Art and joie de vivre with Nathalie Decoster

Asia-based French sculptor Nathalie Decoster sat down with WGSN City by City Associate Editor Nicole Hurip to talk the role of an artist, the best cities in China, and her love for all things vintage and flared.

Can you describe your work? Why do they look the way they do?

This project that I’m doing for the Paris Airport is called Consciousness, and it’s an invitation to dream. It’s meant to be poetic; the clouds symbolise being in the air, as airports act as a gateway to it, and tiny human figures are perched on the clouds. It’s very simple, stainless steel and bronze, and designed to be taken apart and assembled easily. It was temporarily on display in the Pacific Place atrium before being shipped back to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport to be put on permanent display starting this September.


‘Consciousness’ in close-up

I like working with space and dimensions, and all of my pieces have some sort of human figure in it, as my subject is the human condition. The humans I represent is all of us. When someone looks at my work, I want them to recognise themselves in it. Often, the situations I create are designed to reflect our own, manic everyday lives – running around and constantly in a hurry. I want people to realise that sometimes we must distance ourselves from that sentiment, and take some time for ourselves. I make time to have a meeting with myself every week, and I tell everyone to do the same. With my sculptures, I want to help my audience, to give them something. When people buy my work and tell me they are going to put it at the end of their bed because it reminds them to be happy, it really means a lot to me.


How do you feel about the state of the art world right now?

I feel that the essence of it is changing. An artist is supposed to send a message with his or her work, to invite a response from their audience. It makes me uncomfortable that a lot of people now use art to make serious money. The idea that some buy art as an investment and put it in a crate in storage makes me sad – not just for the artist, for the buyer, too. You can have expensive art on your wall, it’s not a problem, but if the focus is on making money, then the pleasure is gone. 

I buy a lot of contemporary art myself, from famous artists and art students alike. When I work for commissions, I work with people who want to use my work as a message, with a mission of promoting values. When I do public art, I am fulfilling a mission to the public. At the airport, for instance, some are bored, some are anxious. I hope that seeing my work gives the viewers serenity and the opportunity to contemplate. An artist should make it their mission to inspire humanity. They can work with big companies that share their values, and there is no lack of interesting things to do. We must keep in mind, as artists, our mission. And as an artist, I cannot sell my heart.


What do you think of the art scene in Asia?

I think that, like everywhere, there is potential. Every culture has its history and everybody has different experiences which shape the way they do things.  I’ve bought a few Chinese works to keep in my home back in France, and there’s this piece by island6 that’s very interesting. It’s a black and white picture of a very old Chinese building done in LED, representative of the rapid development in China and movement of life. I got it in Shanghai.


You told me that you design some of your clothes. How would you describe your style?

I designed two pantsuits in Hong Kong, one in red and one in electric blue. I have a special style, and I especially like the 70’s, with flared pants and shoulder pads. I buy a lot of vintage, and mix it in with items I design myself. I don’t feel comfortable if I’m too classic. I am a hippie-chic girl. Here in Asia, I try to be more demure because I’ve been told that I can’t be too flashy, but if you see me at home, I’m always in big coats with fur and wearing all sorts of bright colors.



Where do you like to shop?

I used to wear a lot of Isabel Marant. I like the coolness of Paul & Joe, and, if I go to high-end malls, I head to Chloe. Here in Hong Kong, I go to Shanghai Tang for accessories, and to buy some nice white shirts for my husband. I buy my basics from Cotton On, and I like to go to Muji for their schedule books.  As a sculptor, I pay attention to the materials. I like natural materials like linen, cotton and cashmere. 

Sometimes I would buy ten of the same black dress so it would be appropriate anywhere for any occasion. I swim a lot, so when I need bathing suits I buy ten of the same style in two colours and I’m set for the season. There are some vintage shops in Hong Kong’s Soho area where I bought lots of things – a big travelling tote and some glasses. There is an enormous vintage place in Paris called Kiliwatch where designers, both for women and men, go for inspiration. I prefer to go to small shops than to big malls because they have more spirit. In big malls, I’m not inspired to buy.


What is a up-and-coming place to go for art and retail?

I was in Chengdu for a project, and I was amazed to find a city full of energy. I did a sculpture in Taiguli and it was extremely well received. Worldwide luxury brands have flagships there, the biggest in the world. I heard that Chengdu is now the number one destination for tourists coming to China, and was surprised, having assumed that cities such as Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong would be the main places to go. Chengdu is becoming a key place to go for shopping, and to experience the lifestyle there. There are some wonderful hotels there, like the ones by the Swire group which did the Upper House here. The lifestyle is more than just luxurious – it’s refined. They’re doing new things, using new approaches.


“My philosophy is work hard, play hard, and that’s my last word.” – Nathalie Decoster


Check out our Global Category Guide – Vintage  for the best places to shop for pre-loved fashion across the globe, and our Boomers series for more insight on what baby boomers in the US, the UK and Asia look for when they shop.

Head to WGSN City by City for more travel inspiration and a curated list of editor-approved places to shop, dine and see.

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