Alexandre Benjamin Navet on creating a fantasy garden for Van Cleef & Arpels in Hong Kong

Multidisciplinary artist and illustrator Alexandre Benjamin Navet has collaborated with Van Cleef & Arpels on an art installation to herald the season. Drawing inspiration from the French jewellery maison’s Frivole collection, Navet turns Hong Kong’s Landmark into a fantasy garden. Zaneta Cheng takes a stroll

Image from Van Cleef & Arpels’ spring campaign.

According to traditional Chinese geomancy, 2024 was calculated to be a year of no spring. But what feng shui masters didn’t account for was Alexandre Benjamin Navet’s spring-themed art installation with riotous multi-foot-tall blooms decorating the halls and thoroughfares of Hong Kong’s Landmark. The multidisciplinary artist, who graduated from ENSCI-Les Ateliers, the national school in France for industrial design, is a go-to collaborator for luxury brands and has even been invited to decorate the lower house of Parliament at the National Assembly of France.

Alexandre Benjamin Navet

Known for his joyful illustrations and proclivity for trompe-l’oeil, Navet grew up in a creative household. His father worked on French radio while his mother was an art student, so drawing came naturally. While he works in oil pastel, crayon and Japanese watercolour, his degree in applied arts and industrial design has taken his illustrations off the page and onto the streets to create larger-than-life works for public spaces around the world.

Five years after he won Van Cleef & Arpels’ Grand Prix Design Parade Toulon in 2017, Navet began working with the jewellery brand on a series of illustrated floral sculptures on New York’s Fifth Avenue. Of that collaboration, the artist says, “We’ve continued to write a story together with the maison. The installation on Fifth Avenue was the first large-scale installation we created together. I love playing with spaces and different scales. From windows to facades to interiors and now almost entire districts like Landmark Hong Kong and Marunouchi Tokyo!”

For this most recent project in Hong Kong, Navet used his signature whimsy to herald springtime for the city. “I love this word,” he says, when asked how he feels when his style is described as whimsical. “My work leaves a lot of room for interpretation. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many people from different cultures, and I see a variety of joyful feelings and interpretations when I talk with them. I try to be playful in my work and let the energy of the colour fill up the room.”

Much is in Navet’s colour palette, which is bright and playful – think pastels mixed with a splash of more saturated sunny hues. He takes his inspiration from the world around him – “Nature’s palette
is almost endless. Minty and moss greens, sunny and acid yellow, sky blue, emerald and cherry-blossom pink are among the most important colours in my palette this season.” And they have proven to be the perfect choice for Van Cleef & Arpels’ spring takeover at Landmark.

The artist’s oversize blooms at Landmark.

Inspired by the brand’s Frivole collection and its unique mirror polish technique, Navet has created a floral wonderland. “This time I was particularly inspired by the Frivole collection and the blooming of colour,” the illustrator explains. “I did a lot of research for this new project, studying and gathering books about flora. I believe this kind of collaboration is pretty unexpected. I discovered the maison’s incredible creativity while looking for references. There is such impressive savoir-faire. They dared to create many things, which is why I feel very honoured to have carte blanche to express new vocabularies while reinterpreting the codes of the maison.”

A look through Van Cleef & Arpels’ current collection as well as its heritage collection yields a mine of elegant, cheerful pieces. Be they animal pins or its classic Frivole, Alhambra or Cosmos collections, the house employs stones of a variety of colour to bring natural elements to life. Navet’s unique take on trompe l’oeil and creation of universes is what, he says, brings such distinct synergy to the installations he’s created for the house. “My artwork and the pieces complement and enrich one another, I think. It’s absolutely a dialogue. We started with original artworks as a base of inspiration for all the collaborations. This year, I employed different techniques with paper cuts and collages, working on plain painted colours underlined with coloured pencil sketches.”

Inspired by violets, peonies, clematis and delphinium, Navet married these flowers with those of his imagination as well as architectural garden details “such as balustrades, 19th-century carved stone planters and beautiful alleyways”.

Along the balconies of Landmark, benches rendered in the bursting hues of the season are available for shoppers to sit on for brief respite between sprees. The grey skies of a particularly rainy season have been supplanted by winding green stems and attractive florals that reach from floor to ceiling. The dialogue between himself and the maison, Navet says, was this time inspired by a walk in a beautiful garden.

Specifically, the artist points to the Passe Partout, a one-of-a-kind detachable floral clip from 1938 that he found in the maison’s heritage collection. Yellow and periwinkle-coloured sapphires form the petals of the two flowers that are woven together with a Tubogas chain reminiscent of industrial metal piping to create a piece that was presented as an innovation in avant-garde jewellery design at the New York World Fair in 1939. “I love the Passe Partout and the way it looks like a painting,” Navet says. “The jewels look like brushes of colour and it’s one of the first pieces I had the opportunity to see. It’s magical and inspires me a lot. Behind all the magic and simplicity, there is a lot of technique and impressive savoir-faire.”

Navet’s installation at Landmark is one of two in Asia that he has collaborated on with Van Cleef & Arpels – the other blossoming at Tokyo’s Marunouchi Street Park – suggesting this is a collaboration that brings with it the promise of more to come. The artist himself says it best: “Our creative connection is now based on long-term dialogue. It’s pure joy to be able to test new things together.”

Also see: Van Cleef & Arpels spreads springtime joy through Landmark installation

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