnie falls into silence after the death of his wife. All these lost souls find themselves drawn to Tom and Gerri’s idyllic home and garden.

‘Another Year’ puts forward a compelling case for the garden as a bastion against unhappiness. The colourful and striking shots of Tom and Gerri’s garden and allotment are a clear statement from Mike Leigh.

Maurice Pialat’s film about van Gogh provided the spark which caused me to text my mother at  2 o’ clock in the morning saying we should make a collection about gardens. She was in bed at the time but she liked the idea when she woke up. 

Rather than try to define van Gogh in an epic life-spanning biopic Pialat focussed on his final weeks in Auvers-sur-Oise. The result is a restrained and captivating perspective on one of the world’s greatest painters.

 

Much of the film centres around Dr Gachet’s house and garden and the surrounding countryside - the subject of several van Gogh masterpieces. 

During his time in London Van Gogh spontaneously set to work renovating his landlady’s garden. And towards the end of his life he wrote to his sister from Provence encouraging her to work hard and find fulfillment in life, quoting Voltaire:

“Anyway I must close this letter if I want it to go off today, and I don’t even have time to re-read it. So, if I’ve said too many silly things you will kindly excuse me. Look after yourself, don’t get too bored, and by ‘cultivating your garden’, as you do, and the rest that you do, be well assured that you’re getting through a lot of work. I kiss you affectionately in thought.”

Inevitably the film ends on a sad note, financially and critically unsuccessful and a burden on his family Van Gogh commits suicide. Although his life met with a terrible end Van Gogh’s commitment to growing his own garden (metaphorically and literally) resulted in an extraordinary legacy. Our Dr Gachet prints celebrate Van Gogh’s love of gardens through a collage of French garden flowers whilst acknowledging the difficulties he faced through a solitary white arum lily featured in the print. He painted these lilies when he felt melancholic and sad.

 

The final part of this blog is about ‘L’Homme qui Plantait les Arbres’ by Jean Giono, a charming short story about a man who planted trees. Originally bought as a present for my father, who has frequent and rather manic tree planting moments, it eventually became an important source of ideas for the collection (funny how these things happen). 

In the story a disillusioned shepherd withdraws from civilization and roams the countryside collecting and planting tree seeds. Over many years this lone gardener’s activities result in the growth of a huge forest and the biological regeneration of the area. When a company cut down some of his trees for a building project he is too far away planting new trees to even know. This story actually has real life parallels. In India Jadav Payeng single-handedly created a 1,360 acre forest on previously barren land. 

A moving tribute to the therapeutic value of gardening and the important work we can do whilst ‘growing our garden’ away from society’s sometimes unhelpful demands ‘L’Homme qui Plantait les Arbres’ is still a very relevant work. 

 

I hope this blog has shed some light on our creative process and where we draw inspiration. I think it also helps to explain our French name despite being a very British brand. Living in Belgium for many years exposed us to European culture, both books and one of the films featured in this blog are after all French. 

I hope that it also explains some of the deeper philosophy behind the collection. ‘Notre Jardin’ can be taken at face value as a celebration of the beauty of gardens and the therapy of gardening, but there is also a deeper undertone. But that all depends on how you like to interact with your clothes.