Isabelle Gougenheim is a French-born Chicago-based artist who uses fabric as an authentic medium to express her creativity and love for fashion. By merging abstractionism with real imagery, Isabelle creates eye-catching luxury silk scarves and jackets with colorful artworks and images – free-spirited creations inspired by street art and graffiti.
“Each scarf is like a canvas with a travel story, a marriage between my lifelong love of art and fascination with scarves,” says Gougenheim, who grew up in Saint –Dies-Des-Vosges, a small town in northern France, where printmakers during the sixteenth century produced early maps of the new world. The cartographic elements of the grid and symbols in maps have appeared in Gougenheim’s paintings over the years.
“I consider art an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation with the world today. I feel like random everyday life moments can become the best design ideas, so I try to gasp for inspiration everywhere I can find it.”Isabelle Gougenheim
The experience of seeing graffiti in the urban landscape brought Isabelle back to her childhood memories of cartography and symbols. Isabelle says that the soul of the city streets continually inspires her. When I tell Isabelle that the colors and energy of her artwork bring to mind that of Jean-Michel Basquiat, she replies: “It’s an honor to be compared to Basquiat, but I prefer to be recognized as being inspired by street art and primitive artworks. I love the directness and spontaneity of symbols that define the making of this art,” says Isabelle.
Gougenheim, who has ancestral ties to the legendary Guggenheim family, moved to Chicago over 20 years ago after graduating from Les Beaux Arts. For several years, she worked in the world of high-fashion furniture at Holly Hunt and was a partner at Kevin Reilly Lighting. Having a versatile background across numerous design disciplines inspired this multi-talented artist to open her own company, Isabelle Gougenheim Designs, five years ago (isabellegougenheimdesigns.com)
“Scarves are the epitome of the classic Parisian style. I wanted to pay tribute this accessory so closely associated with the French culture by taking the concept further”Isabelle Gougenheim
It all started with the scarf, the most versatile accessory. While studying art and anthropology, Gougenheim traveled to North Africa and had a chance to observe life among the Berber people. Isabelle, who has always loved scarves, is inspired by how this tribe wraps themselves in fabric as protection from the harsh elements of the Sahara desert.
Isabelle, continually enthused by the urban landscape and eclectic cultures, refers to her 54” X 54” Grand Carre scarves as “urban poems”. Priced at $235, they are made of modal and silk. Isabelle worked closely with a Milanese textile company to achieve the perfect blend. “It was essential for me to work with vendors that showed mastery in their craft to produce the best quality scarves I could.”
The scarves are soft, gossamer, and lightweight. They pack a wallop thanks to their large size, Isabelle’s masterful use of color, and her original artwork, meticulously done in their workshops and then printed in Italy.
Isabelle’s French sensibility and freewheeling spirit are quite apparent while scrolling through her website and Instagram posts. Gougenheim’s artful images attest to the many joyful ways the scarves can be enjoyed: draped around your neck, worn like a shawl, worn as a belt, a bag, a sarong, a beach pareo, a bandeau, a headdress, etc.
Because the scarves are endlessly versatile, weightless, and packable, they are perfect for instantly “zhuzsing up” the simplest of daily uniforms, especially while on vacation. Isabelle says she has many repeat customers who tell her they are going away and plan to pack a pair of black jeans, a black t-shirt, and 6 of Isabelle’s scarves. That is all you need. Why complicate things when you don’t have to?
Isabelle believes in keeping things easy and uncomplicated, down to the number of products sold on her website. In addition to her scarves (Isabelle adds new patterns approximately twice a year), there are a group of belted art-to-wear silk kimonos named after iconic vacation destinations for $375.
Most recently, Isabelle added two reversible silk jackets (a “crazy” print on one side and a more subdued print on the other). Priced at $450, they sold out immediately. More are planned for early 2023.
Isabelle’s original artwork (multi-Media, acrylic, pencil, spray paint on canvas or paper) is also for sale on her website. Priced from $425 – $4900, the pieces range in size from about 24” X 36” to mural-sized 5’ X 6’.
Gougenheim’s creations are in many of the best fashion and home décor stores and top museum shops worldwide, from Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi. She just opened a Paris office to broaden her European presence. Isabelle’s designs are selling at the Museum of Arts & Design in Manhattan.
As an artist, Isabelle loves the energy and people-watching in The Big Apple and travels to New York as often as possible. Recently, she has had a successful run doing a few high-profile trade shows.
Isabelle won the NY NOW Best Accessory 2019 Award, and she plans to attend the NY NOW 2023 show at the Javits Center in February and the CURATE 2023 show later that month.
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