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by Paolo Mendini Saturday, Feb. 11, 2006 at 2:38 AM

Eco-Space interview with Yahel Chirinian by Noor Cipriani for Nova

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Every now and then, you find a reason why you do what you do and you look for these moments to keep you going, whether it is personally or professionally. This personal one-on-one with Yahel Chirinian, it’s up there. It’s way up there as one of those moments. The very private artist choosed India as permanent base and inspiration source. Monsoon Heritage, a creative studio like a white room to re-think volume, light, elements, style and life.

Fashion Gurus names her "the most creative woman in design" and one trendsetter journalist ranks her as "the only female designer that can virtually guarantee originality and vision to a project ".

We always look forward to a rendez-vous with Yahel Chirinian because she has "IT'' that elusive, deep, mysterious quality that makes her also too rare. This attitude has more to do with her own solitary nature. "I am a loner, a solitary person," she insists. "I like to spend the day alone. I enjoy eating alone. But I'm not lonely and I never have been."

Love her or hate her, mention her name in a roomful of designers and spines tingle, backs curl. Yahel Chirinian has the power to turn a happy hip dinner party into a raging, Crossfire-like debate—not about her talent, which most would probably agree isn’t up for debate, but about her choices and personal life.

She has said she only has 7 close friends, she avoids parties, shuns mobile phones and prefers to live in an anonymous rented house or hotels than an ultra sophisticated architect house.

"I've always wanted my profession to be about connecting with the common person, the normal person, the human person -- because, in some ways, I've been pushed outside that" Chirinian said in a rare, candid interview about what motivates and propels her.

"I've always not been normal."

Yahel Chirinian has always been one of the most intriguing artist; so fiercely protective of her privacy that people automatically assume she has something to hide. In circles that thrives on celebrity scandal and gossip, 35-year-old Chirinian bears the unique distinction of remaining essentially a closed book.

Half of the persons in the room will defend Yahel's decision to keep her personal life as private as she can. Perhaps each of the women on that side of the argument enjoys a somewhat “private” life (read: closeted life) of her own; perhaps each simply respects Yahel's choice on a professional level. Regardless of the reasoning, each rationale is sure to provoke a very interesting and intense sub-debate.

The other half will, argue that Chirinian should definite herself and her work as aesthetically engaged because of what she could do for a new generation of designers. Yahel's clout, the respect she commands, her charming personality and warm, soft-spoken manner, they believe, will help make the world a more welcoming place for women and contemporary artists . Perhaps their desire is more selfish. Maybe, just maybe, they simply want to be right. Whatever the reasons, this argument is, of course, based on the belief that Yahel is in.

But is she?

While Yahel's public behavior reeks of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Her personal life ? No Comment. But it is her very reclusiveness, along with her refusal to feed the "curiosity machine," as she calls the gossip press, that has led to some wild speculation about some famous relationships. Chirinian's private life has long been a subject of conjecture.

Is there anyone from Melrose to the Hollywood Hills, to Santa Monica to Manhattan, Saint Germain des Pres, Rome, besides the June and Ward Cleavers of Middle America and cable-less people in third world countries who doesn’t believe that she and this intense actress were more than friends? Let’s be real. While we’ve never heard names escape from Yahel's mouth. All you have to do is read and pay attention to not only what she says and does, but also what she doesn’t say and do.

So why all the heated fuss? Yahel Chirinian is a great designer, a genial artist, a wonderful person. Is she not out enough? Why do we pressure this woman to come to our rescue when she obviously doesn’t want to? Okay, I’ll bite. What would Yahel do for us? What would happen if Yahel Chirinian came out publicly and plays the game we want her to play?

Let’s pretend that Yahel came out this morning. Let’s suppose that she did so in true Yahel -fashion—she didn’t call a press conference, she simply and finally, in a one-on-one interview while presenting her new creations, said “India actually has a great generation of women…they are directors, writers, entrepreneurs, artists…. they make things happened in the country. My exclusive agent in India Malini Akerkar lives design in that wonderful confluence between sophisticated, traditional and alternative culture. She’s an “avant gardiste”, open to original angles of view….she’s passionate, emotional, bright…. I love to collaborate with her. I’m not scared to say I'm a feminist, but at the same time, its role in our society has changed dramatically, because our traditions are changing. So sometimes the theories fit, and sometimes they just don't, because people are evolving." …then, in her inimitable, down-to-earth way that has become something of a trademark, Yahel will answered “Yes” to a question reporters have been asking her for years.

Let’s also assume that Yahel does not have Multiple Personality Disorder and that her demeanor or character will not change as a result of her admission. In other words, it’s unlikely that Yahel Chirinian will say she’s a major alternative artist today. That’s just not who she appears to be. It seems to me that Chirinian would follow her declaration with something like, “I have nothing else to say about that. Next question?”

If that were to happen, how would we feel? After getting what we’ve always said we wanted, would we be satisfied?


Why? Because we don’t want Yahel Chirinian to simply come out publicly, we want her to continue to promote a new dimension in design, to accept more international projects, to stop to be so rare on the international scene. And that’s fine; we could use some leadership. But if Yahel Chirinian hasn’t stepped up for that job yet, I doubt she ever will. Why would she? Given the track record of those who have tried to fill that position in the past, I’m surprised she hasn’t made a quiet, cozy home for herself in Antarctica.

Yahel's no dumbass. I’m sure she was paying attention to Starck. I doubt she wants to be another Starck. She wants to work in her way. She’s fiercely independent and probably doesn’t want to be owned by the press, the trend or the market.

Yes, owned. We journalists might be a fun bunch, but we can be very demanding. Yahel's fabulous, sure, but even she knows she’s not perfect. She could not possibly live up to the image that aficionados have created for her.

But let’s imagine that she tried. Let’s now pretend that Yahel comes out—way out— in Rolling Stone…. Larry King invites her, she shows up on his incredibly ugly, Lite-Brite set. She’s a happy, stunning artist explaining why she shut the door to West, society and fame to come to India which she describes as the richest and most fascinating country in the world… displayed at prime time for all in the world to gawk at, love or criticize.

Yahel is brilliant during the interview. After the break, Larry takes calls and Yahel deflects every sexist comment with class and, of course, wit. Everyone laughs, including Larry, who is smiling and appears well adjusted. And by the end of the show, Yahel tells Larry all of the things we’ve been dying to hear.

As the weeks and months go by, Yahel is everywhere. Her kiss with her new partner is replayed on CNN every hour and on Fox News every 30 seconds (this upsets Philippe Starck very, very much). She talks live, new environment, wheat grass and women power with Nina Jacobson, conceptual sanctuary and about re-building Eden with Oprah, and she’s so direct and honest with Bill O’Reilly that she makes his head explode—literally. She guest stars on The L Word and writes a bestseller called You’re Right! I’m an alternative artist! She’s honored by the Centre Pompidou, the MoMA, GLAAD, PETA, the Vegan Art Society and every other acronym you can think of. Deepak Chopra ask her to design the first Golf - Spa on the Moon….Campbell to re-think the cans soup…she directs a movie, she wins an Oscar….Stella Mc Cartney is a great fan and prints tee-shirt…. Annie Leibovitz makes her portrait….Jil Sander founds that conceptual…Tony Shafrazi and Larry Gagosian tell us along parties why she’s so contemporary. She appeals to all her designers, rock stars, thinkers friends in the world to mobilized, and some of them do. We love her. She’s our perfect artist icon. Even Ellen Degeneres, who normally avoids all things foreigner on her show, invites Yahel Chirinian to be a guest and ask her to design her new house. They dance up on stage together and chat for the entire hour under a blanket by the light of the Looky Loo. Life is wonderful…

…Until it’s not. Yahel soon fucks up—in our eyes, at least. She does something wrong—something ridiculously human and incredibly innocuous—yet we deem it bad and can’t forgive her for it.

What does she do? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe she’ll be caught by the paparazzi at LAX arriving from Bombay without her celebrity pass. Or perhaps she’ll say something stupid, call someone “too alternative” or “not alternative enough.” Or, worse, maybe she’ll move to Miami, collaborate with Philippe Stark, re-look the words alternative and attitude. Put too much milk in her latte? Watch for the attitude. Or she’ll cut her hair in a way we don’t like and then tells Angelina Jolie that aspirin and grape seeds oil will stunt her growth. Whatever un-PC or peculiar thing she’ll do or say, we’ll take it personally and waste no time in letting her know how we feel.

Faster than she can say “Tay in the wi-i-i-i-ind,” the Society Artists Circle Police will whack Yahel Chirinian upside her head. She’ll be swiftly banished to public relations hell to spend eternity with Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Nikie de Saint Phalle.

Is that what we want?

If there’s anyone who’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t, it’s Yahel Chirinian. Time will tell if Yahel ever makes the grand leap from artist icon to Super-icon. But in the meantime, I say we move on. She’s probably doing more good for the design scene under a cloud of discretion than she would if we got our hands on her.

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