Spathes or plant couture

Perhaps you have already met him. An unusual slender figure picking up the leaves around the Place des Palmistes. But for him they are not just leaves. The Roystonea regia or Cuban royal palm is not native to French Guiana. It has always had many different uses: the end tip is eaten as a cabbage palm, the centre of its stipe (or trunk) used to be used to make a flour called sago, and its petioles were once used to make cradles and even sometimes as a splint to hold fractures in place. But the person we're talking about here has managed to turn this ‘plant waste’ into a second skin for women. When you see what Patrick Lafrontière manages to do with these spathes you realise that genius truly does often take unexpected forms. "You only have to look closely at something for it to become interesting." This quotation from Eugenio D’Ors y Rovira suddenly becomes obvious when you see what Patrick is capable of making. He spends day after day gathering these bracts hanging from the majestic palm trees like elongated teardrops. He patiently takes them back home, processes them, tends to them, and assembles them like a couturier, giving them a new identity. One can easily imagine that they are the costumes of some mysterious tribe of women hidden in the vast forest here, like some kind of latter-day Amazons. It is a material which can be rough or sinuous, smooth or feathery, and it is surprising how supple or stiff it can be with a range of colours going from yellow ochre to red and taking in all shades of brown. In his many sketchbooks he adapts the forms that will become his unexpected couture creations – short and long dresses which almost look like a second skin with the material like some form of a tanned hide or metal with reddish reflections, hats concealing the beautiful faces of elegant models parading his creations, or bustiers that look like they have been moulded on perfect bodies. Nowadays it is easy to imagine that his works are a worthy form of remembrance of the last palm trees that once stood on the spot of this famous square when it was part of the vast savanna. After having shown his work for many years in his land of birth, Patrick now shows it in France and the Caribbean. He recently took part in the Ethical Fashion Show in Paris for a second time. He will soon be showing his creations in fashion shows in the Bahamas, and then in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. “We think we are looking at nature but it is nature that is looking at us” (Christian Charrière le maitre de l’âme), and Patrick Lafrontière has managed to change the way we look. We hope he will be back soon with even more astonishing creations.

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